The Longevity Quest

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Known as the cradle of Ayurveda, yoga, pranic healing, naturopathy and a myriad other therapies, India embraces the mind-body connection By Kamala Thiagarajan


pata Compass September/October 2008


Incredible ndia The revival of these ancient timehonoured systems of medicine means India is able to finally explore its potential as an ideal wellness destination.


ndia’s travel and tourism sector is booming. Expected to generate approximately INR400,000 crores (US$100bn) in 2008 – representing growth of 7.3% – all the signs suggest this is just the beginning. According to research conducted by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) the next ten years will see average annual growth of 9.4%, reaching INR1,500,000 crores (US$275.5bn) by 2018. While India aims to appeal to as broad a range of visitors as possible, a considerable focus is now being placed on developing the country as a leading centre for wellness tourism. With a long history of healing practices, India is looking to benefit from the increasing awareness amongst global visitors of the benefits of health and wellbeing practices. “Promotional efforts of the Ministry are geared towards highlighting India as a wellness destination, by positioning the country as the centre of Ayurveda, Yoga, Siddha, and Naturopathy,“ explains Ms Leena Nandan, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India.

The land of holistic healing The roots of healing therapies practiced in India run deep and are instilled with a rich and ancient history that is inextricably interlinked with religion, science and literature. The origins of Ayurveda, often touted as the five-thousand year old health science, can be traced back to the year 3500 BC. Literature has recorded its path. Agnivesh Tantra written by sage Agnivash and its revised version the Charak Samhita, are considered the most authentic and classical works on Ayurveda to date. The knowledge of Ayurveda in the Hindu tradition claims to have been taught by the King of Gods, Lord Indira himself, and passed on from one generation of venerable sages to the next. Be that as it may, it wasn’t until the knowledge was recorded in these books that it came to be practiced widely. Ayurveda’s intrinsic understanding of the mind and body led to the cure of physical and mental diseases that were beyond the realm of allopathic medicine. Its non-invasive nature and the use of natural oils and herbal powders to promote wellbeing saw its popularity soar. In India, especially Kerala, Ayurveda has grown in stature to become a way of life. As its success rate spread, and these deep-rooted spiritual practices came to be incorporated in therapeutic treatments, it transformed Kerala into a prime tourist destination. Ayurveda is also linked to naturopathy – a healing science that draws on the potential of herbs for healing and rejuvenation. In today’s fast food culture, the healing promise from naturopathic practice is intense and its popularity is rapidly increasing. Yoga is yet another ancient Indian therapy that reinforces the mindbody connection. Literally translated, yoga means ‘union’ in Sanskrit. This refers to a series of physical movements combined with regulated breathing that are supposed to unlock the life force within; unleash the power of the mind, helping it transcend time and space in order to unite the soul with the supreme spiritual power.

September/October 2008 pata Compass


Ayurvedic massage

Yoga was originally propounded by the sage Patanjali and its source can be traced to the spiritual city of Rishikesh in the Himalayas. Tourism has tapped into the economic potential of healing therapy and many travel agents across the country offer clients trips to Rishikesh and Haridwar. The attraction is to offer tourists a chance to visit authentic yoga institutes, meet experienced therapists and discover the rejuvenating effects of these professional wellness centres, still operating in the heart of the Himalayas. The revival of these ancient time-honoured systems of medicine means India is able to finally explore its potential as an ideal wellness destination. Despite their rising international popularity, attracting a global audience interested in alternative medicine still demands marketing strategies and slick promotional material. New establishments offering retreats and therapies are cropping up weekly, making for fierce competition. Also riding on the wave of this trend, luxury spas too have mushroomed in key cities across the sub-continent.

Phenomenal growth Today, more often than not, spas go hand-in-hand with naturopathy, Ayurveda and yoga as these practices are being incorporated into the treatment menus – undoubtedly as a strategy to piggyback on the rising wellness trend. The increased interest in wellness has, therefore, seen the spa industry grow exponentially over the last decade.


pata Compass September/October 2008

“There is now a huge scope for the growth of the wellness industry, especially in metropolitan cities.” Mr Rajesh Sharma, Vice-president, Spa Association of India.

