Kaivalyadhama in Lonavla unlocks the door to health and wellbeing with the key of Yoga
The famous tourist hill station of Lonalva, built by the British may be better known for its breathtaking waterfalls and crunchy chikkis, but followers of the soulful path have been streaming into this beautiful place for other, less frivolous reasons. The Yoga ashram ‘Kaivalyadhama’ has been drawing young and old alike for many years now, offering the unprecedented benefits that come with practicing Yoga. Established in 1924 by Swami Kuvalayananda, Kaivalyadhama was conceptualized as an institution that would offer and propagate health and well-being through Yoga, which would be supported by scientific evidence.
The place: Finding Kaivalyadhama in Lonavla is easy, its formidable reputation built in over 80 years draws people from all over the country, especially Mumbai and Pune. However, it’s not just people from India who seek the goodness that Kaivalyadhama offers; the ashram receives a lot of international guests too.
Kaivalyadhama is built over approximately 20 acres of green land, flanked by the Sahyadri hills, but the Samiti or Trust (Shriman Madhav Yoga Mandir Samiti, commonly known as the Kaivalyadhama Samiti) owns around 150 acres of property. It was originally given to the founder, Swami Kuvalayananda, by Maharaja Sarjerao Gaikwad. It was on this land that Swamiji established the institute in 1924. His mission was to perpetuate Yogic teachings in the classical tradition, albeit with a scientific base. From the 1920s to this day, Kaivalyadhama continues to live this vision.
The organisation: Kaivalyadhama, today, is a multi-tiered organization that works on many levels, under the chairmanship and spiritual tutelage of Swami Maheshananda.
From a single building entity that housed a Scientific Research Department, it has grown to a place that comprises the Kaivalya Vidya Niketan School, the Gordhandas Seksaria College of Yoga & Cultural Synthesis, the Philosophico-Literary Research Department, the Yoga Mimamsa Publication Department, and the S.A.D.T. Gupta Yogic Hospital and Health Care Centre.
While each centre makes its own valuable contribution, it is the hospital and health care centre where people accrue the most benefits of the Yogic way.
The Kaivalyadhama experience: I sought to find out what it was about this unassuming little ashram that has people coming to it from all over the world, over and over again. I reached Kaivalyadhama late in the evening, and was led to my room by the security guard. Life at the dham is much organised, and the administration of the place closes sharp at 5 pm. Most visitors choose weekly packages, which are from Sunday.
My room is within a simple-looking villa – one of the many where guests are put up. Apart from an AC and a TV, there are no other frills – no dressing table in the room and no toiletries in the bathroom. I realise that the setting is spartan by design, priming a participant for the simple living that Yoga and Ayurveda promote. For those who are not equipped with these, a small store within the precincts sells odds and ends like soaps, shampoos, biscuits, etc.
After quickly freshening up, I head for an early dinner at the large common dining hall at the health centre. This is where all guests eat three times a day, and exchange notes and pleasantries. The fare is simple, vegetarian cuisine prepared in accordance with Ayurvedic principles and the choices are limited. Those following anti-obesity or similar programs have different, customised diets.
Post dinner, everybody heads to the library, where the resident medical officer and Ayurvedic physician, Dr. Sharad Bhalekar is to give a small lecture. This hour-long informal talk after dinner is a standard practice, where not only are people illuminated about certain theoretical aspects of the program, but also encouraged to ask questions and share feedback. Tonight’s topic is ‘Stress, its effects on health and yoga practices to help control it.’ There are no mikes, no PowerPoint slides, no printed material. The speaker simply discusses the core concepts and solutions in a mix of Hindi, English and Marathi keeping in mind his 30-strong mixed audience.
When I say mixed audience, I do not just mean people speaking different languages. The group is diverse in terms of nationality, gender and age. Surprisingly enough, a lot of families come to Kaivalyadhama, and it’s quite common to see all three generations of a family attending, small kids included. Every week, a batch of about 30 to 40 people enrolls for various programs, and they are divided approximately into groups of 10, depending on their choice of program. Program-specific recommendations for asanas, diet and other aspects are made at the S.A.D.T. Gupta Yogic Hospital and Health Care Centre.
The S.A.D.T. Gupta Yogic Hospital and Health Care Centre: This is the only hospital in India, and perhaps the world, to offer treatments based entirely on principles of Yoga and Ayurveda. It was started in 1962 with the help of a patron who found tremendous benefit in Kaivalyadham’s treatments, and it is after him that the hospital is named. It is presently overseen by the resident doctor, Dr. Sharad Bhalekar, consulting doctor, Dr. Prakash Agrawal, and secretary, O.P. Tiwari, along with several support staff.
