Ayurveda is the folk medicine of India; a holistic approach based in traditional wisdom. The idea has captivated me for years. We are made up of three doshas; Vata, Kapha and Pitta. If they are out of alignment we are prone to dis-ease. I was looking for balance when I began searching for a reprieve from my every day. Especially since my everyday was no longer; I was facing big changes in my life. The end of an era and a realignment of sorts. I was looking for my new normal and wanted to be sure I had the right tools to find it.
A retreat was in order, but I was interested in balance rather than a total revolution. A loving and nurturing plan to a healthier life. It was between two places; Sonnhof in Hinterthiersee, Austria or Parkschloesschen in Traben-Trarbach, Germany. Both were between one to two hours from major airports, both offered Ayurveda programs and both had great reviews. Sonnhof is small and family run and offered both accommodation and treatment packages at very competitive prices. The staff was very receptive, answering every question quickly. The most important part; the most thorough, well rounded treatment package that fit my budget. After finalizing that piece of my journey I planned the rest of the trip around the retreat. I decided to stay mainly in Tirol and I’m so glad that I did. Tirol is like heaven on Earth. The people are warm and funny, the countryside is stunning and the food is delicious. I filled my time with language, thermal springs and hiking all alone. Sonnhof was the perfect way to close out my three week journey in Austria.
While researching Sonnhof, I was surprised that there were not more American reviewers online. I inquired beforehand that English would suffice and I was reassured. Although I speak some German, it was good that the staff was fluent in English so there were no misunderstandings. I found that the activity instructors, the therapists and the reception staff all spoke English very well. The dining room staff were not as fluent.
I booked the Detox Light Program which included a pulse reading to give me a roadmap for my time there. My treatments are listed below in the order I received them. I have also included Sonnhof’s descriptions from my therapy sheets:
- Consultation & pulse diagnosis
- Udvartana – herbal powder massage
- Virechana – colon cleansing
- Udanavata© – special abdominal massage
- Special back treatment approx. 60 mins
- Vishesh – energy massage
- Energetic deep tissue massage with stimulating and revitalizing effects. Similar to Abhyanga, but applied with greater pressure and speed.
- Basti – gentle enema
- Herbal internal cleansing with regenerative effect and a healing and calming effect through deeply penetrating warmth and special herbs.
- Jambira Pinda Sveda – bag massage
- Full body problem zone treatment using warm lemon poultice bags. This is a highly effective cellulite treatment.
- Shirodhara – flowing oil treatment
- Abhyanga – Ayurvedic full body oil massage
- Nutritional consultation
- Exit consultation with home instructions
Other included amenities
- Detox diet – acid-alkaline balance
- Weekly program of yoga & meditation
- Infrared heat cabin
- Herbal remedies for the duration of your stay
- Hot water & ginger drinking treatment
- Use of the AyurvedaCentre
The morning after arrival I had a aloe vera drink, then my pulse diagnosis with Dr Sharma. He knew my history without a single word from me. He knew that I had suffered as a child with upper respiratory problems. Allergies were my curse from birth. He also knew that I bruise easily and have ovarian cysts (which I have never formally been diagnosed, but I have the symptoms and it runs in my family). He knew the areas from which I sweat the most and by looking at my tongue he knew that I had toxicity and lung problems. My liver and lymphatic system weren’t working properly but my nervous system was in overdrive. He said I needed to stop reading so much and start listening more. I am naturally very curious, a voracious reader and always researching everything. He had me figured out.
His diagnosis was that my Vata was far too high (50%) my Kapha was too high as well (30%), with Pitta being far too low (20%). According to the Sonnhof’s website, “Vata characterizes people who are slender, constantly on the move, forgetful and prone to anxiety. By contrast, Pitta types are of medium build, good at decision-making and predisposed to anger. Kapha types have a calm nature, keep their heads in stressful situations and have a tendency towards to idleness.” It would seem that in order to be in balance, each would be at 33% so in that case my Kapha should be too low as well. However, on my intake form it clearly says that my Kapha needs to come down.
