Asia Travel

Is this the world’s toughest ayurvedic health and wellness retreat?

Quite possibly, but I did lose 2.5 kg in just 5 days whilst at Barberyn ayurvedic retreat in Sri Lanka.

Ayurvedic medicine has been around for more than 3000 years. And the Barberyn ayurvedic health and wellness retreat in Sri Lanka claims to be one of the oldest in the world.

I went to Sri Lanka to see what all the fuss is about and was invited to go for 6 days on the program.

The first thing I quickly realised is that this is a whole and holistic ayurvedic lifestyle program that extends not only to food and exercise, but to everything you do from the water temperature in your shower to swimming in the ocean. According to ayurvedic medicine, it all has to be just right.

Renae at Barberyn Ayurvedic Retreat in Sri Lanka surrounded by the ladies who administer treatments to guests all day

And the activities you are allowed to do can vary from day to day.

So what is ayurvedic medicine? Ayurvedic medicine was developed in India some 3000 years ago in India. The principal of it is that for the body to function, the mind, body and spirit need to be in alignment.

Today it presents an alternative, healthier type of medicine and health approach. It is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems. Disease is said to be a result of an imbalance in consciousness.

Barberyn offers a a hard core version of the ayurvedic lifestyle. This includes no air conditioners (although they offer some rooms with air-con if you can’t cope but charge you an additional Euro 24 per night to have it on).

There is no TV, no sugar, caffeine, alcohol, meat, no processed food, and no-one speaks to anyone else. And there are loads of ayurvedic medicines.

Barberyn Ayurvedic retreat offers no-frills accomodation.

Unfortunately, they take it a bit too far and have no mosquito screens anywhere other than your bed, so you eat dinner surrounded by mosquitos, with only citronella oil ( a natural oil) to protect which is not strong enough. That was no fun.

With the beds being the only place with mosquito net protection after 5pm, guests were walking around covered in bites.

And the wifi was useless. Barely worked.

Guests there did not speak with each other. Many were from Europe, as well as Japan. So whilst it wasn’t a silent retreat, it may have well been. Interestingly when I went for daily walks, I found the locals trying to chat to em on the beach an intrusion to the peace and calm I was already starting to enjoy.

Accommodation at Barberyn is pretty basic.
The room at Barberyn has an air conditioner but you are encouraged not to use it, as ayurvedic tradition does not support the use of temperature regulators.

This was my day by day experience:

Day one;

I was surprised at how basic the accommodation is. The brochure said 4.5 star but this is more like 2.5. The room has an air conditioner but you are encouraged not to use it, as ayurvedic tradition does not support the use of temperature regulators.

If you do the resort charges you Euro 24 for each 24 hour period within which you turn it on. Ouch.

The facilities are certainly clean but very basic and simple. There is a pool, a lot of rooms in old style buildings and the whole resort sits next to the ocean. The views are stunning. And the peace and calm of the place is immediately evident.

Day 2;

I woke to an appointment with the ayurvedic doctor. She was dressed in a beautiful sari, spoke softly and certainly knew her stuff.

She took my blood pressure, weighed me and took my vitals before recommending a program. It was very structured with something on every hour until lunch time.

white woman with Indian woman at retreat in Sri Lanka
Renae at Barberyn Retreat in Sri Lanka with one of the women who administered ayurvedic treatments.

I went straight into a treatment room where two women dressed in checked blue and white aprons met me. It was alarming at times, as I wondered if they were nurses or torturers, but as it turned out, they were neither.

For two hours the women massaged every centimetre of my body with herbs and spices and rich, thick oil. The smell was like herbs and spices I usually save for a roast chicken.

The massage started with my head and they poured oil into my hair whilst I sat in a seat only wearing panties looking into a mirror. A head and hair massage went on for about 20 minutes.

women legs with oil patches being applied
Renae having oil patches applied.

I then lay down with one woman on each side as they poured all over me and massaged my body. It did feel great. That part finished with hot pouches of herbs pressed all over my skin. I felt truly marinated.

I then had to lie on a bed and another woman came and put oil patches all over the fat areas of my skin to help me lose weight in those areas. Then a papaya paste was applied to my face. I had to lie still for 30 minutes.

I was then allowed to shower and was led into a bath where another woman poured bath water smelling like different flowery herbs over my body for about another 20 minutes. This is said to improve the skin.

Vegetarian food at Barberyn avurvedic health and wellness Retreat, Sri Lanka

Lunch was served at midday. I was brought a watery soup, then allowed to eat from the buffet. It was vegetarian with a huge array of salads and cooked vegetables, and some amazing flavours. There were signs over everything to explain the food’s benefits and the vitamins and minerals it contained.

