The promise:

Massage oils and teas to suit your personality, turmeric muffins, and that strange U-shaped copper pipe you noticed on your flatmate's bathroom shelf (it's a tongue cleaner by the way) – all are signs of a resurgence in Ayurvedic healing.

Ayurvedic retreats are a relative newcomer to the well-cation scene. Escape Haven's Ayurvedic healing retreat for women is set in an opulent Balinese villa in hip Canggu in Bali. Designed to nurture body, mind and soul, it offers a week of Ayurvedic-based yoga, workshops, spa, healing treatments, and delicious organic food.

It includes an Ayurvedic consultation with retreat leader Marieke Kouwenhoven who prescribes a programme of practical tools and techniques to incorporate into your lifestyle.

The retreat's owner, 44-year-old New Zealander Janine Hall, has been seeing an Ayurvedic doctor since she suffered burnout 12 years ago. Hall claims since then, Ayurvedic cleanses helped her fall pregnant naturally twice when Western fertility doctors said the odds were as low as 1 per cent.

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"Now with two healthy beautiful girls, I'm a living example of what an Ayurvedic lifestyle can do for women's health."

Hall has witnessed Ayurveda help people with issues ranging from depression, anxiety and stress, to obesity, chronic pain, fatigue, arthritis and autoimmune diseases.

"It's amazing seeing the transformation of people who commit to Ayurveda. One person had psoriasis so bad they hadn't been able to turn their neck in over 10 years. By day four they were doing yoga."

Annemarie Quill goes on a retreat in Bali to nurture body, mind and soul.
Annemarie Quill goes on a retreat in Bali to nurture body, mind and soul.

The history:

Dubbed the "sister science of yoga", Ayurveda is a system of preventive health care developed in India more than 5000 years ago and still used today.

Its holistic approach is based on the belief that health problems happen when mind, body and spirit are out of balance.

The word comes from the Sanskrit words "ayur" (life) and "veda" (knowledge or seeing).

Explains Kouwenhoven, "Ayurveda is about understanding how life works, knowing ourselves and how we fit in. Everything on this earth, including our bodies and minds contain qualities of the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether/space."

We are born with our own energetic blueprint of these energies, like a DNA, called doshas, she says.

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These are vata (air and space) connected to movement; pitta (fire and water) related to digestion and metabolism; and kapha (water and earth) linked to memory and stability.

Knowing your dosha helps you understand how different things in the environment affect you.

Ayurvedic practitioners use tailored healing tools to help people find balance. These include lifestyle changes, nutrition, specific yoga practices, herbs, teas, cleansing routines, and massages.

Ayurvedic practitioners use tailored healing tools to help people find balance.
Ayurvedic practitioners use tailored healing tools to help people find balance.

The science:

In New Zealand, Ayurveda is considered alternative medicine.

Retreat owner Hall believes there's an undeniable connection between mind and body in health that mainstream medicine is only just waking up to.

"I love how Ayurveda is so ancient yet so ahead of Western medicine in this respect. The Ayurvedic way is to approach things holistically and not in isolation in a bid to restore balance. It treats the causes of disease and suffering and not just the symptoms. It takes into account how the mind drives the physiology of the body and in turn can lead to disease."

The retreat owner says that Ayurvedic medicine is so ancient yet so ahead of Western medicine in a certain way.
The retreat owner says that Ayurvedic medicine is so ancient yet so ahead of Western medicine in a certain way.

The reality:

Kouwenhoven checks my pulse and tongue. To identify my dosha (natural constitution) she observes my physical make up, and questions me about temperament and behaviours.

Some questions are curious: Do I have a penetrating gaze?

Am I indecisive? Not sure.

My doshas are determined as pitta for the body, defined by a medium, strong build, and vata for the mind, suggesting a creative, quick thinker.

Kouwenhoven takes me through various ways to balance my doshas, starting with diet.

A Pitta fire type like me is drawn to hot, stimulating things. Yes, I love chillies. But if I have three coffees for breakfast, do hot yoga, eat a Thai curry for lunch, sunbathe, I might find myself the next day in a bad mood or with headaches. I can counter it with a cool swim in the ocean.

I like that it is not a dogma, you don't have to avoid things, but simply recognise their impact.

She designs a morning routine for me: tongue cleaning to flush out ama (toxic "goo" thought to be the root of many health issues), followed by lemon water, meditation, yoga, and a warm breakfast, which I must eat mindfully.

Will the kids ever get to school?

A lifestyle change is a commitment, says Kouwenhoven. We repeat unhealthy patterns easily – rushing, drinking our three coffees. So it is possible to substitute healthier habits, such as moon bathing.

Ayurvedic healers believe the moon, like the sun, has restorative energies that benefit our body and mind, and a cooling moon will help balance my fire dosha, she says.

I resolve to give it a go, wondering how it will go down in Mount Maunganui. Will I wear moon screen? Moon glasses?

Regular oil massages are also recommended. The retreat's Balinese Ayurvedic healer, Anatari, offers an eclectic menu of healing treatments.

I try Abhyangam massage, a full body massage with healing oils. Another day she uses heated bamboo to stimulate circulation, mood and remove toxins.

In Kati Vasti, an Ayurvedic treatment for back pain, she builds a reservoir of dough on the lower back into which she pours warm oil.

The Elakizhi massage uses boluses made of chopped leaves tied in linen cloth which are then heated over oil. Anatari believes regular Elakizhi reduces not only pain and anxiety but can help with weight loss. A massage to make me skinny? To hell with science, Ayurveda, I believe in you.

The retreat offers rejuvenating massage and spa treatments, calming yoga, access to healers and the expert retreat team who enable personal growth and insight. 
The retreat offers rejuvenating massage and spa treatments, calming yoga, access to healers and the expert retreat team who enable personal growth and insight. 

The verdict:

The retreat offers a fascinating introduction to Ayurveda, with rejuvenating massage and spa treatments, calming yoga, access to healers and the expert retreat team who enable personal growth and insight.

It has put me back on track to living a happier, healthier, more balanced and conscious life. Friends comment I am glowing like new.

Plus, you are in magical Bali, in the tropical jungle in a luxury villa with pool and butler, wonderful food and outstanding service in one of the world's best wellness retreats.

Back home, my new copper tongue cleaner is in my make-up bag. My midnight moon bathing session is pencilled in on my birthday, which coincides with a full moon. I might throw an Ayurvedic moon party. Spicy chillies optional.

Try it for yourself

Six-night, seven-day Ayurvedic retreats at Escape Haven Canggu start from US$2195pp including luxury villa accommodation, food, daily yoga and meditation classes, spa treatments, airport transfers. Flights are additional.

Ayurvedic healing treatments are also offered at Escape Haven's new "little sister" brand Palm Tree House at a lower price point with fewer inclusions. See www.escapehaven.com and www.thepalmtreehouse.com

Annemarie says the retreat put her back on track to living a happier, healthier, more balanced and conscious life.
Annemarie says the retreat put her back on track to living a happier, healthier, more balanced and conscious life.