Regardless of the milieu or social strata we inhabit, there is bound to be an elite group in our circle of friends and acquaintances best described as “rainbow warriors’. These strong-willed souls eat healthy, exercise and meditate regularly and donate generously to Greenpeace and Amnesty International. Since the most powerful human instinct is that of self-preservation, most of us aspire to be like them; however the closest we get to their exalted state is on New Year’s Eve when we make drunken resolutions which fade faster than the accompanying hangover.This is inevitable in India where matrimonial ads are economical with the truth, as my friend Gurpreet discovered recently during a rishta blind date: “Yaar, they said halthee, but actually she was damn fat.”
The problem isn’t geographic: when maa di dal and desi ghee is euphemistically described as “healthy eating” in the Punjab and pongal with lashings of ghee and deep fried appalams is enthusiastically slurped down in Tamil Nadu, that pretty much sums it up. As a nation, we tend to display a “dekhee jayega” or “pakallam” attitude on the subject of physical fitness. The problem is compounded by the lethal cocktail of vehicular pollution, traffic-induced stress and lack of sleep which affects most city dwellers.
Take the urban nightmare of Bangalore: this former Pensioner’s Paradise has been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century by the IT boom. Mention Silicon Valley to a senior citizen who has had to cope with overcrowding, congestion and crumbling civic infrastructure - the inevitable side-effects of theboom, and you will find him frothing with rage. Meanwhile techies who ruefully discover they are diabetic in their 30’s simultaneously realise that ESOP’s are notthe spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down, to paraphrase Mary Poppins.
Occasionally, struck by a fit of conscience some of them go on a diet or sign up for a naturopathy boot camp after their annual health check-up but as everyone from Cicero to Shakespeare tells us, “The fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves.” What then, is the magic formula for balancing our pursuit of the almighty dollar with the universal life goal of staying happy and healthy? Even Oprah couldn’t crack that conundrum: she had to shell out $20,000 at the Pritikin Institute in Tampa, Florida to ensure that some of that “too, too solid flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into dew.” While that may have been loose change for a woman of her means (and girth) it calls for steely resolve and superhuman willpower.
Inevitably peddlers of quick-fix solutions get way too much air time and fads abound: Atkins, macrobiotic and now there’s yin-and-yang yoga designed for those who feel Bikram Yoga is way too regimented. Ironically Bikram’s hot yoga practitioners were bringing with them a bunch of bad karma, dude: they were like hitting the mats with an intensity revealing the same control-freak tendencies they were supposed to leave behind. Today the enlightened soul looks for tantra, meditation and chi, which means life energy, to open up the chakras and attain the lightness of being which allows life to flow more freely.
How then, does one achieve a balance and get to that sweet spot where the mind, body and soul are in exquisite harmony? Imbued with the spirit of scientific enquiry, your correspondent journeyed to Ananda in the Himalayas, a stone’sthrow from Rishikesh, the birthplace of yoga and spiritualism. Ananda’s founders, Ashok and Neelam Khanna, share a passion for decoding holistic wellness and making it accessible to those who have realized belatedly that making the Forbes List isn’t their sole purpose in life. They spent years researching Vedic texts before coming up with the Ananda blueprint for wellness.
“In ancient times, Indians practiced a holistic lifestyle; people valued the delicate balance between nature and the cosmos and how elements affected our physical health and mental wellbeing. I believe inner harmony is the key to achieving that truly elusive quality: peace of mind. Our core belief, the philosophy which brought Ananda into being is based on this as well as our recognition that each individual is unique. Neelam and I began to study ancient sciences and health practices in India to create the foundations, the pillars on which Ananda is based: Yoga, Ayurveda and Vedanta, which is a unique philosophy of life,” says Ashok Khanna.
For skeptics who wonder whether it’s just another fat farm for the wealthy, Ananda employs something best described as “tough love” to enforce eating discipline. Those who adhere to the ancestral belief that “we are what we eat” will enjoy the Pitta, Dosha and Kappa menus that have been painstakingly crafted by Ananda’steam of gourmet chefs. They have brilliantly adapted the concept of traditional Ayurvedic food suited to one’s body type to international cuisine: think lean dim sum, grilled sole and fresh summer stews.
Credit must be given to their think-tank for putting together a well conceptualized product: the details merge seamlessly instead of becoming a messy hodge-podge of East and West. And finally, the crucial element that underscores why Ananda is one of the highest ranked spas in the world: the people. During my 5 day sojourn everyone, from the buggy driver to the gardener, exuded the warmth and hospitality of a valued family retainer. Clearly each and every member of the 300 strong staff has been rigorously schooled to understand, imbibe and live by the Ananda philosophy and full credit to the founders for attracting and retaining such a dedicated talent pool. Without a doubt, they are the single most important reason for Ananda’s success.
If out of the blue, a genie offered you the option of getting a designer handbag orspending a week in the Himalayas achieving mind, body and soul balance by getting your chakras aligned, most of us would be Loboutined into displaying our greed for Gucci.
For the few who are looking to change their lifestyle, reduce theirmedication and start their day with a burst of energy, a stay at Ananda is a far smarter investment than a crappy designer handbag or a new set of golf clubs.
They will love the Ananda team which includes doctors, dietitians and yoga instructors meticulously schooled in the Hatha Satyananda tradition, plus talented chefs and lifestyle psychologists who take a keen personal interest in seeing some of the large caterpillars, er clients, transform into butterflies.
If they are to be believed, watching these transformations take place before their very eyes makes them feel as good as the client. Where else in the world would you share a yoga class with a peacock who looked scornfully at your pathetic attempts at the peacock pose? Let the devil wear Prada, those who look at the bigger picture will see the Holy Grail …