SRI LANKA: Yoga and Auyvedic Retreat at Sen Wellness – By Babette

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We arrived at Sen Wellness in the south of Sri Lanka in the late afternoon, deposited by a grumpy driver who was entirely unimpressed by the unpaved, bumpy dirt road that leads to the hotel. The retreat is very much a sanctuary from the moment you step inside. No shoes, minimal wifi (I opted to switch my phone off for 5 days to really get into it), open spaces and general peacefulness disseminates in the circular space. The air is humid, carrying the sound of the ocean, the trees, birdsong and the occasional monkey.

On the ground floor is the kitchen, communal dining table, some lounge areas, the Ayurvedic doctor’s room and the treatment rooms as well as, set back slightly, the private cabanas. If you want your own toilet you’ll need to book one of these. On the second level are the bedrooms, shared bathrooms, lounge areas and the yoga / meditation space that looks out into the jungle.

Shortly after arriving, we had our consultations with the resident Ayurvedic doctor.Dr Waruni, was serene and gorgeous, always dressed immaculately with her beautiful long dark hair swaying in a plait as she moves about the sanctuary. She’s clearly an expert in this field and radiates, for want of a better phrase, girl power. There were many many questions asked during the consultation, including what were my favourite foods (how difficult I found this!! Is bread and butter a bad answer? Am I restricted by cuisine, meal, ingredients!?), when and why I became stressed, who is in my family, how fast do I walk and how is the health of my vagina. We covered all topics. She then read my pulse according to Ayurvedic principles with 3 fingers to determine my constitution. I was judged a ‘kapha’ or water-based personality. Soft skin, empathic and stubbornness are all characteristics of kapha people. Each person’s constitution determines their Ayurvedic treatment plan whilst at the sanctuary.

As the sun goes down, the Sri Lankan staff busy themselves lighting candles and then later burning scented smoked. Everything is very ritualistic. A gong sounds at 7pm, as it does for each meal. The dining table is communal and so over each meal we got to know others who were either staying at or working as teachers at the retreat. The yoga / meditation teachers live in another part of the sanctuary and do many of the activities with the guests. They were all lovely and I very much enjoyed hearing about their journeys; everyone from a Wall Street banker with his wonderfully tattoo’ed and bohemian Chilean wife to an 18 year old German yogi and meditation teacher fresh out of his Indian yogi school.

The food is Sri Lankan and lovely, definitely on the healthy side and guided by Ayurvedic principles. Dhal, potato curry, onion sambal, pittu, coconut sambal, kiribath, rice, hoppers, roti and herbal teas. And generally not all that much sweet.

At 9pm it’s bedtime and the lights everywhere are turned off.

The next morning we’re woken at 5.30am with a knock on the door and a warm cup of cardamom tea. We sleepily get up and make our way into the yoga room just as daylight starts to creep in. The morning yoga session is 90 minutes and is truly the loveliest way to wake up. I don’t know how I’d ever introduce a 6am class into my daily life where bedtime is rarely before 11pm, but I’m hoping I can do some (slightly less early) morning classes in the future.

The first morning, and every morning after, each class was partially disrupted by a gang of very wild monkeys throwing themselves between the trees and then only the roof, running like thunder over our heads.

Rekawa beach is a 2 minute walk; the beach is wild and not great for swimming, but deserted and incredibly beautiful. It’s a great place for a long morning walk post-yoga or an afternoon nap in the sun. They are in the process of building a saltwater pool for the sanctuary which will be a great addition.

Breakfast begins with large pink coconut, fresh fruit, some sort of take on porridge (I was never sure if it was sweet or savoury) with either ground flour or grains or both. Followed by curry and traditional Sri Lanka accompaniments like hoppers, coconut samba and onions. And then finally comes your Ayurvedic medicine mixed up with plant-based ingredients with some very suspect smells and textures, not for the feint hearted!

The Ayurvedic treatment begins after breakfast, the descriptions of which were often in Sri Lankan (e.g. ‘Shirodhara’ and ‘Abyanga’) with no explanation so it was always a surprise when I entered the treatment room!

