Everyone has a third eye. Yes, you have one too. Thankfully you can’t see it. Here’s how to take care of this important energy point in your body…
A third eye may sound like something you’d rather keep hidden in the genetic skeleton closet, like a sixth finger or third nipple, but it’s an important part of your holistic well-being. Everyone has one, and thankfully it’s something you can’t see, except in your mind. Normally a focus point for meditation practice, the third eye is the point in the middle of your forehead where warm medicated oils are poured in the ancient Ayurvedic healing treatment called Shirodara.
There I was, lying half naked on a wooden massage table at the Barberyn Reef Ayurvedic Resort in Sri Lanka, with a continuous stream of heated oil drooling from a clay pot, directly onto my third eye. The oil was gently massaged into my scalp and neck as I wafted into a languorous stupor. This treatment had been prescribed to me as part of a week-long therapy of detoxification and stress relief by the Ayurvedic doctors at Barberyn Reef.
I had first heard about Barberyn by chance, when I was meeting my friend Jay for lunch one day in Bangkok.
“My dad’s friend is visiting from London. He’s joining us for lunch, okay?” he said, when he called me that morning, adding “I hope you don’t mind.”
Dad’s friend! How old is he?, I wondered, my heart sinking a bit. Yes, I have to admit I was being immature at the thought of a potentially boring lunch trying to politely entertain to my friend’s dad’s friend. (But that was some years ago and I can safely say I am older and more mature now).
When I sat glumly waiting for Jay to arrive, I didn’t expect to see the attractive Englishman who followed him into the noodle shop. “This is my dad’s friend, George,” said Jay. George had a glowing golden tan, plummy public school accent, was fit and exuded energy. His hair was grey, but still thick and wavy. Suddenly, the lunch became more interesting. I was delighted, and then fascinated. George had prostate cancer, but looked inexplicably radiant for someone who was ill. He didn’t even look like someone who would have a cold, let alone cancer.
How? He’d just come back from 6 weeks at an Ayurvedic healing resort in Sri Lanka, he said, and went raving on and on about how beautiful the beach was, how delicious the Ayurvedic vegetarian food was, how he’d lost 20 pounds and left feeling like a new man. He said doctors in UK told him he needed surgery, but he refused to go under the knife. “I’m not cutting things out!”, he roared with indignation, “I need all my parts working! I have a girlfriend who’s a 19-year-old Brazilian model!” (George was 53 at that time). ( I can’t believe he really said that but he really said that, and by the way, there was no sight of this hot teenage model girlfriend anywhere with him. He didn’t seem to miss her, as he was busy eyeing the waitress who took our orders. I won’t even tell you the comment he made about her as he watched her backside heading back to the kitchen). Anyway that wasn’t the interesting part. The interesting part was that he was determined to find healing through alternative natural therapies, and was travelling across the globe in his quest. He had heard of Barberyn through a friend’s yoga teacher in London.
His descriptions of Barberyn sounded like exactly the sort of place I wanted to go, plus, I love Sri Lanka and its sleepy old-world vibe. Luckily, not long after that I had the chance to meet one of the Sri Lankan owners, who by coincidence happened to work for the United Nations in Bangkok, and eventually found myself in Sri Lanka on a shirodara table getting slathered in oil at Barberyn Reef Ayurvedic Resort, located on Beruwala Beach.
I’d arrived at the resort as tense as a ticking time-bomb. But after a week of daily oil massages, herbal baths, herbal medicines and a regimen of Ayurvedic vegetarian cuisine including the daily Gotukala soup prescribed for stress relief, I gradually found myself letting go, and being more open with complete strangers. I was even hugging fellow guests by the time I left.
Although this ancient holistic healing system has been in practice for more than 5,000- years and is known to have its origins in India, Ayurveda remains an unfamiliar science to modern day consumers, partly due to its esoteric philosophy, complex therapies and intricate blend of herbal medical concoctions.
Translated as the “science of life”, Ayurvedic medicine is based on the theory that our bodies are categorised into three biological humours, or doshas. Illnesses from which we may suffer are the effects of imbalances in these doshas. The three doshas are the Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Each individual possesses a unique makeup of these energies. Thus while two people may have the same illness, the sources of their illnesses will differ depending on their different dosha constitutions. The Ayurvedic physician diagnoses and prescribes a different treatment for each person, based on the dosha that is causing the illness.
Ayurvedic treatment seeks not just to cure the symptoms, but to balance the physical and mental aspects through a system of herbal therapies, oil massages, diet, yoga and meditation.
Like much of Indian culture, the key theories and practices of Ayurveda were transported to its neighbors – Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand -in the second and third centuries by monks who migrated overseas to spread the teachings of Buddha. Since monks were also the healing practitioners of those times, they also dispensed medical knowledge.
It may come as a surprise to today’s spa-goers that many of the healing treatments used in Thai spas today, such as heated herbal compresses, baths and therapies, are derived from Ayurveda. Even certain techniques of traditional Thai massage can trace their origins to the stretching poses of yoga.
