If you feel permanently exhausted, you’re not alone. An estimated 45 per cent of us suffer from a chronic lack of sleep and know all too well how profoundly it affects our well-being. I haven’t slept well since before the anxiety-inducing disruption of the pandemic, and even though life is back to normal, my circadian rhythm isn’t. I know I need to fix it, so when I hear of a new sleep retreat at the holistic health resort Ananda in the Himalayas, I clear my diary and jump on a plane to India.
At Dehradun airport, in the northern state of Uttarakhand, a chauffeur-driven car is waiting to take me up winding mountain roads, through a national park teeming with exotic birds and inquisitive monkeys. I marvel at the hills, covered in a canopy of green that stretches as far as the eye can see. It’s late September, the tail-end of monsoon season, the air is balmy and the high-pitched buzz of cicadas almost deafening. Nevertheless, the maharaja’s palace-turned-luxury-wellness resort – set in 100 acres of lush sal forest and overlooking the Ganges River and the holy city of Rishikesh – has a palpable aura of serenity.
It’s also steeped in history. During the British Raj, the palace welcomed both Lord Mountbatten and Mahatma Gandhi. These days, along with Hollywood and Bollywood stars, it still draws royalty – Charles and Camilla stayed in one of its three exclusive private pool villas. I think we can safely assume they slept like a king and queen, respectively, and hopefully, I will too, with the guidance of Ayurvedic specialist Sreelal Sankar, who is overseeing my stay. After a thorough consultation to determine my dosha (body type), he explains that I have a vata-pitta (Ayurvedic for space/air and for fire/water) imbalance and prescribes an appropriate diet and personalised programme of treatments and activities designed to calm body and mind.
Ananda’s seven-night Sleep Enhancement Programme includes a variety of treatments to nourish body and mind.
And so begins a week of private meditation and sleep-inducing yoga Nidra sessions, spa rituals and delicious, healthy meals in the fairy-tale-like setting of the palace estate. I’ve never known such an aptly named resort – Ananda means “bliss”, and that’s certainly what it feels like being tucked up in bed at 9 pm in the hotel’s white cotton kurta pyjamas.
That’s not to say that I magically drift off and enjoy eight hour of uninterrupted shut-eye. There is, of course, no quick fix. As Doctor Sankar explains, it will involve easing myself back into a daily routine with regular meals, early bedtime and wake-up time, and – the greatest challenge for a night owl like me – no work after 6 pm. I realise that changing my bad habits will take some effort and might not happen overnight, but embracing the retreat programme is a first step.
Alongside heavenly Ayurvedic spa treatments such as abhyanga (full-body massage), pada abhyanga (foot massage) and Shirodhara – in which medicated oil is gently poured onto the third-eye chakra to promote better sleep – I see several of Ananda’s specialist practitioners, including Jitendra Uniyal, renowned for his expertise in Chinese medicine. Throughout his decades-long career, he has treated both the Dalai Lama and former Pope John Paul II, so I feel privileged that it’s now my turn to benefit from his wellness wisdom. After taking my pulse by hand, he tells me I am holding onto “grief, anger and fear”. He isn’t wrong, and following a relaxing cupping, acupuncture and moxibustion treatment, I address some of the underlying issues in a session with a visiting clinical hypnotherapist, Roma Singh. She guides me through a visualisation exercise to release emotional trauma and soothe my soul. It’s an intense 90 minutes, and afterwards, I seek out a secluded corner of the grounds to sit in solitude for a while.
Some of the rooms at Ananda Resort look over the valley and the city of Rishikesh, renowned as a centre for studying yoga and meditation.
I find the perfect spot on the palace terrace, where a small guest house built for a visiting saint is kept as a place of worship. Anandamayi Ma (1896-1982) is considered a reincarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga and revered for her propagation of universal love. Her humble abode overlooking the Ganges valley looks just as it did when she stayed there – a white-painted room with a bed in it and not much else. I sense the tranquillity she must have felt here, and reflect on the san kalpa (intention) I set myself at the start of the retreat: “I am at peace.” After a week cocooned in the Himalayan hills, surrounded by healing hands and thoughts, I am at least on the path towards it.
Ananda’s seven-night Sleep Enhancement Programme from £5,710pp full board, including all wellness consultations, treatments and programme inclusions. More information, HERE.
Words: Lisa Kjellsson