On arrival, guests undergo a thorough medical check up at the hospital, following which reports and recommendations are made. There are three basic packages that most people choose from - Yoga and Relaxation, Yoga and Naturopathy and Yoga and Panchakarma. Generally speaking, the first package is chosen by visitors with few or no health problems; while the second and third, or a mix of both are preferred by people who come for therapeutic reasons. Treatments proffered at this Yogic hospital include a combination of techniques like Yoga, Pranayama, regulated diet, Ayurvedic medicine and therapies. In case of emergencies, an Allopathic doctor may be consulted.
The Naturopathy Centre: Following its inception in 1991, the Naturopathy centre has seen a great rise in popularity. Spread over 6000 sq. ft., with separate gents’ and ladies’ sections and several treatment rooms, the large centre is managed by two naturopaths, Kusum Sharma and Sandeep Dixit. Its staff strength of eight includes female and male therapists and helpers.
Guests come here for three primary reasons: relaxation, therapy and detoxification. Although the therapies are prescribed, casual visitors may choose what they like. The most popular among those are mud therapy, kansavati (oil massage of the soles and palms with a bell metal bowl), hydrotherapy, and localised massages. These therapies have been found to be greatly beneficial for minor ailments like headaches, hypertension, sleeplessness, obesity, and joint aches.
Interestingly, the centre doesn’t offer full body massages because, “people get addicted to massages, and we don’t want to go down that road. Our aim is simply to alleviate people’s health problems and with the right combination of Naturopathy techniques, we do just that,” says Dixit. He adds that the age group of their clientele is between 40 and 70 and that the female to male ratio is about 60:40. I am surprised by that last bit of information because in most spas in India, the ratio is reverse. However, this is not a spa, and perceptions make a great difference. I see the relaxed attitude of other women clients myself, when I go in for a session of head massage, kansavati and mud pack.
The Ayurveda Centre: As compared to the Naturopathy centre, the Ayurveda centre is fairly new and small. It was set up as a separate entity from the hospital as recently as 2007. With six small treatment rooms, and six therapists (three male, three female), the Centre is overseen by resident Ayurvedic doctor, Dr. Gururaj Doddoli and visiting senior doctor, Dr. Jagdish Bhutada. Dr. Bhutada is based in Pune and prepares the medicated oils that are used in the treatments at the centre himself.
The centre mainly offers Panchakarma, an Ayurvedic method of detoxification that includes emetics, enemas, inducing diarrhoea, nasal administration and blood letting. While its effectivity is tried and tested, it is perhaps not the choice of therapy for the faint-hearted. It probably also explains why there are fewer takers for Panchakarma as compared to the non-intrusive Naturopathy treatments. However, the Ayurveda centre also offers a la carte choices to those who seek only relaxation and not detoxification. The most popular among those standalone therapies are the Potli massage, Abhyangam and Shirodhara.
With the unavailability of trained therapists locally, Kaivalyadhama sources locals with little or no formal training, and trains them at the centre (likewise for the Naturopathy centre) for about three months by the residing Ayurvedic doctors.
Matters of the spirit: For those seeking wellbeing beyond their bodies, Kaivalyadhama also has provisions for spiritual guidance in the form of Swami Maheshananda ji. Swami Maheshananda is the second generation disciple of the founder, Swami Kuvalayananda. He is not only the chairman of Kaivalyadhama, but also the spiritual guide of the organisation. Swamiji lives in a kutir (hut) in a secluded part of Kaivalyadhama, although he is accessible to anyone who wishes to see him. He conducts a pooja and havan (sacrificial fire) every morning and evening, and visitors are welcome to partake in the proceedings.
I go to meet him, and we talk of matters material and spiritual.In his gentle manner, he explains to me the ideology that the institution is based on. He emphasises the need for internal change before Yoga or anything else can take effect. He uses the analogy of plant and water for the body and Yoga. “Yoga,” he says, “is like water for a plant. You needn’t and shouldn’t pour in vast quantities at one time. A little every day is what is required. If the water doesn’t reach the plant, it is not the fault of the water. It is the gardener’s fault. Perhaps, he hasn’t removed an obstacle, a stone in its path,” he illuminates.
I nod at the simple yet profound wisdom of his statements, and soon take leave. Kaivalyadham’s effectivity through simplicity, discipline and Yoga affects me in the same profound way. And I am sure it affects people similarly, who come back to it again and again. It is not for nothing that one of the oldest Yoga institutions in the world continues to thrive way into the 21st century.
This article appeared in the May-June 2012 issue of Spa Mantra