‘Those who have no time for health later find they have to make time for illness.’
‘Those who have no time for health later find they have to make time for illness.’
The name is not exactly catchy: Shri Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwara Yoga and Nature Cure Hospital. (Pareeka Hospital, for short). Its location is somewhat complicated too: Pareeka, Parkala, near Manipal, Udupi, in Karnataka, south India. But the experience that it makes available is simply very good.
The moment Nandita – a Sammasatian from Mysore who now lives in Birmingham – told me about it the attraction was instant. It was a chance to just stop running about all over the world, to take a break from my desk, and just give my good and faithful body some tender loving care.
That was a year ago. Now, the day after completing my 10-day course, I’m glad I followed my impulse.
We arrive at the end of a quiet street of prosperous-looking bungalows, beyond which is jungle. The large, sprawling establishment that is to be our home for the next 10 days looks attractive and is offset by a three-tiered lawn and a well-kept path lined with shrubs and trees.
The security guard at the entrance is not looking out for bombs we might be hiding but chocolate. Yes, this is a serious confectionary check. (Those coming to lose weight have been known to bring in a supply of sweets for just in case.) In fact, all types of food are forbidden. However, when I declare my Pune instant-soup supply, which I vow I am not going near during my visit in the hospital, a nod and a smile indicate we can proceed, Pune soups intact.
We are not permitted to leave the premises again until our treatment is complete (otherwise ‘fines are liable’). Nor will Internet be available to inmates. These guys clearly mean business. * Mobiles are permitted in restricted areas, but without an Indian SIM card mine is on vacation too. So I guess it’s Goodbye World!
* Simply everyone has a mobile phone. In fact, to quote Nandita: ‘There are more mobiles than toilets in India’!
My first impression when we arrive at Reception is how down-to-earth the staff’s approach is. It is a hospital, not a hotel (we’re called not clients or guests but patients, sadhakas) and we are not made a fuss of at all, but simply, efficiently dealt with, told what to do and where to go. We’re obliged to buy a yoga mat (Rupees 400) and are each given a cotton bag. That contains a brand-new thali, bowl, cup, fork and spoon; a tube for enemas, along with a tube and tiny watering-can-like container for nasal cleansing
The establishment is vast (it can accommodate approx. 225 people at one time) and labyrinthine. Its foundation, staff and all the running costs are made possible through the inspiration and funding of Dr D. Veerendra Heggade, a philanthropist, who wants to make a healthy lifestyle available to all Indians at an affordable price.
Founded in 2007 with a mere 60 beds, as the hospital’s reputation has spread it’s had to expand to meet demand: according to Nandita, throughout the year it’s well booked. Certainly I will see lots of coming and going during our stay, and all those I ask are happy with the results, a proportion returning annually. (So you definitely need to book ahead!)
Literally within minutes, and before even being shown to our rooms, we are weighed, have our BMI calculated and each have a consultation with a doctor. Dr Gopal Poojary is both a medical doctor and a trained Naturopathic doctor. (BTW: The place offers a 5-½ year bachelor course in Naturopathy, Yoga and other complementary approaches. It’s the first bachelor degree of its kind).
I tell him the current state of my body – some arthritis and an elevated blood cholesterol level. For the latter my GP is urging me to go on statins, which I am resisting. As well I’d be happy to drop 3 kilos over the 10 days. Yes, that’s possible, he assures me.
Having discussed with me his suggested treatments and suggested dietary regimen – ‘normal’* for the first day or two; then just fruit and juices – I am taken by Sarita, one of the many green-saried staff-members (most of whom are a good advertisement for the place, being lovely and slim) to my room. She allows me to drop my suitcase and a pee before whisking me off to my first session.
*Normal diet: On my first day this was watermelon, a glass of buttermilk (diluted lassi) and a bowl of buttermilk with pomegranate and some other features, unidentifiable but all adding up to something quite tasty. Towards the end, when I was again on it, it was dhal, rice and a glass of buttermilk.
Because I would like to lose weight, for 7 days or so the restricted diet I am put on comprised a juice or buttermilk every 2 hours. In addition at lunch, a generous serving of watermelon and for the evening meal, of papaya. My belly shrinks quickly: I am always full after both meals and never hungry between them.
I line up with some other women to be bound, like a geisha, with a hot water-bottle-like compress on my belly and a cold one for my back. After that has done its thing, it is removed and another smiling, green-saried staff member escorts me to a tiled room that contains a small wooden hut-sized structure. She instructs me to strip, but stops me when I prepare to take off my knickers.
