14 days, 42 hours of Yoga, 18 cold spring water showers (and 10 beautifully warm), 8 massages, 7 days of Ayruveda, 2 mountain treks, 2 open water swims, and 1 cycle ride later, I returned to the UK refreshed, revived, energized and ready to face the world once again.
Back in September last year I booked my visit to Ulpotha: a Yoga and Ayurveda retreat in the Sri Lankan jungle. I had been desperate to experience a retreat for years and the progress I’d made with my health, specifically my eczema, deserved personal acknowledgement and this was the perfect reward. Ulpotha, amongst the many other retreats I researched, spoke to me. The Yoga, Ayurveda, organically and locally grown produce, gluten and dairy free meals, limited phone signal, zero WiFi and electricity (aside from one solar powered charging station), good weather and close connection with nature was a combination too good to pass up.
As the departure date grew closer, what I was about to embark upon really sunk in with nerves about how I would cope in an environment so far from what I’m used to. I’m pleased to report that whatever concerns I had before leaving quickly diminished - my phone was tossed in my bag and completely forgotten about. My bones warmed as soon as I stepped off the plane and I lapped up the sunny, warm and slightly humid jungle environment. I had no choice but to get on with the creature comforts, and that was that.
Upon arrival I was greeted with smiles and friendly hellos, handed a glass of fresh coconut water and one of the delicious 3pm snacks. Yoga was to start in 15 minutes and although I felt utterly shattered, was encouraged to go along with the promise that I’d feel better afterwards. A quick introduction to my hut mate and off we went. The 90 minutes went by in a flash and I emerged feeling much more human. After a refreshing cold shower, my first of many, it was time for dinner. The sun had begun to set and the paths were lined with gas lanterns, lighting the way to the Ambalama Hut where we would congregate at mealtimes for the next two weeks.
The days ran like clockwork, installing a much-appreciated and relaxed routine. Each started with a coriander tea and banana before gently stretching into an array of Yoga poses. Breakfast was next, a different delight each morning. Those that had booked on would wander off to their Aruveydic treatment or massage, those that didn’t would swing in hammocks, swim in the lake, sunbathe or explore. Lunch was my favourite meal of the day and we’d spend hours eating and chatting, chatting and eating. The afternoons ran much like the mornings, ending with the second yoga class of the day, or occasionally a walk up to Monkey Rock for sunset meditation and breathing exercises. Dinner was served at 7.15pm and each night at about 8.30pm my eyes would start to droop, the calling of my bed too much to resist. After the deepest sleep, I was woken at sunrise by a gentle alarm clock of birds chirping, monkeys chatting and all the jungle sounds in-between. In just a couple of days I had become the kind of person I envy, who springs out of bed and skips to the bathroom.
I was amazed at how busy my very relaxing and pamper heavy schedule was! After 7 days of Ayurvedic treatments, where I was brewed like a tea bag, steamed like a fish (including a delicious looking turmeric and gooseberry marinade!) and baked like a chicken, I took a cycle ride to Ulpotha’s kitchen garden to see where the magic happened. The farmers organically grow and harvest around 75% of the food, which is then freshly prepared and cooked throughout each day with great love and care over open fires. Every lunch and dinner we were presented with selection of curries, daal, ancient grains in many ways, salads, fruits and for anyone that cared for it, some curd provided by the resident buffalo used to plough the fields.
James Demaria was our exceptional Yoga teacher. His unique combination of dance, Pilates, release technique, Yoga and a holistic approach couldn’t have been more up my street. He advocates listening to your body, adapting your Yoga practice to suit. Each class I’d look forward to his tidbits of information, explaining how each pose and technique he’d worked into the session supported varying areas of your body’s function, about the practice and origin of Yoga and anything else he thought beneficial. I twisted and stretched into positions I didn’t think possible, James always on hand to stretch us all that extra centimeter. The classes were fun and free and James taught us how to understand Yoga rather than simply go through the motions.
For me, Ulpotha provided a place of sanctuary. I truly connected with my body and soul and overcame things I wasn’t even aware of. I released deeply buried tension and made way for a wave of creativity, positivity and inspiration.
I would recommend Ulpotha to everyone – each guest lost 10 years and grew 3 inches. Had the food not been so delicious, I’m sure I would have lost a few pounds, too!