That’s why those familiar with Thai spas have a certain sense of familiarity when undergoing some of the heat-based treatments at the Barberyn Ayurvedic Health Centre. But where the centre differs from the spas found in Thailand is the lack of cosmetic dressing – the floating blossoms, scented candles and other mood-enhancing paraphernalia that add a sense of luxury at many typical spas. At Barberyn Reef, the treatments aren’t about pampering. The focus is on healing.
Barberyn’s Ayurvedic Health Centre is located in a building housing consultation rooms for the in-house Ayurvedic doctors, treatment rooms, a pharmacy where the herbal medicines are freshly concocted every morning, and a dispensary where guests pick up their daily doses of tonics and powders.
While Ayurvedic resorts are commonly found on India’s lush and romantic Kerala coast, Sri Lanka isn’t a place that triggers thoughts of these healing resorts, though the gentle island nation has been practising this holistic science for centuries. It also offers serious, professional Ayurvedic healing resorts that provide an easier alternative to travellers who shy away from the rigours usually associated with voyaging in its bigger and bossier northern neighbour.
That’s what led Michiko and Sachiko, two young Japanese women, to Barberyn Reef. Over steaming cups of home-grown black tea during a sightseeing trip into the picture-postcard country side, the two friends told me in halting English how for four years they had dreamed of staying in an authentic Indian Ayurvedic resort. But they had some unexpected problems getting to India. Then though a Japanese website, they had stumbled on Sri Lanka as an alternative Ayurvedic resort destination. They had even quit their jobs at a Tokyo hotel to spend a month at the resort, and were well on the road to good health, judging from the intensity of their suntans.
I found that the other guests, mostly from Europe, ‘where Ayurveda seems to enjoy a better following than it does in America or East Asian countries, came to Barberyn Reef for a variety of reasons. Some sought relief for serious medical ailments such as diabetes, eczema, psoriasis, respiratory or obesity problems for which Ayurveda offers real cures. Others came simply to de-stress and detox in an exotic beach setting. But whatever their reasons and backgrounds, they shared the common objective of a return to wellness through Ayurvedic healing.
British Kate arrived at the insistence of her mother, a long time Barberyn customer. Weighing in at a distressing 90 kgs when she arrived, Kate ended up staying well beyond her intended three weeks. She left three months later and 22 kg lighter amid a tearful send-off at the hotel entrance. For Kate, an important psychological and spiritual change had also taken place in those months at the resort.
“When I was overweight, I couldn’t accept that it was really me inside that big body. I could never look at my body in the mirror – I would only see my face, not the rest of me. After three months here, taking the prescribed herbal treatments, learning how to eat differently, practising yoga and meditation, I have a new sense of emotional and physical balance that helps me control the eating disorder that led me to gain all that weight in the first place. I learned how to make the mind body connection,” she explains, seated cross-legged on the antique Dutch colonial settee in the lobby.
“There’s also an incredibly supportive environment at the resort. Knowing that there are in-house doctors and staff in the dining room who care about what you eat and you to heal yourself.”
Kate was speaking in the hushed tones that many guests seemed to adopt after an extended stay at the resort. Lulled by the rhythmic pounding of the Indian Ocean nearby, relaxed by the kneading of daily oil massages, long-staying guests eventually emanate an aura of well-being, signaled by slower speech and a softer demeanour. No wonder many of the guests end up rescheduling flights and extending their stays.
“There’s something unusual about the location as well,” she added. “There’s a particular energy that comes from this piece of land, the beach and the sea. It’s a sort of rejuvenating aura.”
The resort’s founder, Sudana Roderigo, may have sensed the same vibes when he bought this strip of beach in 1968.
“I remember my father taking us through what was then a messy jungle to show us this piece of beach he’d just bought to build his dream of an Ayurvedic healing resort,” recalls Geetha Karandawala, one of resort’s sibling owners. “Four decades ago, there were hardly any hotels on the island’s southwestern coast, and the concept of destination spas didn’t even exist.
“I remember standing on that beach with him, thinking : `What a fine line there is between insanity and brilliance.”
Over four decades later, the resort continues to thrive, having built a reputation and a loyal following of return guests purely through word of mouth. Recognised as the pioneer of Ayurvedic healing resorts, it is also known as the most authentic Ayurvedic resort hotel in Sri Lanka, in a league of its own compared to fake Ayurvedic spas” that offer no more than herbal oil massages that can be found elsewhere.
Authentic Ayurvedic healing takes more than a few oil massages. It’s the total integration of individual diagnosis, daily traditional treatments by trained professionals, the correct diet, and the proper herbal medications, that provide a holistic lifestyle that’s best experienced in a dedicated environment. It certainly helps when this environment is an idyllic beach setting. Barberyn Resorts also runs a second property Barberyn Beach Ayurvedic Resort further south on Welligama Beach, located on a gorgeous stretch of hillside sweeping down to the sea.
Have you been to an Ayurvedic wellness resort before? How was your experience?