Kids Corner


Ayurved Retreat:
Postcards From The Road





The opening phrase of the preamble to our evening prayer, Rehras Sahib, now has an added significance for me after spending two weeks in an ayurved health centre in Kerala.

The line is - 'dukh daaru sukh rog bhayaa ...' - “Sorrow is the cure when comfort becomes a disease …”

To me it now means that if one does not give some discomfort to the physical body, then the body, ensconced in comfortable living, will cause you 'dis-ease' in the long run. By discomfort I mean abstinence from our culinary excesses, exercise, remedial massages and periodic detoxification.

Too much of good and rich food, enjoying creature comforts with friends around the world and lack of exercise over the last twenty years -- while on my kirtan and world music tours -- has taken its toll in obesity, clogging arteries and probably on the verge of high blood pressure, diabetes and heart complications, to name but a few of the gifts of aging.

These two weeks of ayurved type treatment, thanks to my new-found friend and property developer, Kapil Nagpal, in Cochin, under strict conditions of remedial massages, herbal medication especially for colon, liver and kidneys cleansing, yoga, subsistence level south Indian vegetarian food and mainly understanding my body, is the only way to get back on the road to good health and the ability to continue serving the Guru.

Then, of course, as we say at the end of all youth camps I attend, 'the proof of the effect of the camp starts on the day the camp finishes.'

Does one go back to the old ways or does one make changes in one's living? So, now the mission is to maintain the same level of yoga exercises and watching what I eat. Then, with Guru's grace, we shall see the longer term positive effects on the physical body.

If we accept Guru Granth Sahib as a methodology to better our lives (not wholly prescriptive), then I will hazard that it does not actually prescribe how we look after our physical self except to look after it as the temple of the soul and eat simple food. Others shall keep on debating on whether we should be vegetarians or, as they say in India, 'non-veg', on religious grounds.

I ask, why do we not debate that issue on health grounds, and eating and drinking healthy, and meanwhile, proactively doing something about our health?

In a world where more and more chemicals are added to fertilizers to rejuvenate already exhausted farming soils; hormones injected into animals for quicker and fatter meat; genetic engineering of foods, and insecticides being sprayed on vegetables and fruits to make them more resilient to disease and also to last longer and grow bigger and look more attractive, our body which consumes these foods, and our rich, cholesterol-full intake of food with chemically whitened salt and sugar, needs periodic detoxification.

Yes, that could be done at home with detox packages from the pharmacy or fasting and consuming our own concoction of herbs and spices or other nutrients and tablets, but that is easier said than done.

I have been struggling with that for the last ten years without positive results.

Then, this opportunity arose when some friends asked me to do kirtan in south India. Then other friends in Australia found out that I was headed for Kerala and asked me to consider doing a Sikh 'health retreat' here in the future. I decided to also check out a special detox programme suggested to me by good friend Vikram Singh ji, (formerly rock star Vic Briggs, lead guitarist of the 60's rock group, the 'Animals'), called 'panchkarma'.

On enquiries here, especially from Kapil, he suggested that I should try it out for myself first. He organised it within a couple of days even though it is peak health rejuvenation season here. My itinerary was quickly readjusted to accommodate two weeks of this treatment in-house.

It is the monsoonal month here with dark skies and incessant rain. Keralans turn towards health matters and also constant prayers and rituals because no work can be done due to the rain.

Nagarjuna Health Centre is a stone’s throw away from Cochin Airport, which is about 30 km out of Cochin City.

Staff are excellent and modern standards of hygiene are maintained. The centre is a leafy, just shy of four acres property, right by the majestic Periyar River.

Expert medical staff led by Dr. Manoj first diagnose each 'client' thoroughly and the diagnosis remains an ongoing procedure with daily blood pressure and heartbeat checks.

We are used to going to our (western educated) doctors with specific problems and I came here with that same mentality. When Dr. Manoj told me off politely that it is rather cynical to come just for weight loss when other factors could be contributing to the 'dis-ease' of the body leading to weight gain, I recalled numerous problems which otherwise we just put down to ageing or normal wear and tear.

