Sen Wellness Sanctuary, Sri Lanka
Tucked away on Sri Lanka’s South Coast, on a remote stretch of national park surrounded by tropical jungle, you’ll find Sen Wellness Sanctuary. This eco-friendly wellness resort is truly different from anything else in the region. Here, you’ll find world class osteopaths, yoga teachers, therapists, chefs and local Ayurvedic doctors, all working together to maintain the retreat’s philosophy – to support the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual body to live in balanced harmony. The Yoga Travel Co.’s retreat reviewer Amy McGill went on a seven-night package to experience it for herself…
Meditation, yoga, beach days, healthy food – who doesn’t need that in their life? I was in desperate need of some ‘time out’ and was looking forward to a relaxing week at Sen Wellness. But when the welcome pack arrived in my inbox, I realised my week away may be more challenging than I first envisaged – no coffee, tea, soda water, dairy and many other much-loved staples of mine! As a three-cup-a-day girl, I wasn’t even sure how I’d even function without coffee?! The Welcome Pack went on to say that at the retreat, we would eat a predominantly plant-based diet, there would be body cleanses and juice fasting as well as 5:30am wake-ups, three hours of yoga each day, limited WiFi, no air conditioning and some pretty intense sounding treatments. WOW – in essence, it was sure to be a shock to the system! Boarding the flight to Colombo, I felt excited but also nervous. So I wrote out my intentions for the week and promised myself to make the most of every day.
The Sanctuary has been built to blend into the natural beauty of its location using circular shapes to create open, flowing spaces. The main building has treatment rooms to one side, the reception and dining area to the other and the yoga Shala is on the first floor. The eight cabanas (sleeping up to two people in each) are accessed via an elevated walkway through the mangroves. They are beautiful circular thatched-roof houses and resemble the inside of a conch shell (designed to draw up energy from the earth).
I stayed in a lower floor room, which had a king-size four-poster bed with mosquito net, an ensuite bathroom and a balcony with comfy chairs. The upper floor rooms offer views of the treetops and open-air bathrooms so you can shower under the stars. There are also rooms available in the main pavilion with shared bathrooms for those looking for a more budget option. The resort has been designed with the philosophy that nature is the best healer in the world – and so the accommodation makes you feel incredibly close to the outdoors. This can either be super relaxing or slightly unsettling, depending on how you look at it! Creepy crawlies aside, there is something incredibly peaceful and healing about hearing the ocean from your bedroom, waking up with the sun and spotting the cheeky monkeys jumping from the trees right outside your room.
The Sanctuary offer three, four, five, seven, 10 and 14-night retreat packages, which all include three daily meals and three daily treatments. Treatments are decided for you after your initial consultation with the resident Ayurvedic doctor (Dr Shamilka). My retreat goals were to try to ease my chaotic mind and to help me sleep better. They prescribed me natural ‘medication’ – consisting of three pills – and two liquid shots (disclosure: these weren’t at all pleasant but you get used to it after a few days) – both of which were taken during breakfast and dinner each day. After your consultation, it’s onto the tailored timetable of treatments that range from acupuncture, massages, shirodhara (oil poured onto the forehead to calm the mind) plus some more intense elements including full-on cleansing, silent days and fasting.
A day on Retreat
A typical day at the Sanctuary starts with a knock at your door at 5:30am, with Dr Manika serving as the guests’ human alarm clock – albeit bearing steaming cups of coriander tea. Three meals and treatments daily are topped and tailed by 1.5 hours of kundalini yoga in the beautiful shala, as well as Gong sound therapies and meditation sessions to relax you wholeheartedly. (Normally, a Buddhist monk also visits the sanctuary twice weekly to take meditation sessions but he was in France when I was there.) Food is served family-style around a communal table and features Sri Lankan dishes that are prepared by a local chef (and his hardworking team of locals) with fresh ingredients and spices bought at the local market. Food is inspired by Ayurvedic principles – it’s delicious and mostly vegan.
There’s limited WiFi available (one hour in the morning and again at night) to encourage everyone to take a digital detox and interact with one another. It also adds to the feeling of being cut off from the outside world – aka reality. Note that if you’re travelling solo you should be prepared to spend quite a bit of time on your own. There is no pool and you aren’t able to swim at the beach, but in your down time, you can opt to join in on an organised excursion or venture to the beach. The Sen team can also help you organise trips to Galle, the National Parks, beaches, markets or temples.
During my stay, there were a number of guests coming and going all with a range of intentions and retreat goals. Some were there to lose weight, others to detox, some just simply wanted a break from their busy lives or stressful corporate jobs. One woman was an inspirational young Mum of three who was in remission after being diagnosed with cancer two years ago. I met people of all ages from all over the world, including Germany, Italy, the UK, Dubai and France. Everyone has a story and after a couple of days, sharing meals together turns into long, deep and meaningful conversations.
It took me a couple of days to get into the flow of things and for the first two days I suffered from migraines, fatigue and generally felt quite flat (most likely from cleansing my body of all the toxins and coming off my coffee addiction). So if you’re coming from Australia, New Zealand or anywhere far from Sri Lanka, I suggest staying for at least a week to get the full experience. Regardless of how long you stay, weight loss and detoxing seems to be a natural side effect, so it is also a great place for those looking to kick-start a diet and lose a few kilos.
Lasting change is the aim of the retreat and at the end of the week I had lost three kilos, felt fully relaxed, my skin looked amazing and I was sleeping better than I had in years. I’ve found a new love for kundalini yoga and implemented some lifestyle changes – I’ve completely cut out coffee – and generally feel a lot less stressed and healthy. After a week here, you’ll leave in significantly better shape than when you arrived – re energised and ready to face the outside world. This place is simply life changing.