Germany rubs shoulders with the Indian art of healing | DW Travel | DW | 10.01.2012
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Germany rubs shoulders with the Indian art of healing

The Maharishi Ayureda Health Center in Bad Ems, near Koblenz, specializes in the traditional East Indian art of healing. People from across Europe flock to the center to get a taste of this different kind of medicine.

Lodewyk Martyn von Nordheim with a glass of virgin cumin liqueur

To health!

Lodewyk Martyn von Nordheim is absolutely glowing. His sister is the one he can thank for his good spirits. Indirectly, that is.

As so often, von Nordheim had been worn down and stressed, and had wanted to go on a sports vacation to work out a lot and recharge his batteries. But his thoughtful sister had something else in mind. Rather than booking a stay at a fitness hotel for him, she made reservations at the Maharishi Ayureda Health Center in Bad Ems in central-western Germany. Dutchman von Nordheim has been back six times since that initial visit.

Each time he's at the resort, his day begins with swimming in the thermal hot pool. Afterward, his skin barely dry, two therapists pour warm sesame oil over him and gently smooth it all over his body. The massage takes about two hours. Von Nordheim also has the one-hour, slightly unpleasant nose bath done.

The massages, rinsing treatments and effusions are part of the Ayurveda cleansing therapy, called Panchakarma, to detoxify and purify the body. To ensure the toxins leave the body, guests at the resort also receive a daily enema.

Saying 'no' to sausage

Maharishi Ayurveda Clinic in Bad Ems

The surroundings are impressive

The treatments are customized to each person, based on their individual constitution. According to Ayurvedic philosophy, one's temperament is based on the three Vata, Pitta and Kapha energies, or "doshas," present in each person. Von Nordheim is a combination Vata-Pitta type.

Although his "Vata" should lead him to seek out a warm climate, he nonetheless chooses to go on his Ayurveda retreats during the dark, cold winter months in Bad Ems.

"That way, I don't have to look down at the people sitting or barbequing on the river banks, reminding me of all that I'm missing out on," he quips. "Still, occasionally when I'm here, I do go into a supermarket and take a peek at all the sausages I'm not allowed to eat." Then he clinks his glass of non-alcoholic cumin bitter liqueur with some of the other guests at the table. The fluid is supposed to help with digestion.

Next up on the menu is an appetizer of bilberries and vanilla pudding.

Ayurvedic cuisine sees sweet dishes served at the beginning of a meal to fortify the digestive tract and calm one's spirits, says Karin Pirc, medical director of the Health Center. A salad and then the main course follow. Warm water is served with the meal. Alcohol and other "luxury poisons" are not permitted, with the consequence that after the retreat, even a nice glass of red wine doesn't taste good anymore because alcohol and the acids in wine no longer agree with one's purified body.

A more sensitized body

"When you're constantly doing unhealthy things, your organism gets used to it, despite the strain it puts on the body," Pirc says. "After purifying the body, it becomes more sensitive and more like that of a child."

Pirc also notes that guests are often very tired during the retreats because the treatments stimulate the body to heal. Moderate physical exercise is permitted during the retreats, and a lot of sleep, especially before midnight, is encouraged.

Televisions and Notebooks are supposed to remain switched off. For entertainment, guests can go to lectures about healthy lifestyles and nutrition and relaxation techniques such as yoga and transcendental meditation in the evenings. "We want to convey knowledge to our guests that will help them on their path of physical, spiritual and psychological growth," says Lothar Pirc, managing director of the center, which employs 90 people who care for some 30 guests during a retreat.

Dr. Karin Pirc

Pirc says it's worth getting used to the unusual food on offer

Anne Günther came to the health center in Bad Ems following a long line of visits to various doctor's offices. She suffers from Morbus Crohn's - a chronic inflammatory bowel disease, and also has Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an auto-immune disease of the thyroid. Conventional doctors had long given up on her, with the worst response being: "It's chronic; you'll have to take this medicine for the rest of your life. There's nothing else I can do," one physician said.

Yet Anne Günther is fascinated by Ayurvedic medicine and its philosophy of viewing people holistically. Initial examinations by Ayurvedic doctors always include a long list of questions about one's lifestyle habits.

Paying one's own way

Günther's insurance company will pay for her medication for the rest of her life, but it will not cover the costs for an Ayurvedic retreat. She must pay the 1,500 euros ($1,900) a week herself. "I use my savings for that, but it's worth it," she says.

She had never had a proper, healthy, daily routine before she started her retreats, having always prioritized her job. Now she calls many old habits into question and is calming down. "I'm not so hectic with everything anymore; I've slowed down and I don't get upset so easily," she observes.

Günther, who lives and works in Paris, is familiar with Ayurvedic retreats in France, but says they focus more on wellness aspects, while in Bad Ems, medical components are at the fore.

She says she wants to change her life and believes the therapies and retreat lectures have helped her learn to integrate more breaks into her daily routine at home. And, she's also adapting her diet to Ayurvedic cooking principles.

"We animate our guests to really get involved," says managing director Pirc. "They are motivated because they have to pay for the retreat themselves.

His wife, medical director Karin Pirc, "sees the guests as friends." And she advises her friends to stay on for a few days' vacation in Bad Ems following the retreat so as not to have to deal with the stress and strain of traveling home right away.

Ludowyk Martyn von Nordheim has certainly taken that message to heart. Following this retreat, he will stay in Bad Ems and spend a week working out in a fitness studio while also continuing to stay at the Maharishi Ayureda Health Center. "The food is just too good," he says, and raises his glass of virgin cumin liqueur.

Author: Karin Jäger / als

Editor: Kate Bowen

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