© Niderlander /


“Medical wellness and cosmetic medical spas are a booming business as it fills certain critical gaps in the traditional health care system.”


Incredible ndia

“The burgeoning middle class has disposable income to spend on luxury” says Ms Carina Chatlani, Managing Director of BODY BISTRO Ayurvedic Apothecary, and Chairperson of the new Spa & Wellness Association of India (SWAI). “They have a belief in wellness, which is becoming a priority, and see the benefits of an integrated type of healthcare, both allopathic and alternative medicine”. Savvy marketing has picked up on the deep essence hidden in the ancient spiritual writings and this can be incorporated beautifully into the whole spa experience. And, with more and more multinational companies setting up a base in India, the wellness industry is able to tap into the increasing number of business travellers arriving in the country. Many of the leading spas are attached to five star hotels and offer exclusive treatments for guests. At the Quan spa in JW Marriott, Mumbai, the principal treatments revolve around water, which along with space, earth, air and fire make up the key elements of Ayurveda. “The spa philosophy is to base our menu around the five elements that make Ayurveda the science of life. We divide our menu into bath, massage, body, facial and lifestyle and wellness therapies. As we are true to our geographical location we offer authentic Ayurvedic treatments that have been taken from the Ayurvedic clinics and retreats of Kerala and use locally sourced natural Ayurvedic oils,” says Ms Davina Hassell, Director of the Spa, JW Marriott, Mumbai. It’s not surprising that the bulk of these treatments are aimed reducing stress. Shirodhara, which is the Ayurvedic treatment of pouring warm medicated oil onto the forehead and “opening the third eye” is believed to heal mental stress and fatigue. Abhyanga, a body massage with oils to suit one’s constitution stimulate the circulation, detoxifiying as well as relieving tension on both a physical and mental level.

Elements of Ayurveda

Supporting Structures

“The Spa industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the past couple of years. Every Deluxe Hotel and resort now has a spa,” says Mr Ashok Khanna, Managing Director of IHHR Hospitality Pvt Ltd. IHHR Hospitality group also runs the Ista group of Hotels and the Ananda Spa Institute in the Himalayas. “Destination spas are the ones which are focussed on wellness but there are very few that are truly destination spas. The major challenge of a good destination spa is to come up with an authentic wellness programme which the guest benefits from, takes away and returns for more.” According to figures provided by the Spa Association of India, there is a rising potential for different kinds of spas across the country. In recent years, 130-150 new spas have been established. “These figures are growing rapidly,” states the management of the Spa Association. WTTC economist Mr Amir Girgis believes travel and tourism presents major opportunities for India's growing economy, however he says there must be the infrastructure in place to support this growth. “The country’s performance figures are impressive but it must develop support to manage this expected growth as well as to retain and train the workforce

September/October 2008 pata Compass


© Elena Ray /

Ms Carina Chatlani, Chairperson, Spa & Wellness Association of India (SWAI).

© Oded Levan /


Rishikesh, the home of yoga

in order to meet the demands of both international and regional visitors,” he says. Establishing a training system, accreditation and practice norms for all spas across the country is a problem, but one which India is beginning to address. The Spa Association of India is planning certified training courses for therapists across the country in 2009. These ongoing crash courses, also open to foreigners, will help maintain international industry standards. “Currently we are establishing ourselves and bringing the right resources together. We know that there is lot to be done and we are preparing to meet the need,” says Mr Rajesh Sharma, Vice-president, Spa Association of India. “There is now a huge scope for the growth of the wellness industry, especially in metropolitan cities.” According to estimates published by ASSOCHAM (Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India) the Indian spa industry is expected to receive an investment of US$35bn in the next three to four years. The Commonwealth Games scheduled to take place in Delhi, India in 2010 is also set to give wellness tourism yet another adrenaline boost.


pata Compass September/October 2008

“The Ministry of Tourism is developing Haridwar and Rishikesh in the north as a major wellness centre of the country, and also Pondicherry in the south.” Ms Leena Nandan, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tourism.


