About Sivan                           About Karen

Health And Fitness Magazine, November 2000.




Margaret Rignel discovers a nuturing break for both mind and body

For the first-time visitor, there’s 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. Karen’s 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 Kailasam’s porch chatting to one of Karen’s 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 Karen’s delicious fuit salad led straight into my morning massage. Karen does aromatherapy. Sivan traditional Indian and head massage .

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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 Leo’s, where the day’s 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 Karen’s 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 in years.

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Karen set up the Kailasam Retreat in Kerala , in southern India, four years ago. She lives there with her husband, Shivan, and practices aromatherapy massage.

‘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 wasn’t 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 I’d 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 wasn’t searching for anything, but I thought “my life is very nice, but if this is it, then it’s 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 didn’t 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 weren’t 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 didn’t matter.

Four years later, I feel I’ve found what was missing from my life. I love Kerala. It’s a very peaceful place and the people are lovely. They live much more simply than we do in England. You find yourself constantly reassessing what’s important in life there. Often You’ill 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.

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“When I come back to England to visit, I do appreciate the comforts and the standard of living, although surprisingly, I don’t miss them when I’m 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. It’s 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. We’re 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, I’m perfectly happy never to go anywhere else!.