Yoga in Ananda: The true meaning of bliss


Delphine Stefens eschews the stimulants of her busy life… 3,000-feet above sea level.

Observe, take note and review. It’s good practice to write down your stories as they unfold. But what if it’s you who’s unfolding? As you’re being spread out on wooden tables and stretched out on straw mats? Layer after layer of stress and fatigue gently being kneaded away? Reader, you park your laptop and start to relax. And if there is any procrastination, it’s without the anxiety. It helps that everything at Ananda is perfect. And what isn’t gets fixed. And with that comes the feeling that you too will be fine.

I head to Ananda after a yoga retreat and some sightseeing in Northern India, somewhere between Haridwar and Rishikesh, the unofficial capital of yoga since the Beatles stayed there in the late sixties to study yoga and meditation. If a couple of early deadlines had made it difficult to let go at first, I am by now hassle-free. My expectations are high; this is after all a place where the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Ratan Tata and the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall go to unwind. As the car takes me through the forests up the Himalayan foothills overlooking the river Ganges – the resort is situated over 3,000-feet above sea level – I feel the excitement building.

And when I enter the 100-acre estate of the Maharaja of Tehri Garhwal where Ananda is located, I know I will not want to leave this place. And so I won’t, at least not for a whole week that is entirely devoted to me, myself and I. Ananda spa was founded some 15 years ago and advocates a holistic approach to wellness based mainly on Ayurveda – traditional Indian medicine – and yoga. So I decide to opt for the Rejuvenation package that is built exclusively around both disciplines. At home, I had filled out a questionnaire and received a personalized schedule of treatments that didn’t mean much to me but enlightenment – about the program and myself! – soon followed during my first spa appointment, the intake consultation with one of the two resident doctors.

I come out a vata dosha (based on the tridosha or humour theory) body type – spacey, anxious… cold hands and feet with a cracking noise of joints and, thank goodness, an active mind – and receive an adapted balancing diet and lifestyle prescription. I am sceptical about going low on spices but relieved that I am to keep physical exercise gentle, something that I have instinctively known all along! In other words, if I’m not doing stretches in a group or attending an individual yoga, breathing or relaxation session, I indulge in dolce far niente. I do take a wonderful private cooking class and one unforgettable – and very much uphill – guided hike to Kunjapuri Temple that offers panoramic views of snowcapped Himalayan peaks.

But make no mistake: it’s a busy program with at least three appointments per day. The spa treatments are among the best I’ve ever experienced. They include impossible amounts of oil, excellent massage skills and a very professional staff that seems to know my schedule and personal preferences better than I do and breeze me through the whole experience. I chose not to stray by abstaining from alcohol and caffeine. It is after all my second week without stimulants – although befriending the chef does come with culinary and perfectly diet-appropriate benefits.

I buy a cookbook, some herbs… but once back at home good resolutions make way for life as I’ve always known it which, like for many people, can get pretty hectic. And yet, I am happy to stick to the recommended regular massage, and I do like wearing my own pair of souvenir white kurta pajamas – Ananda’s no-brainer yet elegant answer to dress code – to sit down, wind down, do some pranayama and think of one truly beautiful and happy place.

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