I had everything from face masks, to full body massages, chakra treatments and herbal baths. My most interesting and unusual treatment was Sarwangadhara. Firstly, I was asked to undress and lay naked on a big wooden bench. The table was built at a slight angle so liquid could run down into a hole. I was covered, no, smothered, in the most incredible way with a special oil. The giant drum of oil had my name on it, so I assume it was mixed with various things deemed beneficial for me. Words can’t accurately describe volume of warm oil that was poured over me, all the while the dexterous therapist rubbed it into me with her other hand. Very very relaxing, once I got over my bemusement. Until she asked me to turn over onto my back and I slipped around in the oil like a sardine in it’s tin until I’d come all the way around. Getting off the table was also no mean feat either.

Most days, there are activities in the afternoon – ranging from trips to a local temple, market visits, meditation with a monk and cooking classes. We did a temple visit and watched the sun go down over the jungles of the Southern coast. We also did a cooking class which I loved with a very handsome chef call Bony. I will share the recipes for Dal and Hoppers soon!

In the evenings there is a local turtle conservation project and if you let the sanctuary known they’ll tell you when you can go and watch the turtles lay their eggs. Otherwise, no one is allowed on the beach after 7pm. It’s so inspiring to see these little grass roots projects and these people with very little themselves working so hard to protect the turtles. The sight of the 1.5m green turtle laying over 100 eggs in the dark was amazing.

Your experience at Sen Wellness will in part be determined by what teachers are in residence at the time and what they are trained in. We had 3 beautiful women whilst I was there: a lithe young British/Indian teacher who had recently finished her teacher training in Rishikesh and specialised in Hatha, a gloriously fair British Kundalini master with a very cheeky smile but a fellow Virgo with a very warm heart and finally, an etherial Dutch woman who was mesmerizingly quirky and made you want to live a more peaceful life with her breath work and creative practice.

We chanted, we meditated, we listened to the magical gong, we drew, we did sensory mindfulness, we did breathing exercises, we accidentally fell asleep sometimes, we almost did headstands, we giggled and we sent positive energy out. We learnt a lot from these three women.

Guests can opt to join a set 10-day retreat or just visit for a set number of days.

Thank you to everyone who made our 5 days so magical, and a special thank you to Sam, the lovely owner of Sen, who has truly created a sanctuary to heal both the spiritual and the physical self in beautiful Sri Lanka.

 

Sam Kankanamge

Sam Kankanamge BSc (Hons) Osteo, DPO, Dip.Acu is an exceptional, world renowned healthcare professional, with over 25 years-experience transforming patients’ health, and has been called ‘the best back specialist in the country’ by The Times (2014).

