BY ANTONIA FILMER
Nowadays good health seems to be all about the microbiome, an eco-system of trillions of microbiota which inhabit the human gut; each person’s microbiome is unique and requires thoughtful management to avoid the many illnesses that can result from poor digestion. Some symptoms of microbiome imbalance include, bloating, food intolerances, bad breath, IBS, acid-reflux, candida, fatigue, auto-immune conditions and depression; Hippocrates was an early advocate of the Gut-Brain axis. These and other symptoms can lead to worse diseases such as diabetes, colorectal cancer and neurological conditions such as Parkinsons.
Thankfully there are numerous remedies for sprucing up the microbiome’s flora and improving our physiological and psychological health, the main one is diet.
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian philosophy and practice, that takes an entirely holistic view of an individual’s reality, their mental stability, physical health and lifestyle. Ayurvedic wisdom analyses the five elements in our personality (space, air, fire, water, earth) and attributes them to predominantly one of three characteristics: Doshas, thus your treatment program is bespoke.
Typically after Christmas this reporter would go for a blast of sunshine and intense ayurveda in Kerala, the home of ayurveda, but thanks to travel restrictions has missed out on two Januarys, thus was feeling depleted and made several phone calls to UK Spas to see what was available. The Clover Mill offers a tranquil retreat in a relatively unspoilt part of England, Malvern in Worcestershire, the heart of hop growing country, also known as a Hopshire, and the Malvern Hills are a favourite with extreme cyclists. The beautiful hills and valleys around Malvern are acquiring a similar reputation to Stroud, a place for writers, artists, craftsmen, foodies, bohemians and independent spirits to congregate.
The Clover Mill is a painstakingly restored C18th flour mill converted into an ayurvedic safe house, safe house is more descriptive than spa because the treatments and diet prescribed by Julie Dent, the founder and a former clinical research scientist, make you feel comforted and complete. The mill is now a five story treatment centre with a yoga studio on the top floor, with comfortable and stylish eco lodges for accommodation.
On arrival nine of us introduced ourselves to each other, with the inevitable jokey references to the book/miniseries Nine Perfect Strangers, about a similar but fictional situation that takes an unexpected bad turn when psychedelic substances are furtively introduced.
Ayurveda is catching on in UK and there are a number of institutes and practitioners, however the total immersion approach taken by Dent is both engaging and informative. At first all the Sanskrit words ( Agni, Ama and Ojas – these are best described as fire, toxin and vigour but they are a lot more complex and inter-related than one English word can explain) were a bit bamboozling but we soon got into the philosophy behind Ayurveda.
In a nutshell Dent’s approach is about spices not sugar, Dent says eating sugar is “a crime against wisdom” and a no dairy- gluten free diet is prescribed; ayurvedic wisdom says cooked food not raw food is better for the digestive system therefore no more salads or recipes from that new age heroine of the 1970’s Leslie Kenton and her later day disciples. But do not be afraid of this diet, it is varied and delicious, even though when making it at home my family say it resembles “babyfood”. It is amazing what Clover Mill chef Lila can concoct with seeds, oats, dates, avocado, rice, vegetables and moong beans, and thankfully for those of us with a sweet tooth there are assorted treats such as coconut bonbons and juicy chocolates with pomegranate centres.
The day is punctuated with optional walks or rest, delicious massage and two sessions of the most excellent and gradual yoga, that yoga virgins can easily participate in and benefit from. Even the most inflexible folks who have never stretched will find after a few sessions with sympathetic yoga master Lisa Wise, that they are more supple and energetic. There were some moments of mirth when the accessories were introduced, one was a apple sized round spikey plastic object that resembled the Covid virus and was actually called the prickly stimulator, in fact it is lovely for massaging the soles of the feet. This is restorative yoga and it inspires body awareness, most of the postures are performed lying down and the build-up of physical strength is progressive and rewarding; the chants, readings, poems and explanations provided by Lisa Wise are enlightening and reassuring.
Ayurvedic massage is powerful, sweeping stoking movements or firm pressure is according to the individual’s need and Dosha, with lots of attention paid to the Marma Points around the body that regulate and control the flow of energy to the organs.
The ayurvedic combination of diet, yoga and massage are very refreshing, after a few days this reporter felt calmer, elongated and surprisingly slimmer. All nine of us, no longer strangers and bonded by the shared experience and benefits, left with a do-it-yourself manual for our Dinacharya (daily routine) and good intentions.
Antonia Filmer is former British Vogue Fashion Editor, Home Furnishing Design Director of Laura Ashley Ltd., producer of Garden Operas for 10 years to benefit a children’s charity. Antonia is an inveterate traveller and is currently the London correspondent for The Sunday Guardian of India.