Incredible ndia ESTIMATED GROWTH OF SPAS ACROSS INDIA (per annum) Day Spas 21% Resort Spas 20% Destination Spas 59% --Courtesy: Spa Association of India.

In a paper brought out by the ASSOCHAM on “Prospects for Ayurvedic & Medical Tourism Industries during CWG 2010“, it is predicted that the country's Ayurvedic industry alone will earn INR 500 crore (US$117.5mn), while revenues prospects for medical tourism are predicted to total INR 300 crore (US$70.5mn).

Kerala’s success story The state of Kerala has successfully and consistently cashed in on its Ayurvedic wellness heritage. Tourists from all over the world are more familiar with this destination, compared to others in India, and this is not all due to aggressive marketing. The government has remained vigilant in monitoring spa practices and experts accredit this as being one of the reasons behind the region’s success. Spas in Kerala have also paved the way for a booming medical tourism segment, the repercussions of which are being felt throughout the country. According to statistics provided by SWAI, around 15,000 tourists visited the state of Kerala for medical treatment in 2006. In 2007, more people travelled to India than ever before for critical medical and medi-spa experiences, creating a new trend: “medical tourism”. Indian private health facilities offer high quality procedures using state-of-the-art equipment managed by internationally trained doctors. “Medical wellness and cosmetic medical spas are a booming business as it fills certain critical gaps in the traditional health care system. Spas tie in with medical tourism as part of the 'post-op' recuperative holiday,” says SWAI Chairperson, Ms Chatlani. “Even Indians are travelling within India: many are taking wellness recuperative vacations.”

New centres emerging Hoping to replicate Kerala's success a number of destination spas are now looking to othe regions of India to spread the wellness movement. Ananda spa, for instance, is actively setting up institutes across the country. They recently opened a Spa Institute in Hyderabad, which is the only institute in the world to teach yoga, Ayurveda as well as European and Asian face and body treatments under one roof. “This is a state-of-the-art facility and will cater to students from all over the world,” says Ananda’s Mr Khanna. “We have two other Ista Group business hotels presently in Bangalore and Hyderabad. Our Amritsar institute will be opening by end of this year and Pune opening by middle of next year. We also have Ista hotels under various stages of planning and construction in Nagpur and Coimbatore.” Two regions seen as having particular potential as wellness destinations are Haridwar in the north and Pondicherry in south India. Home to some of the country's most celebrated Hindu shrines, Haridwar has been a pilgrimage centre for almost 2000 years, with pilgrims flocking to the temples at Haridwar, Rishikesh, Badrinath and Kedarnath in the hope of salvation and purification from sin. The aim now is to capitalise on the region’s burgeoning visitor trade, extending the spiritual experience to physical wellbeing as well. To achieve this the state government is encouraging the myriad of mind-body linking therapies to become streamlined in a modern day spa setting.

September/October 2008 pata Compass


Photograph courtesy of Media India


Pondicherry beach

Photograph Courtesy of Pondicherry Tourism

Auroville, near Pondicherry

“The Ministry of Tourism is developing Haridwar- Rishikesh in the north as a major wellness centre of the country, and also Pondicherry in the south, so that visitors to these places have a complete experience which is physically healing, spiritually enriching and mentally rejuvenating,” says the Ministry of Tourism's Ms Nandan. It’s obvious to see why Pondicherry is an ideal choice as the next wellness destination. The region is well known for its Aurobindo Ashram, set up by a disciple of the great saint Aurobindo, who encouraged a complete method of yoga that aims to transform human nature to divine life. The government of Pondicherry also conducts the immensely popular International Yoga Festival every year, while the ready availability of a cosmopolitan base within the limits of the city is another factor fuelling its visibility as a rejuvenation centre. Auroville, a township near Pondicherry is the first communal living project of its kind in the world, with people of different faiths, cultures, religions and nationalities living in this area and embracing wellness ideals. The Auroville settlement has members from around 35 countries in the world. This satellite town in itself offers enormous potential as a base for future wellness development. With such a unique heritage as the home of wellness traditions and therapies, India's tourism sector is uniquely placed to capitalise on this home-grown industry. Provided infrastructure developments can keep pace with demand, the country is certain of a long and healthy future. For more information:


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