His diagnosis was that I lack fire, especially in my digestive system. My instructions were to breath deeply, sip copious amounts of tea slowly, take the Vata sauna three times daily and do yoga twice daily. I was to take supplements, avoid drinking 30 minutes before and after my meals, and put lemon on all of my food. These things would help build my lackluster digestive fire. He prescribed supplements to take while at the resort, they would be on the table at mealtimes.
After my pulse reading I was given a tour of the Ayurveda center with three saunas and steam rooms: Kapha detoxifying steam bath, Pitta herbal clay sauna and Vata gemstone & saltwater therapy (the sauna I would spend the most time in). In addition, there is a Moon Sauna, Sun Sauna and 5 infrared heat cabins. A fitness room (which I was advised not to use for my program) and an indoor swimming pool overlooking the beautiful garden. Special teas for the different constitutions (Vata, Kapha and Pitta) were also available throughout the day in the Ayurveda lounge. Thermoses of hot water were available throughout the day in the dining area. I was also given a hot water bottle for the daily liver pack I was to prepare in the mornings and keep on for a half hour. Fennel seeds were also provided to assist with any stomach aches and bad breath associated with detoxing. Later in the day I was given the herbal massage (Udvartana) which just felt like a salt exfoliation. I was up every hour urinating through the night.
My first night I stayed in the Tirol Double, which is the next least expensive room category from the single room (unfortunately it was unavailable when I was there):
My second day was Virechana- day of cleansing. I drank a purging cocktail for breakfast. I was given a liver detox pack to rest with for an hour. Then I was to do special exercises to do in my room while reciting mantras. In between exercises, I was to drink a cup of hot water every quarter of an hour to total 2 liters during the process. Drink, exercise, excretion and record. That’s right; I was to record all of my bowel movements on a spreadsheet noting the color, consistency and volume. Lunch was a salty rice soup. According to Sonnhof, the rice soup supports the liver and was given to clean out the intestinal villi and drain the connective tissue. At my afternoon check in I was deemed clean enough to eat my normal detox regime the next day. Dr Sharma would have liked me to do another Virechana during my stay but the rice soup wasn’t something I was anxious to repeat. In a masochist twist I was to receive a stomach massage later in the day. Although it seemed very cruel considering I had just finished purging my guts, to my surprise it was actually the best massage of my entire life. I felt as though I was floating and was able to completely let go and relax. Dinner was very salty rice soup but with vegetables this time.
The day of cleansing and at various times during the week, I felt sadness. I found myself thinking of the past- more specifically unfortunate things; things that could not be changed. I felt certain they were brought on by the purging of toxins. I was reflective and became emotional at times. The morning after my day of cleansing, on my breakfast table was the daily newsletter with an excerpt about joy & sorrow. I found it comforting and very relevant. I had a headache starting from 4 am and was not well throughout the day. Later I would have a deep tissue massage (Vishesh).
For the rest of the time I returned to my detox menu. Everything was absolutely delicious and many things came from their own organic farm. I ate a solid breakfast every morning with steamed fruit and a choice of spelt porridge, quinoa porridge, coconut-oat porridge or kitchary. I always chose the coconut-oat porridge because it was so delicious. I was to eat mainly cooked foods the entire time I was there, mostly warm. I ate a three course meal for lunch and soup for dinner with some special whole grain crackers. Two nights out of the week we had a solid dinner. I was never hungry. I can only assume this was because of the quality of the food I was being served. My meals for the week were breakfast as described above (except my day of cleansing I was given the power elixir in lieu of breakfast and the last day Saturday I ate a normal breakfast buffet) and the following lunches and dinners:
On the whole, the activities were very light. On my first night I went to a yoga class that I (and it seemed many others) found very challenging. The rest of the time was very relaxing and I was able to learn about many types of breathing exercises. Some of the classes offered were Detox Yoga, Qi Gong and a lecture about the three constitutions which was free for those participating in Panchakarma but 10 euros otherwise. Swimming was also very nice with a relaxing jet in the pool and lawn chairs overlooking the gorgeous garden.