‘Leave them on?’ I cry. ‘But they’ll get wet!’
‘They’ll dry! she assures me.
‘Yes, but…’. I drop protesting as I see the reason for them is less to do with modesty and more to do with hygiene. Wearing only knickers is de riguer for all treatments.
She promptly plops a wet flannel on top of my head and indicates that I join the other women in the steam bath. It’s like a sauna but without the fire, just lots of very hot smoky heat… so smoky that by and by we can’t even see each others’ faces, though we are just inches apart.
We sit in a semi-circle, all five of the Indian women with their arms across their chests to hide their breasts. Later on, ‘That is how we are conditioned,’ someone explains to me little sheepishly. Being a Westerner (the only one in the place at the time, apparently) and a sannyasin to boot I just sit there brazenly bare-chested and wonder if they think me wanton.
Five minutes into the session I realise that normally I hate sitting in a small, confined, windowless space and being made progressively hotter: my worst nightmare. Claustrophobia to the max. But at the very start of my program I’ve been flung into my worst-case scenario and am actually okay with it. (Another fear hits the dust!)
We’d arrived at 10:00 am and by 4:00pm, as well as the compresses and steam bath I’ve had a hip bath, a mudpack, a physiotherapy session and acupuncture – the latter two for the arthritis, and virtually all treatments helping increase metabolism so helping weight loss. My day finishes with the 7:30-8:00pm Yoga session of Trataka (gazing steadfastly at a candle).
The Daily Yoga Program
Along with following a naturopathic diet and nature cure as a way of life, there is strong emphasis on Yoga, so there was lots of encouragement to attend all sessions. For those of us who didn’t know, Naturopathy is a drug-free approach and is based on the concept of treating the body with Panchamahabhutas, which are: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether. These form the basic constituents of the body, and these elements are used to ‘revitalise and rejuvenate the body and strengthen the immune system against the disease-causing agents present in and around.’
(All the Yoga sessions are free except for ‘Smart belly.’)
5:30 a.m. General Yoga
6:00-7:00 a.m. Simple (for beginners, elderly or infirm) or Dynamic Yoga
7:00-7:30 Detox Kriyas (cleaning the nasal passages; not a favourite of mine!)
12.30-1:15pm Breathing Yoga
1-1:30 Yoga Nidra (kind of guided meditation)
4:30-5:00 Smart belly (pretty intense)
5:15-6:00pm Prayer and Post- Prayer talk or Bhajan
6:00-6:30 Spine and Joints Yoga
Though I always manage the early-morning session, I am simply too tired to attend most of the others. (Having massages and steam baths is hard work!) When I do attend, over the passing days I go through periods of boredom and vow that Yoga is not for me. But I end up deciding to take up Yoga when I arrived back in London and my usual routine.
The bedrooms, the eating area and treatment rooms are very plain. There are no frills but everything is clean – my cleaner would drop by every day to ask if I wanted my room done – and everything functions!
There are ‘wards’ – dormitory-style accommodation, separate for women and men – and rooms for 2. Good to go with a friend to share a room, or be ready to share with whoever is assigned the other bed. Even though it would cost more I requested to have my own space and luckily, at the last minute, that was granted.
There are also ten ‘Cottages’ – units on one of wings – that again, are very modest but include their own massage room. The two ‘deluxe’ units have balconies. You get to have your treatments brought to you – which might be an advantage but then you would isolate yourself from everyone else if you’re in your room all day – and of course with these privileges, the cottages cost more.
The place also has a small library (even with some English books) as well as a clinical laboratory. Longing to be outside, sometimes I took to the pathway, speed walking the whole circle in 4 minutes. Interspersed between the shrubs are messages to inspire us.
Conditions that Pareeka Hospital treats:
Some people come to detox.; others clearly need and want to lose weight. There were many overweight men and women, including a startling number of young women, in their 20’s, and some morbidly obese women. The typical sedentary lifestyle of Indians goes against them. In addition, Fast Food is doing to India’s health what it has already achieved in America and the UK.
As well, the brochure lists these ailments:
* Bronchial Asthma; Nasal Allergy, Chronic Bronchitis
* Diabetes, Thyrotoxicosis
* High and low blood pressure and ischaemic heart disease
* Migraine, tension headache
* Anxiety Neurosis, Depressive Neurosis
* Low back pain, Rheumatism, Arthritis
* Gastritis and Gastric Ulcer; Chronic Diarrhoea and Dysentery
* Irritable bowel syndrome
* Psoriasis, Allergic Dermatitis
What kind of people attend?
