Health And Fitness Magazine,
THESE REVIEWS WERE WRITTEN IN 2000 WHEN SIVAN AND KAREN
WERE AT KAILASAM RETREAT.
SINCE PUBLICATION (IN HEALTH & FITNESS MAGAZINE), THEY SPENT 18 MONTHS IN
AND ARE NOW RETURNED TO KOVALAM. SHANTI BHAVAN OPENED IN 2003.
A SIMPLE RETREAT
Margaret Rignel discovers a nuturing break for both mind and body
For the first-time visitor, theres an easy way to sample India-go
south. In Kerala, the living is easy. The people and places are relaxed,
charming and colourful but with none of the hassle. Even better, the area
is teeming with yoga teachers, masseurs, Ayurvedic practitioners and other
gurus, whose expertise will cost you less than lunch at Pizza Express.
I was tempted back to India after a 12 year break, by the prospect of
doing it the effortless way. I signed up for a stay with Karen Sivan,
who had left my home town, Brighton, three years ago to set up a yoga
and massage center at Kovalam Beach. Karens Kailasam Retreat is
a leafy hideaway just five minutes, but a whole lifestyle away, from the
bustling beachfront. Throughout the dry season, Karen opens her home to
small groups of , mostly British yoga fans, who are taught by her husband,
Sivananda yoga teacher, Sivan (just a coincidence!).
From the moment she welcomed me with a huge smile
at the airport, I felt quite at home. I spent most of my days lounging
languidly in the sun, either on Kailasams porch chatting to
one of Karens many visitors or collapsed on a sunbed at the
private pool of the Hotel Sea Face, occasionally cooling off in
the breakers that roll onto the beach. I could justify this total
inertia (if I have to ) by the fact that I had risen early for a
7 am yoga class and would close it with another at 4.30pm. Each
included breathing exercises, asanas (poses) and a final relaxation
tailored to my ability. A shower and a large bowl of Karens
delicious fuit salad led straight into my morning massage. Karen
does aromatherapy. Sivan traditional Indian and head massage .
As Kailasam is so small (just three large bedrooms) guests are treaeted
as extended family, joining in outings to festivities, shopping
trips to Trivandrum, the local town, and evening meals at local
restaurants. Karen and Sivan favour the vegetarian Lonely Planet
Café or have fish or spicy prawns Molly at Leos,
where the days catch is displayed on a table on the beach,
so you can choose your own dinner.
When my lethargy became too guilt inducing, I learned local massage
techniques from Sivan, took a cookery class, finally got to grips
with the principles of Ayurveda with smiley Dr. Suresh, and both
gave and received a two-person massage.
One of the main advantages of a holiday with Karen and Sivan is
you never have to worry about feeling ripped off- a constant anxiety
for visitors to India-as they tell you exactly what to expect, as
well as recommend places to visit, from the wildlife parks to picturesque
Cochin up the coast.
After a few weeks at Kailasam, I was getting stretchier and standing
far taller. Boosted by Karens encouragement, I managed to
be alcohol-free, and lost around a stone. Getting home, I was tanned,
relaxed and able to fit into my favourite jeans for the first time
Karen set up the Kailasam Retreat in Kerala , in southern India, four
years ago. She lives there with her husband, Shivan, and practices
I went to Madras in India 12 years ago, and though God,
this is the pits. I wondered why people would want to go there.
At that time, I was working as a croupier in a casino on a luxury
cruise ship which stopped off there. Then, four years ago, I went
to Kerala in South India for a three-week holiday and fell in love
with the place. As soon as I arrived there, I was overwhelmed by
its beauty. By the third week of my stay, it wasnt so much
if I come back, but when I come back. I had decided
I wanted to live there. No one back home was surprised at my decision,
as Id always been a wanderer, working in a casino in South
Africa and on cruise ships visiting India, Alaska and the Caribbean.
Before my life-changing holiday. I was living and working in Brighton,
doing massage and working in a bank part-time. I was quite happy
there and I wasnt searching for anything, but I thought my
life is very nice, but if this is it, then its not enough.
I wanted to live better; more correctly, and not to have that distinction
between the rest of my life and work, to somehow combine them.
|On that frst trip, I
leased the house in Kerala, Kailasam, where I am now, for three
years and then returned to England and sold my flat. I didnt
really have much of business plan at that stage but produced
a brochure and distributed it around Brighton.
Before I returned to Kerala, I hade bookings for the whole of
that year. I also offered courses, including yoga, chanting
and head massage, but they werent so prominent then. In
the beginning, people just came to stay. One of the people who
came the first year said your re crazy! You re not maiking
a living but I was very happy and it didnt matter.
Four years later, I feel Ive found what was missing from
my life. I love Kerala. Its a very peaceful place and
the people are lovely. They live much more simply than we do
in England. You find yourself constantly reassessing whats
important in life there. Often Youill think I would
want X,Y or Z, but Indians don't necessarily want what
you want. You learn to want less and and appreciate more. The
retreat is profitable now, but we still only have a maximum
of nine staying as we can really make progress with fewer people.
Personally, I restrict myself to giving three massage sessions
a day. People find the whole experience very nuturing.
When I come back to England to visit, I do appreciate
the comforts and the standard of living, although surprisingly,
I dont miss them when Im in Kerala. Soon though,
you start to ask do I really need this? about the
luxuries, and the novelty wears off. In England, people are
very uncomfortable being still. Its nice to see people
come to the retreat and let go of their stress. In that way
he massage is more rewarding in Kerala than in England.
I met my husband, Sivan when he came to teach a yoga course
at the retreat. Were thinking of relocating to Cornwall
for a while. It might be nice for Sivan to experience Western
living for a while, but I think that long-term India is home,
Im perfectly happy never to go anywhere else!.