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Karolina Domaranczyk
Karolina Domaranczyk
02:38 30 Dec 21
I can’t stress enough what a pleasure and beautiful experience it was to spend 7 days at SEN. The facilities, treatments, yoga, soul warming localisation and last but not least - most helpful and kind staff made my stay there a full wellness immersion journey. I recommend to everyone to unwind, relearn how to rest and come back to the body and peaceful mind.
Charlotte Krüger
Charlotte Krüger
12:26 28 Dec 21
If you are having trouble finding peace of mind in your busy everyday life, imagine this: you are sitting in a room with wooden floor, surrounded by nature. When the monk tells you to listen to the sounds around you, this is what you hear: the wind in the mangrove forest and palm trees, the waves of the Indian ocean thundering against the nearby beach, the songs of local birds you may not have heard before. When you open your eyes, you see the dense forest, watch an eagle flying by, or look into the curious eyes of a monkey that sticks its tiny face down the roof.I came to Sen Wellness in December 2021 to get myself ready for a major surgery in January. I needed to relax, stretch, meditate and leave a troublesome year behind me. When I arrived at Sen Wellness, I quickly knew that I had chosen the right place. What struck me first was the perfect architecture of the place: the columns, the open stairs, the open walls that give you a slight breeze sometimes, the furniture and wooden carvings (all made local and/or from recycled wood). It has all the beauty of pure nature, combined with the convenience of modern life, except that you will not see a single piece of plastic and no screens (unless you choose to bring your own) while you are there. The founder, Sam Kankanamge, told me that no trees had to be removed for the construction of the building. From what I could see, the idea of sustainability is taken very seriously at Sen Wellness.From day one the staff took care of everything I needed. Madura, the concierge, welcomed me with this perfect smile, the kitchen crew around chief Darshana served us three times a day with very healthy and also delicious food, doctor Waruni provided me with an individual program of ayurvedic treatmens so full of the most relaxing massages that after a few days I already felt brand now. And I had booked two weeks!Every morning, Prema, a warm and hard-working lady, woke me up with a tea at 5:30 to get me ready for Yoga at 6:00. It sounds early, but once you are there it is as smooth as everything else. The Yoga teachers were fantastic. The level of fitness among the group was different and they found just the right way to include everybody. In one-on-one Yoga sessions, they provided me with a very good individual program (I have a severe hip condition and have seen a lot of physiotherapists in my life). The way they looked into my personal situation and developed a special Yoga program convinced me that they really know what they are doing. (Thank you @emmaflowmoon).By the way: a lot of women are working here, especially in the well-paid jobs. The kitchen and the room service staff is male, the rest is female-dominated. Since most of the guests are female, this is only fair, and it is not a coincidence: "This is a place for empowerment of women", Sam told me.But it is, first of all: a beautiful place to relax and take care of your body and soul.
Karo Domarańczyk
Karo Domarańczyk
02:57 14 Dec 21
I can’t stress enough what a pleasure and beautiful experience it was to spend 7 days at SEN. The facilities, treatments, yoga, soul warming localisation and last but not least - most helpful and kind staff made my stay there a full wellness immersion journey. I recommend to everyone to unwind, relearn how to rest and come back to the body and peaceful mind.
Cinderella Hamdan
Cinderella Hamdan
09:24 18 Nov 21
My time at Sen Wellness Sanctuary was truly awakening, and I'm really grateful for this wonderful experience. Immersed in nature, the sanctuary is so beautifully designed to naturally heal.No amount of gratitude enough for the wonderful people that work there, who have made my stay unforgettable. Every Ayurvedic treatment was served holistically with attention and dedication, and the local vegetarian options were so nourishing and filled with all sorts of colors and flavors — leaving me to feel relaxed, renewed with a better understanding of myself; merely it was food for the mind and soul. The power of kundalini yoga, meditation and sound healing held by the beautiful soul coco and the great monk have made a valuable impact on my daily practice and mindset.Above all, I’m so thankful and honored to have met and received personal care and attention from Dr. Sam. He’s an incredibly human with so much to offer and learn from. The sanctuary is purely a destination advocating a new way of life — the people coming from all walks of life and the conversations I encountered along the way have left the greatest impact on my heart and are my biggest take away from this trip. This is not a good bye but a see you soon :)Reminder that the entrance to the sanctuary is inside you — RumiWith lots of love,C
Eva Sorz
Eva Sorz
17:40 07 Nov 21
