Stillness is a good place to start.
I’m flat on my back, eyes closed, head tilted upward. Hints of coconut and musky herbs surround me. The caress of oil from a copper funnel above me spills down like silk. It settles onto my forehead, before sinking to my temples and hair.
Resmi, my masseuse, is gentle, yet firm. Her thumbs press on “marma” (acupressure) points of my head. She moves the funnel so the oil falls in figure eights on my forehead, soothing all senses.
What I’m experiencing is Shirodhara, an ancient Indian treatment. Ayurveda practitioners say that this space between the eyebrows (sometimes called the 6th chakra or “third eye”) is the seat of intuition.
Stimulating it helps blood circulation. But it can also bring clarity of thought, imagination, and, something we all crave: deep, delicious sleep.
I recall lulling both my babies to sleep this way, massaging their foreheads in circular motions. Not sure which Filipina Lola or aunt taught me the trick, but it always worked like a charm. Perhaps this is why Shirodhara has helped many who battle insomnia.
Indian Traditions in Central Europe
There are plenty of spas in Czechia. It’s a country known for wellness resorts, “healing spring water”, and relaxation in nature. But the Svata Katerina Wellness & Spa Resort is unique because of 11 skilled yogis, doctors and chefs who work here.
They’re all from India.
If you’re looking for Ayurveda treatments in Europe, come to the Svata Katerina Wellness & Spa Resort, in the highlands of Czechia’s Vysočina region.
The Shirodhara treatment was part of my 4-day Ayurveda Rejuvenation program at Svata Katerina. For one week prior, I’d been hiking and adventuring in the Hradec Kralove region. So, the invitation to end it all with four days of nothing but massages and spa treatments was very welcome!
The Svata Katerina Wellness & Spa Resort lies between Prague and Brno. Traffic isn’t allowed on the premises, and the three hotels, nine massage cabins, restaurant, and bar are set in a remote forest. A shuttle takes guests to and from Počátky, the nearest town.
Here, the Ayurveda way is a journey; not a destination.
Rather than booking an overnight stay, guests choose various programs, each lasting four days or more.
But What Exactly is Ayurveda?
On my second day, I locate the conference room, where half a dozen women have gathered. They’re here to hear Dr. Sanjay, the head doctor, speak about Ayurveda.
“Just as we have the technology for external wellbeing,” he explains, “so do we have the technology for inner well-being.”
Ayurveda is an age-old practice from India. It’s the belief that only when our mind, body, and spirit are in balance, then our bodies are also whole and healthy. Rather than finding cures for diseases, Ayurveda focuses on promoting a healthy lifestyle.
“We need to know how to balance changes. How to live according to the changes that take place in the universe,” Dr. Sanjay concludes.
My “Rejuvenation Program” includes three days of vegetarian dishes: Breakfast is fruit salad and spicy carrot chutney. For lunch, bean sprouts and cucumbers, zucchini rice, masala bell peppers, and palada payasam, a sweet rice desert from Kerala. The cashews and raisins balance out strong, fragrant cardamom. Dinner lists beetroot, roti, and tomato salad.
Later, I grill chef Rahul on this vegetarian diet. He confirms what Dr. Sanjay has taught us: just as the seasons of nature change, it’s also sensible to change up your food according to the season. Not only for practicality but because certain foods balance out your body.
“For example, it’s a good idea to drink buttermilk in the winter, and yogurt in the summer,” he says, “For the enzymes!”
Chef Rahul tells me he never fries the food. “No oils! Except for coconut oil. No vinegar, yeast, or baking powder. Coffee is a no-no, too.”
“A bit of red wine is good for your heart. And one glass before sleeping for weight loss.” (This part I like!)
In 1895, professors Hueppe and Gintl performed a chemical and bacteriological analysis
of the St. Kateřina water source and found it “is not only beneficial to the skin, but also the reflectoric nerve activity enhances performance of the heart, lungs, digestive organs and glands and acts on the whole nervous system.”
(Křížek V.: Obrazy z dějin lázeňství, Prague 1987)
Chef Rahul has to get on with his work, but he seems happy to chat about India and Indian food. I disclose that I miss a really good lamb curry and palak paneer. He tells me he’ll have something special for me, come dinner.
“Do you miss home?” I ask, as our chat ends.
“If ever I do, I sing. It’s my relief. I sing, or dance!” he discloses.
Hatha Yoga, and More Shirodhara Bliss
It’s my last day at Svata Katerina. Resmi glides barefoot across the gym floor, motioning me to take a seat on the yoga mat. She’s not just a masseuse, but also a certified Ayurveda practitioner and yoga instructor.
The Hatha Yoga session begins with Resmi’s mantra. A low, lingering Om. Her pitch takes me by surprise. Such a powerful, passionate voice I’d not associated with her tiny frame. It’s a synchronized breath, a single exhale. How does she do that?
Our flow begins.
Uninterrupted by time or kids, or thoughts of work and writing deadlines, I follow Resmi’s prompts. We move into poses and stretches. It’s relaxing and energizing at the same time. At one point, unable to hold one flexed pose, I giggle.
“No laughing!” she admonishes.
“Okay,” I promise.
Later, I wander.
Sunlight streams through the tree-line alley. Only the twitter of birds and rustling of wind breaks the silence. Then, a pair of hoofs as horses trot by. I sketch them.
I think of Resmi leaving a life in India, to pursue a career in Europe and relocating with a child. How she works professionally, with grace and a smile.
I imagine chef Rahul, stirring a pot of dal, humming a Bollywood tune. They’ve been here a couple years now. They’ve learned to adapt, adjust, and build a new life in Europe.
It reminds me of saying goodbye to a familiar space, family, and friends in Asia. New lands, new languages, new challenges to face. Those were the changing seasons that swept me to the place of growth and peace I’m at now. Everything had its time…
Another Shirodhara massage at 3 pm. Resmi is waiting. As I lie on the table, the thoughts come and go. I let them.
What makes my body feel alive? What brings my spirit joy?
When am I most energetic? How do universal patterns and seasons reflect themselves in my daily life?
What blocks me mentally, emotionally, and physically?
Shirodhara commences; the oil flows; I understand:
Wellness is a way of living. It’s not some perfect place you “try” to arrive at. A healthy life is a changing, moving, growing life. It’s a creative one.
After 90 minutes, Resmi wakes me with a whisper.
“How is it?”
Where did time go? I could stay under this Shirodhara spell forever…
But life is waiting.
Life, with its beautiful energy and frightening change, its sweet movement and scary challenges. I’m ready now, rejuvenated. Eyes still closed; heart wide open.
“Perfect,” I reply.
Experience Courtesy: Svata Katerina Wellness and Spa Resort
Svatá Kateřina 327, 394 64 Počátky, Czechia
Planning a wellness escape soon? At the Svata Katerina Resort, the Ayurveda Rejuvenation Package includes:
- Accommodation for 3 nights
- Ayurvedic full board
- 2 Consultations with a doctor
- 1 yoga class
- 3 Abhyanga massages
- 3 Shirodhara massages
- Cleansing water program
- Spa, Finnish sauna, aromatherapy sauna, steam room, jacuzzi access
- Fitness rooms access
- Transfers from Pocatky to and from the resort
4-day Package price: 15,570 Czk per person
Contact: +420 222 232 138
(Special thanks to the Czech Tourism board and the organizers of TBEX 2018 in Ostrava for the travel adventures!)