Last month, to celebrate the ripe old age of 29, myself and my brother decided to spend the better part of two weeks at Barberyn Beach, in Sri Lanka, covered in herbal oil and fed on a diet of curry, all while we were massaged, steamed and cleansed within an inch of our lives, in the name of ‘research’, of course.
I have long been a fan of alternate treatments, holistic wellness, body boot camps, and all immersive mitochondrial awakening overhauls. If it gets me into the sunshine, all the better.
Translated simply as ‘knowledge of life’, Ayurveda, originates from the Sanskrit of Ayur (life) and Veda (knowledge) that’s based on the ancient Indian holistic philosophy and medicine system. It celebrates the idea that by balancing your mind and body with food and lifestyle, orientated to your body type, (or Dosha) you can live a healthy, wholesome and more fulfilled life. Slightly idealistic if you live in east London and get yelled at by crazy dog haters more than you’re smiled at by strangers.
It’s more of an illness preventative approach, in line with the tea, curry and yoga-loving aspects of personality than my drunk, anxious and coffee- fuelled self. Speaking of which, I have since quit my daily cup and am more sane than ever. I cannot emphasise how much it has harmonised the crazy of my mind. So much that I question whether the reported increase in anxiety might be hand in hand with the rise in my generation’s coffee consumption. The UK is up by 10 million cups a day in the last 10 years.
But back to the herbal teas and powdered medicines. Green robes on, I would shuttle to daily treatments beneath the jungle canopy from my room to the medical centre, under the troop of monkeys, over the pond of catfish, ready to be stretched and kneaded like a lump of bread dough. As someone who’s back would crunch like crisps with a rub, it was a process for the therapists to undo years of lactic acid build up and convince my muscles that they too could look like Kobe beef.
A days itinerary would look a bit like this: 6am – yoga, 7am – breakfast, 8am – nap, 8.45am – acupuncture (thinking about lunch), 9.30am – oil rub and herbal bath/ steam (still thinking about lunch), 1pm – lunch, afternoon to read/ think of dinner/ swim/ yoga/ sweat a gallon, 7pm – dinner, 9pm – life pondering – another word for an hour spent playing mental ping pong over my inability to avoid emails and social media.
Seven blissful days passed and then Dr Pushpa dropped a bombshell. My colon and rectum was apparently left out of the r+r, which needed rectifying. If you haven’t had an enema, let me enlighten you. In Sri Lanka it involves a bottom hole, a tube and a vial of questionably brown liquid, with an oil chaser. All for health and only incidentally for pleasure.
The whole process started off with a harmless tummy massage and ending with a treatment that treads a fine line between bottom exploitation and physical euphoria. At the hands of a polite and softly spoken therapist, my tummy was massage then I was covered in hot stones and oiled up like an Italian at the beach, before the warmed herbal medicine was administered. Going back to my room and holding it in for an hour as was advised was easier said than done, as this didn’t happen, because, well, gravity is a thing. Walking 200 yards with 150ml of liquid pressing on your bum hole is like walking a tightrope blinded. It involves practice and a will of iron.
The euphoria of the treatment occurred once the ordeal was over. Not only had I flushed out my bowel but felt the full gratitude of my functioning continence. I was exhilarated, confused and elated.
The reason I wanted to talk about this, is not to laud my 10 days of relaxation (enema aside) and tell you that they place is magic, it is and it was, but because I realised something whilst I was out there. In moments of contemplation and the calm to look at my mental chatter it reminded me that we are the makers of our own relaxation, just as we are the makers of our own lives our own stress, or own happiness or unhappiness. The only thing our surroundings do is highlight that. We give ourselves permission to relax, sleep, move slow on ‘holiday’ because ‘it’s allowed’ but neglect much of this behaviour in everyday life. When was the last time you meditated or day dreamed for an hour without cause? Or spent a whole afternoon chatting to a stranger, or read a book with the intention of absorbing it, rather than it putting you to sleep?
What this experience did was remind me that ‘busy’ is not ‘happy’. The happiness I am referring to is not pleasure but more of a contented sense of self and progress is obsolete without it.
This all takes work. Work of a gentle, more patient kind. I am the first to admit I find it really hard to invest in self care. But creating the gap between thoughts, to do lists, busy mental chatter is crucial to our quality of life, as well as life productivity. I thank this trip for much of the weird and wonderful topics coming soon on my podcast (‘Down the Rabbit Hole, with Tess Ward’). But, more than anything, I am a little more patient and calm within myself. Apparently I am now more productive, but that part is only incidental.