x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Yoga and fasting in Goa, the land of excess

Around Asia In the second of her columns about travelling through Asia, Effie-Michelle Metallidis checks into an Ayurvedic treatment centre in Goa.

Dark monsoon clouds hang low over the sea beside the Beach House in south Goa. Effie-Michelle Metallidis for The National
Dark monsoon clouds hang low over the sea beside the Beach House in south Goa. Effie-Michelle Metallidis for The National

The wind beats against palm trees as dark clouds roll in. The long-snouted mongoose that habitually shuffles around the gardens has disappeared, and the sky, normally replete with the incessant buzz of insects, stills.

Monsoon season has rolled into India, and the coastline of Goa is spared none of the downpour. Rain sluices in sheets against the Beach House, a small resort on the tip of Sernabatim Beach in the south, where I've sequestered myself to detox.

Now, the idea of detox does not send me into throes of wheatgrass ecstasy. The concept conjures up waif-like hippies floating through thatched huts as they starve themselves for a week.

However, the Beach House's weight management programme is different. It is not a stint of yoga and fasting, as I had naively assumed upon gliding through reception in hemp pants, ready to affirm myself into positive states of being.

No. The programme, run by Sanda Wellness, began several months ago, and is based on a "three-chakra" system that evaluates clients on their psychological, physiological and physical health. After an initial check-up - a bone density test, a bioelectrical impedance analysis (aka, body fat test), an arm measurement here and a neck measurement there, the real assessment begins.

What do you hope to achieve in your time here? Do you have some habits you'd like to change? Let's talk about your earliest memory of food. Is there a lot of anxiety in your life? How would you like to try a hypnotherapy session? We can re-programme your brain to change some lifelong habits - are you free this afternoon?

It's a lot to take in. But the all-female staff of nutritionists, therapists and Ayurvedic doctors is patient. Having gone through the detox process themselves, they know of the ups and downs, the uncertainty, the dragging fatigue and the sudden bursts of energy; the bouts of anger and the flashes of elation - in short, the effluent of abrupt, shocking change.

There are the enthusiastically accepted changes - the daily massages that take place in small thatched huts, a fan lazily beating overhead amid the smell of wild flowers medicinal oils and the caw of birds. Punam and Iris, pint-sized masters in the art of silencing curmudgeons, execute their skill through daily reflexology, lymphatic, and Ayurvedic treatments. (It's a sad testament to modern-day convenience that the "mouse-knot" I have in my right shoulder - due to clicking at the computer all day - took five days to remove).

Then, there are the daily sessions of sunrise yoga that wake the body and clear the mind, and the afternoon workouts of tai chi or aerobics on the mosaic deck that overlook the crashing waves of the Arabian Sea.

There are the assessments done by an Ayurvedic doctor - in my case, the ever-patient Ajita, who walked me through all aspects of the holistic practice: how to assess the doshas, or the overall constitution of a patient, to better balance the diet; the practice of yoga as a form of medicine; and the explanation of what's inside the little brown pills I've been taking for weeks now - 80-odd herbs pounded together by pestle and mortar to yield treatments for the liver and the blood and a variety of other salubrious causes.

There are also the talks, made interesting by the infectious enthusiasm of the staff that delivers them. Francine, a spirited nutritionist and fitness expert, extols the body as a finely tuned machine broken by modern eating habits. Gemma, a t'ai chi practitioner and hypnotherapist, demonstrates the acupressure method of instantly getting rid of cravings, and discusses how stress is closely linked to eating.

Then there are the not-so-enthusiastic changes. The strict diet of liquid meals that forms the gastronomical spectrum of the day. Juice for breakfast, juice for mid-morning, juice for afternoon, soup for dinner (save one delicious, sink-your-teeth-in-it masterpiece of solid fare for lunch).

There is also the - how shall we say - vigorous internal cleansing that occurs on a number of levels, which includes shots of wheatgrass and spirulina, the ungodly taste of which is unable to be masked by any combination of fruit juice, and a daily regime of diluted coffee whose use cannot be entirely discussed in public. Let's just say it's not for drinking.

But the combination of all treatments yields a stupendous effect on the psyche. Smokers have quit at the Beach House; drinkers abandon their drink and the potbellied Mediterraneans with a fetish for food - well, they learn how to dial back the crazy.

That is to say, the body regains control as the mind is ushered, like a feral animal, back into its cage. Too often in the daily grind (or my daily grind, at least), health is abandoned at the expense of the deliverable, be it a project, a deadline, or, as I re-enter school, a paper or exam.

But if the body cannot function, the mind suffers. The mind suffers, and the body receives the punishment - be it in the form of fatigue, stress, or a dozen doughnuts and a jar of Nutella in the parking lot of a Spinneys on a Monday night.

Initial results have proven a great success. Kilos lost: four. Centimetres: 12. But the ultimate result remains to be seen in the coming weeks as sessions of hypnotherapy sink in. The team will be following me for 12 weeks, which is a great way of keeping clients accountable, and offers them key support when necessary.

Like right now, for instance, as I head to Kathmandu, when all Patty, my travelling companion, and I can think about is how to strategically raid the chocolate aisle at duty free on a 30-minute layover.

A seven-day wellness package at the Beach House (Sernabatim Beach, Goa; www.thebeachhousegoa.com; 00 91 832 668 3030) costs 118,000 Indian rupees (Dh9,676), based on single occupancy. Return flights on Air Arabia (www.airarabia.com) from Sharjah to Goa cost from Dh1,306, including taxes.

Next week: Effie arrives in Kathmandu, Nepal.???