Natural Wonders

Lord Howe Island is a stunning setting for a weekend of wellness, from early morning yoga to ancient Ayurveda. By Erin O’Dwyer

Some time ago, at a luxury resort in Bali, an Indian Ayurvedic doctor diagnosed me as a change-loving vata. A few years earlier, a Peruvian yogi diagnosed me as a pitta-kapha—determined in nature but somewhat sloth-like, too. So it’s with some intrigue that I present for my Ayurvedic consultation with Scott Allan during a weekend visit to Arajilla Retreat on Lord Howe Island.

It’s early on a Sunday morning and Scott is dressed in a crisp black jacket and flowing white yoga pants. A pot of ginger tea is brewing and tea light candles flicker on every surface.

The spa is housed in a spherical blonde-pine yurt, shipped to the island from the mainland six years ago. Beyond the picture windows is the banyan tree rainforest that has drawn visitors to idyllic Lord Howe Island for more than 200 years.

“An imbalance can sometimes lead to an incorrect diagnosis,” explains Scott. “Ayurveda is about identifying which of the three intelligences has gone out of balance and determining the techniques that will bring the body back into balance.”

Even among the best wellness retreats in the world, it is rare to find consultants as genuinely committed to the yoga lifestyle as Scott and his wife Kim. But it wasn’t always so—the couple were both chefs when they met at Arajilla Retreat 10 years ago. They abandoned their hard-living lifestyles after their first trip to India in 2004.

“I had never done a yoga class before I went to India,” says Scott, who visited the yoga mecca Mysore with Kim. “I went to a yoga class every morning and I had an Ayurvedic massage that was incredible. In the evening, I would meditate with an Indian guru. Every time my mind wandered, he was able to sense it. He didn’t say much, but in not saying much, he inspired me with his lifestyle.”

At the time, Scott was overweight and out of shape. Through yoga and an Ayurvedic diet, he lost 15 kilos in six weeks. In the process, he quietly altered the course of his life. At home, he continued practising yoga and two years later began studying with the renowned Punjabi-trained Dr Ajit (now based in New Zealand), and qualified as an Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle consultant. Kim, who trained as a yoga teacher at Yoga Arts in Byron Bay in 2003, began studies in Ayurvedic therapeutic yoga with US teacher David Frawley. Her practice unites yoga and Ayurveda.

Ayurveda balance

“As a chef you learn to use spices for colour and taste,” says Kim. “Ayurveda teaches that every spice has a quality which effects digestion and mood. We found we were more balanced on an emotional level, we lost weight from eating better and we felt more happy and healthy.”

“Before, if I sat next to someone with a cold, I would get sick too,” adds Scott. “When I started an Ayurvedic diet, I could feel the difference after a week. I didn’t get sick for two or three years.”

It’s quick to see that Scott is the real deal when it comes to the ancient healing science of Ayurveda. He has clear skin and piercing green eyes, deceptively youthful for someone in his 30s. A guest book in the yurt attests to his healing skills and he is frequently booked out by island locals, too.

After the tea is poured, he explains the principles of Ayurveda, then inspects my physical traits and takes my pulse. He asks me to fill out a short questionnaire and inquires about diet, sleep patterns and any health concerns. By the time he diagnoses my constitution—pitta-vata with a kapha imbalance—I’m completely at ease and confident in his expertise. It’s a diagnosis that makes sense—the kapha imbalance undermines my natural well of creative energy with lethargy and heaviness.

An hour later, Scott emails a selection of kapha-calming recipes. He includes tips for lifestyle, diet and exercise. The suggestions include semolina for breakfast, a tasty tridoshic kitcheri (made from mung dal and basmati rice) for lunch and a light vegetable soup for dinner. Every morning, 12 rounds of Sun Salutations and a brisk walk.

“Walking is one of the best exercises,” he advises. “It tones up the bowels, relaxes the body, promotes digestion and preserves mental clarity.”

Destination wellness

Lord Howe Island is new to the wellness market. The island, which lies 600km off the east coast of Australia, is something of a holidaying perennial—best loved for its hiking, fishing, snorkelling and diving. But out of necessity tourists have always been asked to respect the environment—there is no fresh water source and waste is recycled. Only 400 visitors are allowed on the island, which is UNESCO World Heritage listed, at any one time. Bicycles are the main mode of transport.

But time does not stand still at Arajilla, a boutique resort owned for almost 25 years by Kim’s parents Bill and Janne Shead. The Arajilla spa was Lord Howe’s first and its new range of wellness packages are trendsetting, too. The resort itself is small and gorgeous, with timber pathways through the rainforest. One- and two-bedroom suites are a few steps away from walking tracks and Old Settlement Beach, which is perfect for morning swims and evening walks.

There is no shortage of things to do on the island, but Arajilla’s bespoke wellness packages are a drawcard for yogis. The three-night package includes a personalised Ayurvedic consultation, two Ayurvedic treatments and take-home herbs and recipes. An extended five-night package includes a one-on-one yoga class tailored to the season and an individual’s dosha. The restaurant is yet to introduce Ayurvedic dishes, but there is a fine selection of vegetarian entrees and mains. Fish is bought fresh from local fishermen and the desserts, especially Janne’s signature Hummingbird cake, are treats to die for.

To balance my evening indulgence, I take an early morning yoga class. It’s deceptively good. Kim gives me a series of slow Sun Salutations and seated asanas that seem gentle on the body. But by early afternoon, my legs are feeling it.

“By slowing the poses down, your muscles have to work,” says Kim with a smile. “In your own practice you should change sequences according to the seasons and also for your constitution. Any imbalances can be treated through yoga too. That’s why they [Ayurveda and yoga] are known as the sister sciences.”

A weekend at Arajilla is truly inspiring. True, the setting is stunning. But Arajilla’s integrity as a wellness retreat is largely due to Scott and Kim’s commitment as yogis. Together, they live entirely according to Ayurvedic principles—an Ayurvedic diet and daily asanas according to the season. Last year, they married in a Vedic ceremony on the island. “Bit by bit we began incorporating it into our lifestyle,” says Kim. “The more we ate an Ayurvedic diet, the less we wanted to eat other things. The whole day is easier to get through and day-to-day living is more fulfilling.”

Erin O’Dwyer is a freelance writer and Shadow Yoga student, based on the South Coast of NSW. She stayed as a guest of Arajilla Retreat.

 

Fact File

Getting there:  Lord Howe Island is a two-hour flight from Brisbane or Sydney. Direct flights are operated by QantasLink; www.qantas.com.au.

Staying there: Arajilla Retreat offers three- and five-day wellness packages. Packages start from $2130 per person (three nights) and $3480 (five nights) and include accommodation, all meals, bicycle hire and airport transfers on the island.

Each package includes an Ayurvedic consultation, two Ayurvedic treatments (such as the Indian head massage, Shiro-Abhyanga, the deep tissue therapy, Kati Basti, or Marma Point massage) and a take-home package of herbal medications and dietary advice. Extended five-day packages include a third treatment and a private yoga class. www.arajilla.com.au