What it's like: Manaltheeram Ayurveda Resort in India
As I wrote before, I’ve been fascinated with Ayurveda ever since my friend @vaish mentioned it to me when I lived in San Francisco. So after some intense work and travel in Japan, I needed some type of break.
Instead of going to the Maldives (I’ll get there eventually!), I asked a friend from Kerala to find me a good Ayurveda resort. He found and helped me book the Manaltheeram Ayurveda Beach Village (you have to do it via email…). Over email, they asked me about my health issues and told me that the minimum required reservation is 15 days. They also told me to just do a basic detox treatment… It was a bit of a risk - I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but they had mainly good reviews online… I decided to go for it!
After two weeks of traveling and work and an exhausting schedule in India, it was finally time! And I needed it!
Flying into Kerala for the first time, I was absolutely mesmerized by all the coconut trees! I’ve never seen this many!!
On arrival, the resort arranged for a cab from the airport - someone was holding my name, so there was nothing to worry about!
At the resort I was greeted with a fresh coconut and was right away given a consultation appointment with my Ayurvedic doctors (we arrived super early in the morning). We had some time to eat breakfast before the appointment. My friend proudly introduced me to the different Kerala foods. They were delicious!
During the consultation, I was asked to fill out forms about my health and was examined a bit. I also pointed out any health issues I had and wanted to fix. My main issue was skin irritation - especially if I’m stressed and travel a lot. There was a male and a female doctor assigned to me. The female doctor was the one who examined me closer and pronounced me as “Pitta-Kapha”!
In Ayurveda, the body balance consists of Pitta (fire), Kapha (earth), and Vata (water). One of the questions they asked me was weather I anger easily… I guess that comes from my firey side… That’s also where my proneness to having skin irritation comes from… My earthly side is the one that makes sure I have a schedule and balance in my life.
They explained that I should be only eating Pitta and Kapha foods during meal times. They also asked me if I’d like to be on a slimming diet (I might have gained some weight in Japan…) - why not?!! I agreed and they gave me a daily breakfast / lunch / dinner schedule to give to the cafeteria staff. I was to eat those foods instead of the buffet.
They told me that I would be getting 2 hours of treatments every day, starting today, and gave me a schedule. I couldn’t understand any of those treatments, so I decided to just go with whatever happened. I ended up reading about each treatment after the treatment each day.
The treatment program was called Panchakarma. It’s a full body detoxification program. At first, all the toxins are taken out of wherever they’re hiding and made loose in the body. Then they are eliminated (this is the least fun part…), and then you are healed and strengthened after the elimination of the toxins (since it’s hard on your body).
One thing that impressed me right away was that they were looking at my body holistically. When I go to dermatologists in the U.S., they look at me for a second, don’t ask anything about my personal life or habits, and immediately prescribe me some expensive hormonal creme to heal my face irritation. They’re fixing the symptoms, not the cause - ensuring that the pharmaceutical companies stay in business for a long time. I’ve learned on my own already that there is no quick solution - I just have to be healthy and eat well and my irritation goes away on it’s own without the cremes.
Here, they understood that my irritation doesn’t come from the face - it’s just a symptom of the body. So the treatment focused on healing my entire body. And the face would heal itself. I was definitely impressed.
After the consultation, my room was ready!
I was brought to my room in one of these beautiful bungalows:
Inside, the room was very simple. Minimalist. Some people online have complained with how basic it is, but I think it fits with the concept of the simple earthly atmosphere. After all, Ayurveda is about taking things that the earth gives us and using it properly for health. I liked it!
I was pleasantly surprised that the wifi was good! This was probably one of my biggest concerns here! But later on, I was even able to stream Netflix, so work in this remote part of India is possible! While the electricity in this part of India goes out frequently, the resort clearly had a generator, so it was not a problem for guests.
I had a garden room and was able to work outside with this amazing view:
As I mentioned, every day included 2 hours of treatments! There were different ones, but every day I got started with a four hand massage (now that’s luxury!). After the massage, treatments varied, but were super nice. My favorite one was a warm milk bath. I also got herbal scrubs, rice pudding massages, face massage, hot oil pouring on the head, herbal bath, and more. Simply heaven!
My least favorite one was Tharpanam - when they poured oil over my eyes and I had to open and close my eyes to absorb the oil. Luckily that one was only once. But as I mentioned, most of the treatments were heavenly.