Another guest told me about e-bikes they loan out which require advance reservations. I was happy to hike around the tiny mountainous town of Hinterthiersee. It consisted of a few hotels, a lumber mill, a church and a small store. There were cows speckling the landscape and beautiful Tirolean architecture.
On the third day I was transferred to my second room, the Veda Suite. This suite had yoga mats and I was able to exercise in my room. This was very nice on the day of fasting when I was not feeling up to group classes. This room had a separate bedroom, living room and two balconies.
The Veda Suite:
Sonnhof’s massages, treatments and facilities were an absolute dream. Every massage or treatment had a purpose but was also extremely relaxing. My fourth day I had an herbal oil enema for strengthening the colon after the detox. I thought it would be awkward as I have never had an enema before, but I was in and out in five minutes. I explained to Ms Mauracher (she administered the enema) that I would be starting my period any day and I was a bit uneasy about the impending treatments. In order to accommodate my unwelcome visitor and to put my mind at ease she changed every treatment to female therapists. A few hours later, I had a deep tissue massage which was very nice although I was a bit worried about the oil which was still working it’s way out of my arse.
One cultural difference to be aware of that you will find in Germany and Austria; the saunas are co-ed and nude. In the interest of experiencing the culture, you might try it in the buff first. I was apprehensive when I first experienced a German sauna but it’s so natural to everyone that it seems to be a non issue. It is a little intimidating the first time you go in, speaking to a member of the opposite sex naked. It’s trial by fire for language learning, you are speaking a language you are not comfortable with in a situation you aren’t comfortable in. If it really bothers you, no one will say boo if you choose to wear a swim suit at Sonnhof. Unlike the other facilities I went to, there are no signs forbidding swimwear in the saunas.
On my fourth day I moved to the Alpine Spirit room. It was in a newer wing of the hotel.
My fifth day I did the stamp massage (Jambira Pinda Sveda). This consisted of the therapist taking what appeared to be herbs wrapped tightly in cheesecloth and heated in a pot with hot water. It was rubbed all over and then pounded with a good amount of pressure. I found this agitating. The lemon coupled with the pounding felt like it was moving things out of the body. It is described as a cellulite treatment. Many of the times during the week when I felt the worst were after treatments in which water was released. There was a lot of releasing during my stay at Sonnhof. By design a detox is meant to get rid of the things that aren’t serving our health, but that didn’t prevent me from feeling unease and sadness as they were leaving. After the stamp massage I had a headache and was sore. I didn’t sleep well that evening.
I met with Dr Sharma on the sixth day for an exit consultation. He sent me home with a plethora of information about how to care for myself. My care instructions were simple and completely doable; nothing extreme. I was told supplements to take, how to eat and how to exercise. I was advised to continue to use saunas, ideally after taking a bath. He suggested many supplements specific to my issues with my menstrual cycle. He suggested foods for my specific issues to avoid outright and ones to eat only cooked. The overall theme for everything was moderation. He said to give preference to grilled meats. One time per week eat white meat, one time red meat. Twice per week I should eat fish, twice vegetarian. One day per week should be for soups only. Another recurring theme was warmth; warm sauna, warm liquids and warm foods especially in the winter months. His exercise advice was to maintain moderate exercise; walking and yoga.
I was excited when I weighed in 9 pounds lighter after only a week at Sonnhof. I felt lighter and so much better.
When I detox at home, I have to plan my meals and activities. It can be exhausting when I am not feeling well to try to make meals that are healthier and sometimes labor intensive. The guesswork is taken out of detoxing at Sonnhof with all the things I need at my fingertips. Europeans know how to live well. The combination of Tirolean hospitality and Indian Ayurveda is absolute perfection.
Visit Sonnhof’s beautiful website (available in English) and check out the different programs beautiful photos. There you will find more information about planning your own stay including brochures, packages, pricing and reservations:
To learn more about Austria’s heavenly region of Tirol: