There's no doubt that many of us are seeking alternatives to a healthier lifestyle—and with very good reason. I’ve been at the forefront of the spa and wellness movement for decades, and I have witnessed the interest in Ayurveda grow. Twenty years or so ago, a handful of spas in this country began to offer various versions of what they called Ayurveda—a natural healing system that originated in the Vedic culture of India five thousand years ago—and for some time, I preached against these offerings. Why? Because they were not authentic and not administered by Ayurvedic experts with credentials from Ayurvedic institutes.
At the time, these were mostly Ayurvedic “treatments”—two or three options on a spa menu—that were developed by skincare companies that created products that were inspired by Ayurveda, to put it kindly. I’ll never forget my initiation into the world of Ayurveda some 20 years ago at a spa in the Southwest where I experienced Shirodhara—a classic Ayurveda treatment that involves the gentle pouring of warm oil over your forehead. In my experience at the spa in the Southwest, the therapist poured cold oil over my forehead . . .
Happily, times have changed. There are a number of properties in the U.S. where you can experience authentic Ayurveda. One of the best is The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa in Fairfield, Iowa. Founded in 1993 by Raja Rogers Badgett and his wife, Candace, The Raj is a Premier Ayurvedic Health Center where all of the treatments have been approved by the Maharishi Ayurveda Council of Physicians. I reached out to Raja Rogers Badgett and asked him to share his wisdom. Here’s what he had to say:
The experience of the person taking your pulse and prescribing the treatment is the key.
How does someone who knows nothing about Ayurveda choose a retreat? That is, how does one distinguish between an authentic Ayurvedic experience and one that is not?
Ayurveda is a sophisticated medical science. It is not something that one becomes an expert in by reading a book or taking a few courses. An authentic Ayurvedic retreat should have programs developed by Ayurvedic experts with degrees from legitimate Ayurvedic institutes. All of the programs at The Raj are authenticated by a council of top Ayurvedic experts from India. This maintains the highest level of integrity in all of our treatment programs.
Over the last 20 years, Ayurvedic spas and treatments have become increasingly popular. Many spas mix Ayurveda treatments with other kinds of massage and New Age techniques, creating a pick-and-choose approach to relaxation and wellness. But, just like extracting one active ingredient from a plant, what gets missed is the synergy of the whole. It is this holistic approach that provides the profound effectiveness—and safety—of Ayurveda. When every aspect of the program at a retreat is grounded in a deep knowledge of Ayurveda, each step can support every other step to accelerate the healing experience.
Sometimes traditional treatments are interpreted for more modern audiences. Is there an example in modern best practices that our readers should request?
An Ayurvedic doctor once compared Panchakarma to rehabbing a house: You want to tear out the old materials and replace them with strong new support. But you don’t want the house to fall down in the process. One of the strengths of Panchakarma, when it is done properly, is that it nourishes the tissues and cells while it removes deep-seated impurities. An Ayurvedic doctor who is experienced in Ayurvedic Pulse Assessment can judge how strong of a detox regime to prescribe and which treatments will provide the needed support for your specific condition. The experience of the person taking your pulse and prescribing the treatment is the key. Some people are not given the stronger, purgative treatments. Some people are given massages with milk-soaked boluses, which provide maximum support for muscles. Some people need cooling treatments, some people need heating treatments. Any treatment should be comfortable, and you should feel relaxed during the entire process.
At The Raj, our technicians are trained in a wide variety of authentic treatments, in accord with the ancient texts of Ayurveda. Each guest begins their stay with an Ayurvedic assessment by our experts. On the basis of their specific needs, an individualized treatment program is then designed.
In your practice, you have probably seen some very miraculous before-and-afters. Is there a first-time Ayurvedic experience you can recall that really opened someone’s eyes or shifted their worldview?
One of the most satisfying memories is of Kathy, a young mother from Wisconsin with M.S. When she arrived, she was using a walker, was in constant pain, and was unable to work more than 10 hours a week.
The herbal massages and other Panchakarma treatments relieved her pain levels almost immediately. Day by day, her energy increased and her pain decreased. She was still using a walker when she left after seven days, but she felt stronger and optimistic. She wrote us a month later to say she was no longer using her walker.
At the time she came to The Raj, Kathy’s understanding of managing an illness was purely pharmaceutical. She had tried every medication her doctor had recommended. But a holistic view was missing. The detoxification treatments helped her condition immeasurably, but it was following the individualized home recommendations (daily routine, self-massage, herbs, and diet) that allowed her to continue to experience amazing progress.
4 Places to Try Ayurveda in the U.S.
Art of Living Retreat Center, Boone, North Carolina
“Where Health Meets Happiness” is the tagline of this retreat center, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains at Boone, North Carolina. The Art of Living Retreat Center is associated with one of the top Ayurveda research hospitals and colleges of Ayurveda in India. A number of Ayurveda Wellness Retreats are offered, including the year-round Refresh: Ayurveda Cleanse, Panchakarma Cleanse retreats, Ayurveda Culinary retreats, and more. The Shankara Ayurveda Spa rounds out the experience nicely. artoflivingretreatcenter.org
Chopra Center at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa, Carlsbad, California
The Chopra Center, founded by world-renowned holistic physician Deepak Chopra, offers “Perfect Health,” a signature program that is based on the principles of Ayurveda. Choose from either the six-day or 10-day Perfect Health Retreat that includes one Ayurvedic spa treatment per day (the 10-day retreat also includes 10 detoxifying Panchakarma treatments), mind-body medical consultation, daily immersive experiences on creating perfect health, daily mediation, yoga, and Ayurvedic meals, among other amenities. There’s also a three-day Rest & Restore retreat. omnihotels.com/hotels/san-diego-la-costa/wellness chopra-center.
Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, Stockbridge, Massachusetts
There’s much to choose from at this retreat center, which is essentially the American university of yoga. Guests here may opt for Ayurvedic programs such as Ayurveda for Balancing Weight, Energy, and Emotions; Foundations of Ayurveda; and Exploring the Ayurvedic Kitchen. Kripalu is also home to the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, offering comprehensive study and professional certifications, as well as advanced studies in Ayurveda. kripalu.org
The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa, Fairfield, Iowa
No more than 15 guests at a time are accepted at this Ayurvedic health center, nestled among 100 acres of verdant woodlands in Fairfield, Iowa. The town is home to the Maharishi University of Management, the Maharishi College of Consciousness-Based Health Care, and the NIH-funded Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention. Retreats range from three- to 21-night stays. theraj.com/about-us/