Suddenly all of my symptoms are being treated towards a better body - a frozen shoulder which I have been ignoring; numb thighs; a western medicine diagnosed 'phantom hernia' which Dr.Manoj said is very real and does contribute to obesity (we call it 'dharan'); neck stiffness and the early warnings of prostrate complications.

My whole body is being attended to.

Suddenly I am not here to lose weight but to develop a healthier body!

Communication between medical staff and therapy staff is highly efficient.

Food is excellent but in small portions - just adequate for the body's nourishment. Hopefully you like south Indian food but not the over spiced type we get overseas. Practically no curry powder or garam masala is used. Individual condiments, bulbs and foods which are specifically beneficial for the body are used -- like ginger, onions, garlic,turmeric, fresh desiccated coconut and milk, curry leaves and similar south Indian condiments.

No fried stuff. No meat.

Daily, in the beginning, one has at least two therapy sessions, especially various types of body massages with oils mixed with herbs, herbal poultices which are heated and rubbed on the body and oil massage followed by a steam bath. Towards the tail-end of the stay there are stress relieving oil massage baths and 'tailadhara' - warm oil being poured on your forehead for about 40 minutes.

Each massage is done by two therapists who work all parts of the body in tango, especially the affected parts. Female staff treat the ladies and men treat the men.

Ayurvedic medication and therapy is about prevention, about balance, and is aimed at strengthening the body's immune system to cure itself and enhance its recuperative and rejuvenating properties.

This is unlike western medicine philosophy which by its very nature and strengths looks at the problem in isolation and then tries to address the cause of that problem. One would not expect treatment to start on an ingrown toenail if one has been rushed into hospital for a heart attack, nor look for herbal medicines or massages! A heart attack is too late for all that.

Ayurved is about holistic living, prevention and cure.

Lectures on ayurvedhic philosophy, knowledge of medicinal herbs and plants and cookery lessons are also part of the treatment. This aspect is headed by Dr. Krishnan and his small team of young doctors and very competent culinary staff, led by Rajesh. Other names which roll easily off the tongue and all lovely individuals are Dr. Varma (marketing director who met me personally to discuss further expansion and also ways to improve the service), Vidhya, Kartika (I keep calling her Katrika which she told me means scissors), Rekha, Ramea, Gopika, Harilal, Sadeesh, Ullar, Suresh, Sudesh and a number of Manoj's besides Dr. Manoj.

Manoj in Administration is one of the most helpful and resourceful personalities I have ever met. For him, nothing is impossible. Mention a problem and he solves it!

My wife asked him to source out a tailor who could sew her a few Panjabi 'soott' and the tailor not only took her shopping for cloth but also sewed them within the duration of our stay!

One feels safe and in good hands when every therapy session starts with a prayer for your well being and therapists doing their best! I do wonder how western medicine would evolve if every time one goes to one's GP or is being prepared for surgery, the whole operating staff or GP does a prayer for your wellbeing! Sorry, just wandering off ...

The grounds are full of all kinds of herbs, plants and trees with information marked on them about their medicinal properties. The property appears to have been a former nutmeg farm. These trees provide thick shady foliage and nutmegs (used for cooking and also in medicines) which look like small round pears.

Additional time can be spent in a small library or go for walks. For me it was a god-sent opportunity for regular additional nitnem, working on my book, getting a little closer to my Guru and gurbani, and browsing through Indian newspapers and Indian television.

There is scope for a first-of-its-kind Sikh Holistic Retreat here for next year.  There are ideas also for a small retreat which, with some friends, I am slowly developing in Australia.

Where we have gurmatt camps, samelans and Sikh family camps, why don't we have a Sikh Holistic Camp where besides spirituality and further Sikhi interaction, we also do something for our bodies? How about some preventive care for our bodies rather than the reactive medical attention we are used to?

The proof of the pudding ... as they say: I stood on the scales on the first day at 108 kg. On the last day, I was 102 kg. I have not been 102 kg since 1990! My belt has tightened by almost two notches! In two months’ time, with moderate care and exercise I am told I can come down to 90 kg, which is my ‘good’ weight.

I intend to do that.