In the main, Indians, though there is, like me, the occasional Westerner. The majority are women; probably 1/5th are men, and the age group probably ranges from 25-75. A proportion speaks English (and almost all the staff members do, too).
Mostly from Bengaluru (Bangalore), the ‘patients’ as we are called are educated, middle-class, all the 20- or 30-somethings seemingly either architects or engineers.
(Nandita explained that there is enormous parental pressure for kids to study engineering; then, ‘after that, you can do what you want’. She said there is a saying in India: ‘If you randomly throw a stone, you’ll either hit a dog or an engineer’!)
The average stay is 10 days, some people choose to stay twice a year for 6 days at a time; others choose to do 21 days at a stretch; still others were heard to declare that they were ‘staying until my weight goes down/ I am feeling better.’ My own recommendation would be 10 days.
On my last day I saw the doctor and we went over his recommendations – for my diet and exercise. The advice for everyone is to follow the recommendations for 90 days, to report back and get a further ‘prescription.’ So the care extends even beyond 3 months: an exceptional service.
What was the outcome for me?
Yoga: though I could always understand its benefits, Yoga had never grabbed me. But by the last day I’d come round to it (and, seeing how inflexible my body has become, in spite of my daily swimming and walking, am also motivated to make it part of my routine.)
Arthritis: Daily the physiotherapist applied an electrical pressure to the affected knee for 10 minutes. She also gave me three simple exercises to start practising to slow down its progress. The acupuncturist put needles in my knee and near my fingers, again daily throughout my stay. So far I have not felt the return of any pain.
Cholesterol: Came down a few points, reassuring me that it can be controlled, at least to some extent, by diet. (Dr Poojary’s young assistant doctor warned me against taking statin, as have so many from complementary therapies.)
Weight: Lost 3.5 kilos, more than I had asked for. My ‘degree of obesity’ on arrival had been 1.9%, on departure was minus 3.8%.
Blood pressure, fat mass and visceral fat levels were all reduced, while my metabolism speeded up.
On the cultural- social front: I had yearned to see another aspect of India. Though I’ve lived there for fifteen years and since then visited regularly for many years, my connection with Indians has been necessarily limited (and always fully clothed).
I enjoyed being with them in this particular setting, especially the women. Sitting with various groupings for the different sessions, all of us stripped bare except for our undies – and covered in mud or turmeric paste, or red-faced or oilier than salami sausages – meant we were very exposed. ‘Now we have no secrets from each other!’ one woman observed adroitly.
When later we passed each other at a meal or in a corridor we’d exchange looks or smiles, as if we were now joined in a secret sisterhood. I guess we were, in fact, and I enjoyed that sense of connection.
What to bring
* At least 4 pairs of non-favourite loose-fitting lightweight pants and tops, as well as many old undies. The later especially because of having to wear them for all treatments, they get wet and can also be oily, so you need to constantly have dry ones available.
* Shawl or lightweight sweater, cardigan: cool in the early morning
* Shoes: rubber/plastic because of sloshing around so much in or near water, and other for times when you’re not.
* Walking shoes and socks
* Towels: at least 2, quick-drying body-sized towels; one oldish for oil removal or buy that one in the shop (Rupees 25)
* Hair clip: to keep it up as needed for treatments
* Shampoo and conditioner as you will be washing your hair a lot – after oil massages etc.
* Body soap
* Hair dryer
The basic package that goes with your room rent:
Yoga, Food, Mud packs twice daily, hip bath, spinal bath, spinal spray, immersion bath, enema, steam bath, arm and foot bath, chest pack, gastro-hepatic pack, local mud application and cold circular jet. (I had most of those, and some several times)
You pay for treatments such as: Physiotherapy, Acupuncture, Facial Treatments, Reflexology, Colonics and Massages, but they cost very little – from Rupees 50-200. Colonics cost Rupees 1000.
It certainly does not cost an arm and a leg. Of course your treatments will vary from mine, but – along with the general and specific treatments and including my accommodation and food – my 10-day visit cost a little over £200.00.
Contact details are below. (And if you do decide to attend, please say it was on my recommendation. It’s a way for me to thank them, through you!)
Ph. (91) 0820-2544206, (91)3209207, (91) 9483932325