There was even sugar free dessert, which was a welcome relief, but it did taste strange.

At 3pm in my little locker, I found bottles of brown ayurvedic liquid and an envelope with ayurvedic wellness tablets was left with clear instructions on when to take them.

Black liquid in bottle with yellow label at Ayurvedic medicine at Barberyn Retreat.
Ayurvedic medicine at Barberyn Retreat.

The afternoon was left free to walk the beach, have a swim and relax. There are several hotels surrounding the retreat and all I could think of was coffee, but I harnessed my power not to walk in and order one. Every single minute of my stay.

Day 3;

 I slept a solid 9 hours on the second night, something I never do back home. I usually survive on 6-8 hours a night. But the bed was harder than I am used to. I woke up very stiff and could hear the man in the room over who seemed to be having a lot of trouble digesting the food.

Yoga was at 6am and yoga in this part of the world is very different to the West. The focus here -and in India -is on the breath and much more basic stretching than the style of yoga we experience in London or Sydney.

In 90 minutes, we only did about 20 minutes of yoga poses. The rest was breathing and stretching.

Three women standing on beach, two in saris and one in black bikini
Renae on the beach in Sri Lanka attending an ayurvedic health and wellness retreat.

I walked on the beach, then had 30 minutes of acupuncture followed by an aryuvedic massage.

Lunch is a buffet every day with at least 15 choices of vegan food, none of which I recognised apart from hummus. It tasted fine and I was full. There was even sugar free dessert again which by day 2 I was starting to like.

three sugar free desserts at Barberyn Health and Wellness Retreat
There was even sugar free dessert again which by day 2 I was starting to like, at Barberyn Health and Wellness Retreat

Day Four;

I woke up in agony. Every muscle in my body was frozen. I was later told this is common during this type of detox.

Every morning now starts with half a glass of a black gunk to drink meant to cleanse the body.

I dragged myself to the beach to walk, and had a consultation with the doctor. She said I had stuck to everything and my body was responding which was why I had severe muscle cramps. 

Sun rise over a beach, Sri Lanka
Beautiful Beach with a reef in front of Barberyn Ayurvedic health and wellness Resort, Sri Lanka.

I was told to have an extra 1 hour massage today, bringing my total hours of massage and treatments today to 4 hours. 

I was also advised to have a special steam bath, which was very unusual. It was more like a wooden coffin with my head sticking out, ( see pics). But it did feel great on my skin and muscles.

Renae having a steam bath in a wooden cylinder shaped tube in Sri Lanka.
Renae having a steam bath in Sri Lanka.

The vegetarian food was getting boring but my appetite had also lessened.

Dinner was a la carte and again brought in silver trays. There was a fabulous pianist at dinner which was amusing amongst the agony everyone was feeling.

There were mosquitos everywhere which was challenging, so I ate quickly and was in bed by about 7.30pm reading before an early night. 

Women table with teapot and water on it
Lunch table at the ayurvedic retreat in Sri Lanka

Self care is an essential part of the peaceful process to become a better human, as a journey to transform, grow and test; and we were encouraged to spend the week asking questions like “what am I made of” and “how do I live a great life right now?”

The days continued much the same. There was a lot of alone time, a lot of massages, a lot of oil on my skin, and the whole experience was very calming.

I was definitely forced to slow down, and I had a lot of time to think, process and reflect on my life.

woman with red rug over her and mosquito net in box over her head having a weight loss treatment including papaya face mask
Renae having an ayurvedic weight loss treatment including papaya face mask

The oils destroyed my clothes which was unfortunate. I had to throw away a swimsuit, underwear, t-shirt – anything that came in contact with the oils.

I would never again go to a health and wellness retreat that does not offer mosquito repellent. Sri Lanka is a country with dengue fever, and 60,000 cases were reported in the area where the health retreat is located, in 2019.

Unlike regular life, at the retreat, there was no sugar, alcohol, coffee or food to escape to. This is the centre piece of any retreat – sitting with yourself, your feelings and who you really are.

The lack of air conditioning given it was 30 degrees celsius most days also seemed unnecessary. Although I have spoken to many people since who say they actually love going to a retreat that puts you through hardships like this. I wouldn’t rush to another without it.

The price varies depending on time of year and what style of room you have, but on average it is around $3000 Australian a night, with a recommended minimum stay of 7 nights.

Once I went back to the real world, my relationship with coffee, meat, and alcohol had changed for the better. I wasn’t craving any of the above, and my desire for vegetables and simpler food – and less food overall has increased.

I really enjoyed taking time away from the pace of life in Sydney which like all big cities is hectic – and far busier than you realise until you step away from it and glean some perspective.

Click here for more about Barberyn.

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