Learn to Master your Mind at The Ananda in the Himalayas - Catherine Turner
Ananda is a dreamy destination for anyone interested in yoga and meditation - not only for its sheer luxury and beauty but for its location - it nestles high in the Himalayan foothills above Rishikesh town (the ‘seat of yoga’) on the sacred River Ganges - and because the whole place is devoted to ancient Indian yogic traditions, as are the people who work there.
The word 'ananda' means bliss in Sanskrit, and that feeling is tangible as you wind up the hairpin bends and get your first glimpse of the old palace (which now serves as reception, the afternoon tea salon, and yoga and meditation areas). After a little blessing ceremony, check in is seamless. Soon you’re sweeping your way to your room through the lush, peaceful 100 acre estate of forest and gardens, the only sounds are the odd cry of a peacock and monsoon rain pattering the leaves. It’s the perfect setting to immerse yourself in Ananda’s newest programme - Dhyana Self-Realisation.
Dhyana means meditation and these days, who hasn’t downloaded an app or tried to sit and to find peace and calm? Modern life is demanding that we look for ways to de-stress, and this course is designed to teach yogic techniques, such as Ajapa Japa (spontaneous mantra chanting) and Trataka (gazing on a candle flame) which help us balance our thoughts, emotions as well as our bodies. It’s perfect for anyone who is interested in the deeper aspects of yoga as a life philosophy beyond the fast paced and physical classes of urban yoga studios.
It begins with a medical Q&A with the Ayurvedic Doctor to assess one’s Dosha (constitution). For me, Vata imbalance (excess nervous energy) was detected (very common in urbanites) and a course of warming, grounding foods and massage put in place. A consultation with Head of Yoga, Sandeep is a rare chance to discuss yoga as a lifestyle and a route to Swadhaya, Self-study and to come up with a personalised plan of mind-taming techniques to use in the ‘real world’.
Each day involves 60 mins each of one-to-one yoga and meditation; 30 minutes Pranayama (breathing exercises) and one spa treatment, all of which melt you into peaceful mode. The physical postures (asanas) seem basic - including joint warm-ups - but when done correctly, they intensify and the whole body opens up. It’s a good idea to go to both of the hour long group classes, beginning at 7.15am to deepen the process. You will experience the same postures with different teachers; slow and profoundly meditative with Reema; fiery and energetic with Sandeep.
All of this is fuelled by the delicious Ayurvedic menu. Dining staff are briefed by the Doctor on what suits your constitution, and steer you gently in the right direction. Even the Chefs are on hand with advice. It’s a chance to discover that what you eat can enhance your experience in yoga and meditation - teeny portions in two courses for breakfast, three for lunch and dinner, mean you feel light, focused, not hungry. Magically, just when you’re flagging, favourites seem to appear; sweet berries and pancakes for breakfast; delicately spiced lentil curry; rich (mini) cacao and banana sponges drizzled with dark chocolate sauce.
Although the practices seem subtle, mid-way into the 7 day programme, you can expect physical and emotional reactions. My mind began rebelling the meditation and went into overdrive - a massive headache ensued. Sandeep prescribed Yoga Nidra (talk through meditation lying down) which elicited waves of emotions in me, and I headed to bed early. Next morning, something had shifted and in its place a new clarity enabled me to become the observer of my chattering mind and the rising up and letting go emotions. From there, my body eased joyfully into the slow asana practice, unraveled to the delicious massage treatments as long held anxiety and tension floated away.
All of these yogic experiences are rounded and supported by your daily spa treatments. Highlights include Shirodhara - where warm herbal oil is dripped rhythmically on the third eye to trance-like effect; Shiatsu with Anand which seeks out knotted tension you didn’t know you had and Vilma’s healing hands in the Amethyst Rejuvenation Facial which makes skin glimmer with youthful energy.
To enable release like this, it’s a good idea to create space for change by digitally detoxing, resisting TV, instead journalling thoughts/feelings and reading yogic books recommended by Sandeep. Also, make sure you embrace group mantra chanting sessions - they’re a revelatory experience - the sound vibrates as if re-booting you from the inside. A visit to nearby Rishikesh is also a must; the experience of Aarti - chanting at sunset on the banks of the Ganges - is something which will stay with you forever.
A week of simple yogic practices, deliciously balanced fresh food and body melting treatments has profound effects - I returned with a long lasting shot of vitality, visible sparkle and a feeling of open stillness and creativity. I realised that pushing myself to practise complex physical postures in stressed out city mode, I often miss experiencing the inter-connectedness of mind/body which leads us to higher states of consciousness. Now I practise slowly, gently and meditate every day and the techniques I’ve learned (particularly mantra chanting) seem to make even the busiest days flow better.