We can highly reccomend this wonderful place.My husband and I spent 2 weeks at Sen Wellness Sanctuary in October. It was just great and we felt very comfortable. After 2 weeks of Ayurveda retreat and yoga we feel relaxed and full of energy again. The Sanctuary is a wonderful place to relax and unwind. The staff made us feel very welcome. Especially the manager Gangani made us feel at home. Thanks you especially to her and the whole team. Gangani, you spoiled us every day, thank you so much for that.The place is a gem, nestled between the lagoon and the beach and away from the tourist hustle and bustle.The ayurvedic consultations with Dr. Waruni were professional and lasting. The entire therapeutic team was also excellent. The massages were wonderful. My sinusitis and back problems were sustainably treated.We also had the privilege of participating in a very special yoga experience. We have several years of yoga experience and practice Anusara Yoga regularly. We had no previous experience with Kundalini Yoga. In these 14 days our expectations were far exceeded, it was a transformative experience and a journey to our inner self. Coco introduced us to Krya sequences combined with breathing techniques, meditation and mantra chanting, and we immediately felt at ease. Coco is an incredibly impressive personality, with deep spirituality and a great teacher. Through her captivating personality and the many great conversations she gave us access to new insights. At the end of these 14 days, we received a wealth of tips and advice on how to practice safely at home.We highly recommend Sen Wellness Sancutuary and we will definitely come back.
Asrar Mousli
Asrar Mousli
10:24 16 Oct 21
My time at Sen was nothing short of transformational. Every day in that sanctuary brought me a new gift, a new truth, or a new opportunity to heal from my pain. It wasn’t always smooth, or necessarily happy, but it was deeply fulfilling to my body, my soul, and my soma. It almost felt like a pilgrimage to nature, to purity. The people I met there, the conversations and rituals we had together, the meals, laughs, and stories we shared, they were life-altering for me. Some of those moments left an impact that is still with me today, two months later. Thank you Sen team for all you have given and done. 🤍
Karin Richter
Karin Richter
04:51 03 Sep 21
I was a part of the Golden Summer Retreat at Senwellnesssanctuary. This has been a very intense experience. The Sanctuary is built within the middle of nature on the lagoon near Tangalle with an outstanding architecture. The whole stuff is perfect working together within their different tasks and does everything for the wellbeeing of the guests. Very soon you don't feel as a guest but more as a member of a loving and caring family. Excellent ayurvedic food, doctor and treatments as a basic for a deep going transformation process with special tools and combination of ongoing steps. A real magic experience within the travel bubble in islandwide lockdown and global pandemic. My deepest gratitude for all the people there which makes this possible
Karin Richter
Karin Richter
12:55 02 Sep 21
I just was part of the Golden Summer Retreat at Sen Wellness. This was a very special and magic experience on an outstanding place in nature with awasome people on a wonderful island. Started with super friendly and caring hotel managing team, best ayurvedic kitchen, doctor and treatments, lovely yoga work and special and carefully developed transformation tools and process. Highly recommend Sen Wellness for a mindful and deep going stay. My deepest thanks for all who created and worked for this space and give their best whatever their task is
Paul Kelly
Paul Kelly
05:34 06 Jul 21
This was my first wellness trip .. and I loved it!Every other holiday I have been on involved drinking and returning to normality feeling worse than I did before I left.After visiting Sen for 2 weeks, I felt brand new.Before leaving I was concerned that I would get bored, but I never did. Just pure peace, relaxation, and contentment, for 2 full weeks.You get so well looked after every day, from the early morning tea wake up call, to your serving of herbal medicine before bed. With plenty of yoga, meditation, and treatments in between.The food is delicious! Clean and fresh. The daily ayurvedic treatments are bliss and the beach is isolated and beautiful, perfect for an afternoon stroll.Thank you to all the staff at Sen for making my stay so worth it. From the management, chefs, cleaners, treatment therapists, yogis, the monk and especially the resident doctor, who put a smile on my face every day!I recommend Sen to anyone that just needs a good break from life. To switch off, refresh and reconnect with yourself. The results are long lasting.Paul.
Pruz0001 Pruz0001
Pruz0001 Pruz0001
18:32 24 May 21
Perfect place to truly reset yourself physically, mentally and spiritually. Pricing is very cheap for what they offer - all inclusive food (each meal a symphony!), treatment plan, massages, shirodara, cleansing options, beautiful accommodations, gorgeous secluded beach with turtles, daily herbs per your plan as prescribed, daily yogic practices etc etc. Current is strong so might need to arrange for lifeguard for swimming. I highly recommend this place for tired Europeans and US residents. Yes, even from US, totally worth the loooong flight. If you want to explore the country after quarantine at SenWellness, recommend hiring a private driver guide as public transport is not welcoming tourists per covid.
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