Dr. Sampath Perawatha looks at me intently. He’s already checked my tongue, looked at my irises, and felt my pulse. He asks me about my sleep. At the stunning Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort, on Sri Lanka’s far southern shore, spoiled in a beachside villa, I’m sleeping quite well—thank you. When I mention that I love to doze to crashing waves and birdsong, Dr. Sampath just grins. “Yes, it’s a special place, Sri Lanka.” He should know. Born and raised here, Dr. Sampath is both a conventional medical and Ayurvedic doctor. At the luxurious Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle, hewed elegantly into a coconut grove, Sampath helms the resort’s Ayurvedic and wellness venue, the flagship spa program for the Anantara brand—an upscale collection of hotels dedicated to offering guests extreme sense of place with an opulent, yet authentic, edge.
Determining my dosha (Ayurvedic type) the minute I waltz into the room, Sampath, nevertheless, takes me through a thorough exam, which also includes a slew of questions about my lifestyle. What he’s searching for is imbalance, known in Ayurveda as vikrut. That is, what happens when a person’s unique constitution gets skewed. It doesn’t have to be as serious as it sounds. Some of us wake up a bit out of kilter every day; the point is to seek harmony, to follow curative rituals constantly, whether they focus on mind, body, or spirit. The concept of Ayurveda is to reset the body, to move toward an evolving equilibrium. In my case, as a Pita (fire) Vata (air) person, who travels incessantly and leans into life as a pure, unhampered creative, I need grounding (kapha). This is a constant for me, seeking something solid to cling to, finding earth. Knowing this, Sampath suggests a Marma Abhyanga treatment, one of many Ayurvedic rituals the Anantara Spa at Peace Haven Tangalle offers guests in its Anantara Spa.
The spa, a graceful Eden, subtly embellished, offers both conventional spa treatments and a menu of unique, Sri Lankan-tinged and locally interpreted Ayurvedic rituals.
Meant to go beyond muscle unraveling, this massage results in what’ I’d describe as a kind of hypnotic state, a place of euphoric contentment—like a well-executed shavasana in yoga. It works like this: marma energy zones, vital to the body’s prana flow, can be cleared using herbal bundles. At Sampath’s spa, they’re, filled with the healing powers of 12 local plants. Dipped in herbal-infused Ayurvedic oil, the packets are applied across the body with just the right pressure. The massage, meant to spur specific energy channels, relieves pain, clears the mind, and induces sweating for detoxification. But, it also shakes things up, brings up issues, and provides the recipient, if open, to answers and possibilities. I leave feeling myself reborn as a tabula rasa, having seized the chance to begin again.
“My goal here is to provide knowledge of Ayurveda to help people embrace a natural lifestyle in our busy world,” says Dr. Sampath, who also teaches yoga and meditation at the resort, a 152-room retreat that edges a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean. It lies three hours from bustling Columbo, near the remote fishing village of Tangalle, and just a drive away from most of the nation’s astonishing, eight, UNESCO-listed sites. Architecturally reflecting the environs, Peace Haven Tangalle provides plenty of opportunities for repose—from surfing lessons to cooking classes to cabanas beside a shimmering, infinity-edged pool. And, the spa, a graceful Eden, subtly embellished, offers both conventional spa treatments and a menu of unique, Sri Lankan-tinged and locally interpreted Ayurvedic rituals.
“It’s special here,” Sampath says to me, motioning to the emerald outdoors we see through the windows, pointing to the sound of rain falling on the spa’s rooftop. “Can you smell that?” I inhale the fragrance of jasmine—and listen. “Sun, sea water, and briny air can assist in your transformation in Sri Lanka,” he says, while explaining to me that Ayurveda on this island incorporates some different pathways (such as the use of metals and the concept of alchemy) not always utilized in India—or other strongholds of the ancient science. “Guests can come in for an hour, or enroll in more comprehensive programs—such as seven-day wellness journeys, based on detox, mindfulness, sleep, or self-care,” Sampath points out. Each week-long treatment, supported by the resort, offers nutritious meals, exercise regimes, life coaching, and spa treatments.
Before I leave, Sampath goes over a list of actions I can take to stay grounded—daily meditation, mindful movements, slowing down. But, he also praises what I do right—helping me to understand that finding harmony is ongoing and infinitely possible. As I walk out the door, he mentions that we all have powers of inner wisdom, touchstones to clarity and light. “Ultimately, you have to take responsibility for yourself,” he says, knowingly. “You can drink the medicine forever, and never get well. You must forge ahead yourself; become aware. Listen and see what’s around you. It’s up to you. At Anantara Spa, we will simply point to the path.”
Becca Hensley is Editor at Large for Insider's Guide to Spas. Based in Austin, she writes regularly about travel and spas. She believes a good story draws you in like laughter in a crowded room, and challenges you to do it justice. Her work appears regularly in Austin Monthly, Travel Channel, Toronto Star and National Geographic Traveler.