Like many twentysomethings in Dubai, I admit I don’t treat my body with the best of care. Not badly, you understand, just… inconsiderately. After years of coffee, shisha, drinks, takeaways, late nights and all the rest of it, I need a serious break. And what better way to fix myself up than with a yoga detox at a spa retreat in India?
Between the ayurvedic treatments, healthy gourmet meals, early morning yoga classes and intensive meditation sessions, it’s impossible to spend a week at Ananda in the Himalayas and not leave with all sorts of tools to help you look after your body and mind better. In fact, it’s a bit like spending a week undergoing some gentle marriage counselling – with yourself. If that’s not incentive enough to tempt you, perhaps the possibility of spotting Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt in a pigeon pose might be – as both are huge fans of this place. My week at the resort went a little like this.
Day 1 The Ananda resort is set by the historic palace of the Maharaja of Teri Garwal. To get there, we drive up a winding mountain road from the Rishikesh, known as the ‘world capital of yoga’ and made famous when the Beatles made a high-profile visit in the late ’60s. The dramatic scenery alone – lush green forest, the Ganges curving at the foot of the mountain, and monkeys playing by the roadside – is as spirit-soothing as any massage could be, and I already feel a world away from the concrete jungle of Dubai.
Day 2 An 8am group yoga session in the stone open-air amphitheatre starts each day here, and I wander straight over to the restaurant afterwards for a super-healthy breakfast of high-protein blueberry pancakes and fresh juice. I’ve been given a schedule of activities for the week, and realise I’m actually going to be pretty busy – if you can call strolling from a massage to yoga class to lunch ‘busy’. Almost half of Ananda’s guests are single women, and I can see why this is the perfect place to come alone as there’s no chance of getting bored or restless. Staff are positively reverential about my health, remembering everything from my achy shoulder to the fact I prefer orange to watermelon juice in the morning, which makes me feel extremely well looked after.
Day 3 The one-one-one yoga session is the highlight of my day. Taking place in a marble pavilion up at the palace, the instructor takes me through a series of classic hatha yoga poses. It’s a pretty intense lesson and by the end of it I feel turned inside out and as stretchy as a rubber band. He follows up with half an hour of pranayama: yogic breathing exercises that include pushing out your breath forcefully from alternate nostrils. It’s hard not to be self-conscious at first – I look like a snotty five-year-old learning to blow my nose. But afterwards I feel alert, focused and super-serene.
Day 4 The week takes a turn for the bizarre when I try two yogic cleansing treatments. The first, done at the crack of dawn, is called Kunjal Kriya. Given three bottles of lukewarm salty water to drink on an empty stomach, I feel as though I might explode, then the therapist tells me to push the back of my tongue until I throw up. It’s supposed to cleanse the digestive tract and there’s no feeling of nausea, but I find it only slightly less gross than vomiting the usual way. Apparently the more you practise this, the easier it gets, but for me as a first timer it’s horrible, and I feel drowsy and bloated for hours afterwards. On the other hand I absolutely love the nasal cleansing Jal Neti practice, even though I can’t pretend it’s not a little disgusting. I’m taught how to pour warm salt water from a special tea pot through one nostril and straight out the other – yes, it’s actually possible! The sensation is weirdly refreshing, and afterwards I feel as though my brain has been given a vigorous spring clean.
Day 5 A Choornaswedana treatment in the afternoon involves a full-body massage with oils chosen to match my body type, and then I’m lightly pounded with hot bundles of herbs. It’s designed to help detox and improve circulation and is an incredibly soothing, warming experience. Afterwards, I just want to crawl straight into bed, but I have a Yoga Nidra session instead, which is almost as good. Yoga Nidra means ‘psychic sleep’ and is a guided meditation that keeps you just on the line between sleep and consciousness. The meditation guide names your body parts one by one as you concentrate on them, then asks you to visualise a series of objects, in order to stimulate your creativity. I’m very bad at this. My thoughts wander off by the time we get to my ankles, and I keep forgetting to breathe deeply, but I do get a sense of how valuable ‘quiet time’ for your mind is, and realise how rarely I get it.
Day 6 Today I have an excursion to Rishikesh to see the famous ganga aarati ceremony. This Hindu ritual takes place on the banks of the Ganges at sunset, where crowds gather round a fire and throw herbs into it to symbolise the burning of negativity in life. Upbeat, rhythmic songs are sung, and a local guru delivers a short sermon before lamps and candles are lit and passed from person to person with smiles and nods. Everyone sits close together to pass the energy from the swirling Ganges waters along to one another, and I’m overwhelmed by how welcoming and inclusive the atmosphere is. As the sun sets and all the lit candles are sent floating downstream, the guru gives a final blessing and the crowds disperse. It’s a genuinely moving and memorable evening.
Day 7 A new kind of meditation today, called Trataka, involves staring at a candle, unblinking, and then closing your eyes when it gets too uncomfortable. Said to improve the memory and help to develop concentration and will power, I find the experience very intense, and surprisingly emotional, in spite of the fact it takes only about a quarter of an hour. Perhaps this means my ability to meditate has improved! When it’s finally time to leave, I take stock of how different I feel following the week of yoga. Fresh mountain air and healthy, natural food have left my skin clearer than it’s been in years, and the daily yoga sessions have left me feeling strong and supple. I wasn’t consciously stressed when I arrived, but the meditation sessions, and the physical focus throughout the week has left me with a kind of ultra-capable, ready-to-take-on-the-world feel. And what better way to end a holiday than that?
Need to know
Getting there Emirates flies direct from Dubai to Delhi, with return tickets from Dhs1,650 including tax. From Delhi, fly to Dehradun with Kingfisher Red Airlines, from Dhs175. Airport transfers can be arranged direct with Ananda. Rooms start from Dhs1,500 per night; yoga packages and special offers are available. www.emirates.com, www.flykingfisher.com, www.anandaspa.com.
Dubai to the Himalayas Flight time: Three hours from Dubai to Delhi, then an hour to Dehradun. Time difference: One and a half hours ahead of Dubai. Dhs1 = Dhs15 Indian rupees.