The most important part of the treatments were how I felt every day. For the first week, I felt heavy and tired. I slept so much and it was hard to work much. Remember, this is when I was already tired and stressed and traveled too much, but they were also releasing toxins into my body.
However, after that, there was a massive turn-around and I started feeling amazing and energetic. When my friend came to visit a week into the treatment, he said my skin was glowing (it was!). I was also losing weight and recovering my flexibility from doing yoga every day (more on that next….). I felt so amazing the last few days at the resort, I had a bit of panic about returning to the “real world” where this feeling could not last.
When I first got to the resort, I never wanted to leave. I just needed the simple consistency - get massaged, eat, sleep a lot, lay in the hammock. But after a week, as my energy levels started to return, I got restless and bored. I needed more excitement. The last few treatments were extra hard - it’s hard to just lay still and get massaged for two hours when you’re energetic and want to move (I know, I know…. not a bad problem to have, but it was a problem).
Even though I’ve done yoga many times in the past, my body was out of shape when I got to the resort and I didn’t feel great, so I went to beginner yoga. In yoga, there is no shame in starting at the beginning again and again and again!
The yoga was AMAZING!!! It was unlike the yoga I’m used to. It was slow, but effective. After a week, I was back to being flexible and was able to move to intermediate yoga.
It’s hard to explain, but the best way is through contrast. After India, I flew to Milan and went to a yoga class. The Milan yoga class felt like I was in some kind of yoga olympics. It went so fast, I had to catch my breath to the poses instead of taking a breath at every pose. There were several positions that were too difficult and I didn’t want to push myself to do (luckily I know my body), but the instructor, who has never met me before and doesn’t know about my body, kept encouraging me to at least try to do them.
The Milan yoga class was the Western version of yoga. I’ve been to similar yoga classes in San Francisco. It makes you feel like you’re getting the most poses for your money. The most productive workout - I’m pushing myself the hardest possible, I’m working out!
In contrast, the yoga in India was chill. You take your time to do the proper breathing exercises. Yes - just breathing! Imagine how unproductive it is to pay for a yoga class in the west just to sit there and breathe for 5 minutes. Actually, my friend told me she’s been in yoga classes in the west where people leave during shavasana (“nap time!”) - they couldn’t wait for 5 extra minutes to just lie still.
The other poses included stretching neck and shoulders and some more traditional yoga poses. The teacher really helped to explain how to do each pose and the benefits of doing it. I was able to get a pose working that I could never do before! The key was closing my fists, which nobody explained to me before.
Even though this yoga wouldn’t be considered “money-worthy” in the west, it was amazing. I felt great, and within a week, my flexibility increased to healthy levels. I really enjoyed beginner yoga, but I changed my treatment time and moved on to intermediate yoga.
The intermediate yoga took place at sunset under palm trees looking at the ocean (see the main picture for this post!). It was magical. When I tried to explain western yoga in a random white room to my Indian friend, he said it was not yoga. Yoga is meant to be done with an amazing view like this, that’s why so many gurus come from the Himalayas. Doing it under coconut trees in this beautiful place was definitely different - maybe he was right.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner was included in the resort fee. Since I was on the slimming diet, I sadly was not able to taste all of it. Maybe the diet was a good thing… otherwise I’d be eating way too much!
My diet was super light for breakfast. When I saw that the first breakfast was a few slices of watermelon, I didn’t think I could do it. So I decided to be chill about the diet, especially for breakfast, and try other things if I was hungry. I wasn’t going to push or punish myself that hard. I might have gone overboard for breakfast that first day… Tattu dosa, Kadala curry, Red + Coconut + Tomato chutneys. It was soooo good:
But I usually just supplemented the breakfast fruit with this amazing green gram + fresh coconut shavings + fruit muesli:
It was divine! Also, as I continued with my diet, it made me a lot less hungry - they tailor it with foods that suppress appetite I think, so I was able to follow it later on in my program, especially when my special breakfast was a steamed banana!
Lunch was a lot bigger - with Kerala red rice, a salad, and some curries.
Dinner was just a simple soup and steamed vegetables. I’m not a big dinner person, so I was fine with it. The only issue was that dinner was super late - it started at 7pm. But it was came with candellight, the sea breathe, and traditional live entertainment such as dancing or Indian drums or other Indian musical instruments!
Another thing I tried was saffron tea, which we had the option to purchase for around $2. Saffron is the most expensive and exotic spice on earth and it has a ton of health benefits - it is anti-cancer, anti-depressant, helps with the heart, eyes, digestion, reduces stress, and a lot more!
