Gently swaying in my hammock under the coconut trees I do very little but watch the Arabian sea rolling in and listen to the sounds of the waves mixed with exotic bird calls. The coconut picker is in the garden and he takes out his machete and swiftly cracks a newly picked coconut, makes an opening to drink from and brings it over to me. Whether it’s my empty stomach, the heat or just the freshness of the coconut, this is the best thing I have tasted this year.
I am at Shinshiva
in Kerala in the south of India, well known for its Ayurveda retreats. Ayurveda is an ancient Hindu medicine which relies on natural healing methods of body and mind including massage, yoga, meditation, medicated oils, diet, herbs and lifestyle. In fact, at Shinshiva, all medication is home-grown in their own garden. I travelled to India after years of chronic migraines that western medicine has no answer for apart from pills that relieve or suppress symptoms.
During my hours of research in the middle of the night last winter I googled migraine retreat and stumbled across an article written for the Telegraph about Shinshiva. It only had to mention migraine treatment alongside the phrases healing, repeat visitors, debilitating migraines and no migraines since visiting and I was already booking my flight.
I am collected from my hammock by a therapist and taken to my initial consultation with the doctor. A treatment plan is made, followed swiftly by the start of Panchakarma (purification and detoxification ) which is marked by drinking medicated ghee every morning. Yes, it really is as dreadful as it sounds and it gets worse each day as the volume increases and so does the taste memory. Purification begins four days later.
The idea behind this is a cleansing of toxins from the body. Ayurveda has been described as an MOT for the body – a complete oil change. It certainly is that. It is said that you don’t get sick for a long time after visiting and whilst I write this, I realise that I haven’t suffered with a cold since my return last year.
Purification results in astonishing weight loss simply because there is nothing left in my body at the end of the day. Thankfully, that is the worst of it over and after Panchakarma it is time to gently return to healthy eating and just enjoy being in the warm, safe and peaceful grounds of Shinshiva.
A lady arrives from Germany that night. She is visibly tired, emotionally wrought and stressed to the max from her life back home. Within days she is transformed physically and emotionally. It is interesting to watch people arrive pale, exhausted, tied up inside with stress and just a few days later they become changed. Many of the clients here are women in their forties and fifties suffering from pain conditions and stress.
One of the wonderful things about the journey here is that Shinshiva is filled with interesting, mostly single, travellers from around the world. It quickly becomes a place where friendships are made as we bond over the experience. There are tales of healing so incredible that they can’t be made up. It is a place for those with an open mind and a willingness to try a different kind of medicine.
The days begin to follow a pattern now. 6.30am yoga on the terrace overlooking the beach before the heat of the day sets in.
Breakfast for me is pineapple juice. The food is all freshly prepared or squeezed to order here. My whole relationship to food changes over the course of the stay and I leave not only a stone lighter, but with a much healthier outlook on what my body needs. My favourites include banana curry, mushroom curry, fresh salads and the fruit platters. The food comes out of the kitchen at a decidedly slow pace. But when you have an open air restaurant that overlooks a beach and absolutely no hurry to do anything else and it becomes a pleasure to wait for food. Life slows down here in every single way.
After breakfast I line up to check in with the doctor and find out when my treatment will be. Treatment is the name given to approx 2 hours of massage by dedicated therapists. You must forget any ideas of western massage and leave your shyness at the door if you are to survive and enjoy the experience. My favourite treatment is Shirodhara where warm oil is continually dripped onto my forehead for half an hour. I am generally asleep within 10 minutes. Good sign? I think so. I am less comfortable with other massages such as an oil bath which is given whilst lying on a wooden table. But today I am told I am due to have a foot massage. Wonderful – my favourite kind.
My therapist asks me to lie on the mat that is laid out on the floor and I am suddenly a bit confused. She takes a rope that is secured to the ceiling and ties it around her shoulders and I am increasingly confused. As I feel her foot beginning to massage my back very firmly, it all falls into place.
After two to three hours of massage a day my body is beaten into relaxation mode, my hair is resigned to never being oil free again and my mind is more relaxed than it has been in years. Shinshiva is no spa holiday or luxury retreat. But for those who are at the end of their tether looking for answers for pain, suffering from stress or just needing a health boost, it’s worth every penny and every ounce of medicated ghee.
As my energy returns after purification, I venture out more. I step outside the well secured serenity of Shinshiva and the real India suddenly hits. Hot, dusty noisy roads, continual beeping, scooters weaving in and out, tuc tucs laden with goods, homeless sleeping in the road and ladies making their way to market. I love that it is possible to see real Indian life here and not to be cut off in a resort. I begin a daily walk down to the beach and it is a real treat to step foot in the warm Arabian Sea.
I have waited for almost a year to write down this experience. I always said that I would write about the experience once I’d had time to see if there was any effect. They say that it can take a while for the treatment to work after leaving. I returned home feeling much more vibrant and re energised but still having migraines. Then they started to gradually decrease and two months later, have disappeared.
Coming from chronic weekly migraines, the change has been incredible. I have a belief that western medicine is limited and is failing so many chronically ill people. Specifically those with long term pain conditions, simply because it treats symptoms rather than addressing underlying issues. I write this whole heartedly wanting to encourage those who are at a loss for answers to consider this as a possible route to better health.
Stay at Shinshiva
What I loved about Shinshiva is that you aren’t hugely penalised for being a single traveller. The basic rooms are perfectly fine and are in a larger shared building. Bungalows are a bit nicer and have their own small gardens / terraces and some have better sea views than others. The grounds are peaceful and well maintained with hammocks everywhere to lie under the coconut trees. You can enquire online via their website shinshivaresort
Out & About
Tuc tucs are cheap – it pretty much costs you £1 to go anywhere within half an hour of the area. You can walk down to the beach but it’s a pretty steep hill so if you are having treatments it is better to plan on getting a lift back up. The local main street is about 4 mins walk away and there is an unreliable cash point there which works on some days. Better to bring cash with you if possible. Shinshiva will organise trips out anywhere you’d like to go. If you can get a group together it becomes cheaper. I took a trip down the backwaters twice as it was so relaxing and interesting. Everything is reasonable; a backwaters trip cost appoximately £35
How to get there
Flights go from London to Thiruvananthapuram, mostly with a stop in Dubai. Costing around £390 – £480 and you can fly with Emirates or Air India amongst others. Shinshiva will organise airport pick up and drop off with extreme efficiency.