With lowering of weight I have pushed back potential cardiac problems, diabetes and high blood pressure and I have come back a happier and calmer person.

Yes, it is worth it ... all for the price of staying at a holiday resort at some exotic destination ... and Kerala is exotic!

I hate to end on a negative, but to be honest, this is no picnic, let me assure you. The massages are not the type some of my friends are used to with giggly oriental damsels stomping on their backs after dipping their dainty toes in aromatic oils. This is therapeutic massage by trained and qualified staff. The oils are not perfumed but instead mixed with medicinal herbs and plants.

Finally, if there is one setback, it is that very fact that it is a stone's throw away from Cochin airport. The planes at times fly right over it. Luckily, not many planes fly in and out of Cochin! The tranquil and simple, yet picturesque environment more than makes up for that.

Ladies, feel free to contact my wife Jessiee on to get a woman's perspective. After all, you folks are the ones who bear children and probably need this kind of tender loving care and pampering more than we do!

We shall be back for another two weeks of the same next year.

This time I shall bring along my harmonium!

July 29, 2014

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 29, 2014, 12:11 PM.

Dya ji, looks like you are almost ready to open an ashram in Australia, a far better and holier than the 3H joint and hopefully with a chapter in Malaysia.

2: Dr Sajith Varma (Cochin, Kerala, India), July 30, 2014, 7:31 AM.

Thanks a lot, Dya ji. We are honoured by your visit to Nagarjuna Ayurvedic Centre and thanks for giving us a chance to host you both. May god bless you and your family with health and prosperity.

3: Vikram Singh (Kapaa, Hawaii), July 30, 2014, 1:00 PM.

So, Dya Singh ji, you finally took my advice and got the Ayurvedic treatment. Of course, I knew you were going to do this but I have to say "I told you so" at least once. Actually I am very happy for you. As you know, I have been worried about your health for a number of years and have made no secret about it. Perhaps you will now be able to inspire other Sikhs to make their health a priority. There is absolutely no reason why we should not make health a priority.

4: Gurjender Singh (Frederick, Maryland, USA), July 30, 2014, 6:54 PM.

I believe Sikh gurdwaras, specifically the ones outside India, should learn from this teaching of Dya Singh ji regarding healthy food and spiritual music and stop making fancy langar full of unhealthy items.

5: Jamel Kaur (Melbourne, Australia), July 31, 2014, 1:40 AM.

Andrew and I are in for next year. Really proud of you and mum for doing this. Hopefully, a 10 day stop in Kuala Lumpur on your way home won't undo all the hard work and discipline. You're a real inspiration.

6: Sarvjit Singh (Massachusetts, USA), July 31, 2014, 9:40 AM.

I have heard so many good stories about this retreat from my friends who went there. Do they allow or offer something for children? Perhaps, the owners want to open a franchise somewhere in Punjab. They could consider Punjabi and/or Sikh flavor to this retreat. We all could lose a few inches of waistline. Great job!

7: Charanjit Singh Flora (Australia), July 31, 2014, 2:40 PM.

Thanks for a very interesting and informative article and the proposal to start such a holistic center in Australia. My wife Daljeet and I will very much be interested in getting actively involved in the proposal. Please keep us apprised of developments.

8: Gurpal Singh Bhuller (Chester, Virginia, USA), August 02, 2014, 9:31 PM.

It was good of Dya to take time off and to do what needs to be done ... do "maintainence" on his body. The usefulness of these retreats is that they nudge you the right way and show you how to keep walking along the path. But it is the individual who has to do the journey. Watching one's weight, living a life free of stress and avoiding the "toxins" of daily life (nicotine, street drugs, excessive alcohol, polluted environments) provide the base for a healthy lifestyle. Thanks, Dya, for reminding us of this and hope you do well on this new path.

Comment on "Ayurved Retreat:
Postcards From The Road"

To help us distinguish between comments submitted by individuals and those automatically entered by software robots, please complete the following.

Please note: your email address will not be shown on the site, this is for contact and follow-up purposes only. All information will be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy. Sikhchic reserves the right to edit or remove content at any time.