I also tried Jackfruit for the first time… but found it to be too rubbery for my taste…
One of my favorites was steamed green gram that I got for lunch one day… I tried steaming it myself in Milan, but it didn’t come out quiet the same:
There was no ice cream or chocolate. All the food was vegetarian, but there was an option to order fish or meat items from an in-room service menu for an extra amount. I stuck to being a vegetarian the entire time I was in India - for one month! It’s just so easy there.
All food was super fresh and natural made from Ayurvedic recipes, so even if you weren’t following the diet, you’d be eating super healthy! This banana comes straight from the vine and is warm and sweet like a real banana should be!
There were also European food options - like breads and jams, but I avoided those and chose to eat the exotic Indian food instead. I’m very happy with that choice.
Oh, and I should mention that everyone gets a fresh coconut to drink after an Ayurveda treatment each day to replenish!
The food is a real treat! It tastes great and it makes you feel amazing!
The resort is located steps away from the beach:
The beach is too dangerous to swim in - there are massive dangerous waves. But there are beach chairs for those who want to tan in the hotttt sun and a lifeguard who can supervise if you do want to swim and the waves aren’t as bad.
I preferred to just go for a beach walk every morning when I woke up to watch the sunrise and play a little with the leftover waves on the shore:
This is a public beach, and the coolest thing was seeing the Kerala fishermen pull out fish from the sea!
And of course there were plenty of beautiful colorful catamarans!
It took a while for them to get the fish out - at this time I usually left and went to breakfast. But one day I stayed and witnessed the finale - when the fish were pulled out and the local women came to buy it to sell at the local market. It was beautiful and fascinating!
I usually stayed at the resort after my sunrise walk. It was way too hot to be in the sun, and after that, there were locals selling stuff to tourists and beggars, all wanting money. It wasn’t too safe to go too far from the beach right in front of the resort, especially if you’re a single woman.
However, I loved watching the beach at sunset, especially on Sundays, when all the families came out. It was such a beautiful scene! Everyone in bright colorful clothes, kids playing soccer, people enjoying the water. Hard to describe the beauty and energy of such as simple worldly scene.
The resort offered several trips. However, many of them took all day (some even overnight) and were not convenient with treatment times. I also wanted to get the most out of my treatment, taking advantage of the healthy food and yoga and calm at the resort, so I only went on one small trip - the local backwaters!
This trip was only about two hours total. I changed my treatment time, and went. The backwaters happen when the water from the sea spills into the land and creates sort of a river with little islands of land:
There was A LOT of wildlife! Include the beautiful blue Kingfisher bird, which I saw for the very first time (it’s hard to take a picture - this is the best one I had):
And of course there was a boat coconut vendor on the river - I definitely got one!
I also went out to Kovalam Beach when my friend came to visit for a day trip and got to climb this lighthouse!
The water was great for swimming, so I walked in the water and watched the locals (and they watched me back! Some took selfies….).
Finally, we visited the magnificent Leela Palace Kovalam, where I got to be a chess queen!
There was a lot more to do and see in the area, but it was important for me to focus on my health and treatment, so I didn’t push myself to do more. I’ll come back one day and explore more!
Have you ever seen a baby coconut?!!! Sometimes they fall out of the tree early…
And the coconut tree climber must be one of the coolest jobs in the world!
But seriously, by the end of my time at this resort, I felt refreshed, focused, and absolutely amazing. I lost around 8 pounds, my skin was glowing, my hair was luscious, my skin issues disappeared, and I was happy. I can still feel the effects of it about a month later. But of course, Ayurveda is a long-term journey. To maintain the benefits, I’ll need to keep exercising and eating healthy. They gave me a list of foods and advice to take with me, and I’m doing my best to follow the advice.
The only bad part was that they didn’t have a place for European smokers to smoke. They were supposed to smoke in their room, but some sat outside their room to smoke and the smoke went into my room, to the point where I had to change rooms. There is no true escape from those disgusting smokers anywhere in the world unfortunately.
The cost is a bit high - it costs the same as an all-inclusive Mexican resort vacation. But instead of drinking alcohol and eating fried foods all day, you get 2 hours of massage treatments every day, amazing healthy food, and most importantly, you improve your health instead of ruining it more.
I’ll definitely be back to this resort, maybe even as soon as November!