"I had been told about Panchakarma by a dear friend who had been incredibly ill for years. She said that her Ayurvedic doctor was the first to draw out the positive and this transformed her life and she got better. He told her what was right with her, not what was wrong."
Daisy Finer is one of the world’s leading freelance travel and spa journalists. For four years, she was Spa Editor of Condé Nast Traveller UK and prior to this she edited Tatler’s spa guide for seven years and worked on their 101 Best Hotels in The World. She also writes for Country and Town House magazine and has her own website, SPA.Kitchen, centred on heart-based self-nurture. She has three children, lives in the Cotswolds and likes porridge for supper.
"If you think [Ayurveda is] hocus pocus, think again; it's rooted in real scientific knowledge."
What does Ayurveda mean to you?
I suppose I appreciate Ayurveda as a philosophy, a holistic system, a subtle, complex, all-embracing prescription for how to live your daily life. What I love about it is that it is so all-encompassing. It is respectful of the body, mind and spirit, and seeks to get to the root of problems, rather than just acting as a plaster.
When did you discover it? How long have you been practising it?
I can’t actually remember. I’ve been travelling to India since I was 16, so perhaps on one of my many trips there. I do remember thinking that it seemed to involve a lot of multiple-choice questions and forms, and I found this very off-putting to begin with. Later, when I delved deeper in my capacity as a spa editor, I discovered there was a lot more to it than I first imagined, and that Ayurveda is the most incredible portal for discovering your real and complete Self. My real light bulb moment came when I did my first Panchakarma – it was the most transformative and spiritual cleanse I had ever tried, and way beyond anything on offer in Europe.
What drew you to Ayurveda?
So much of Ayurveda is common sense, but what I love about it is that it encompasses physical practices, such as yoga, with the mental – meditation, with simple reminders on how to get the most out of your life. I had been told about Panchakarma by a dear friend who had been incredibly ill for years. She said that her Ayurvedic doctor was the first to draw out the positive and this transformed her life and she got better. He told her what was right with her, not what was wrong. The other essential quality of Ayurveda is the belief that nature offers the cure. I read that when the first Ayurvedic school was founded in 800 BC, by a physician, students were given the task of collecting plants from the Indian jungle with no medicinal value. Only one student, Jivaka, returned empty-handed and was instantly accepted (he later became renowned for his work in brain surgery).
Has it helped you with anything major?
Like most of us, I’ve had my ups and downs in life. I did my Panchakarma after my third child when I was looking for a path to give back to myself. At first, it was not an enjoyable experience. Emotions rocketed through my body like fireworks. Memories from the past haunted me with a sudden bang. At times, it felt like I was out of my body. I was displaced, aggressive even. It’s a very intense experience, which involves drinking ghee (clarified butter) to loosen toxins, eating medicinal porridge, various means of purging, and a lot of amazing ritualistic treatments. After five days, slowly, my mood began to change. I started smiling at everything, on a natural high. I felt free. And by the time I left I was so back in my body, so incredibly grounded, that my feet literally felt magnetically attached to the ground. I moved slower. Time flowed at my pace. It was an awesome experience to feel so relaxed and natural and nourished.
Is Ayurveda part of your everyday life or just for your medicine cabinet or fall-back routine?
Ayurveda does provide a pattern for one’s whole way of life, starting with when one should get up (at dawn, to live in harmony with the natural world), to what foods you should eat for your body type. I can't say I manage to adhere to its principles in full, despite good intentions! But when I feel at sea with life, I like to tap into its wisdom as a means to reset myself and feel steadier.
What are your top 3 Ayurvedic tips that have worked for you?
Plenty of Ayurvedic advice is easy to follow. One really simple one is consider sitting up straight when eating, avoiding distractions such as chat, or checking one’s phone, and to focus on the sensation of chewing and tasting one’s food. Makes sense, right? One Ayurvedic doctor told me if I had had a busy action-filled day, then I should wind down in the evening and have a bath and quiet time before bed. But if I’d been sitting at my desk all day, I should finish the day with a brisk walk to move my body. I love the adaptability of this approach. There are no strict rules because its all about tuning into your needs. When I finished my Ayruvedic cleanse, it was suggested that I soak ten raisins every day in water and drink the water the next day to kick start my digestion. This was a really effective tip, and if I feel sluggish, particularly in winter, one I adopt.
What surprised you most about Ayurveda?
If I’m honest, the amount of training the doctors go through! If you think its hocus pocus, think again. It's rooted in real scientific knowledge and the World Heath Organization is apparently keen to promote it in developing countries as, of course, it provides a much cheaper and natural solution to health problems.
Did you integrate it gradually or overnight for any particular reason?
I use the bits that resonate with me, when they seem relevant. I don’t follow anything religiously because when I do that, I seem to rebel later! So now, in all areas of life, I try to be less rigid.
Do your children/family eat an Ayurvedic diet? And if they do, do they know it’s Ayurveda or do they just think of it as home cooking?
Am afraid they don’t! My children are true Brit baked beans types. Perhaps I should try harder, but frankly there is enough to do already! Of course, I keep an eye on their sugar levels, incorporate things like wholesome greens and vegetables into their diet, and encourage them to try new things. But I don’t actually believe in pushing systems of living onto children – it's up to them to discover how they want to do things. I can open the door, they can look in all directions and decide for themselves. Right now, there’s a mutiny if there’s no ketchup! Sorry, but it’s true!
What is your favourite Ayurvedic recipe or go-to ingredient?
Definitely warmed organic milk with turmeric, a little pepper and honey. Its my go-to supper when I want a lighter end to the day, and is deeply comforting.
How does Ayurveda fit into your day-to-day routines?
As above! And I practise yoga and meditation when I can.
What do you wish was easier in our society to make an Ayurvedic lifestyle more accessible?
I really wish restaurants would offer more healthy choices: get rid of the ubiquitous basket of white bread, offer the likes of brown rice or quinoa, tap into the need for mood foods – foods that lift you, or ground you, and that are in tune with the seasons. Everything is readily available now, such as strawberries in December, and I wish that wasn’t the case as it spoils the feeling of something being really special.
Do people around you/in your circle of friends know about Ayurveda?
I think they’ve absolutely heard of it, and we are all so busy these days that everyone wants advice on how to cope.
What’s the one thing you would encourage everyone to try or you think would benefit the majority of people’s health for the better?
Switching off devices. I’m not brilliant at it myself. We are all of us addicted. And I worry for my children about where this will all lead. Even whenever I practise a day's silence I realize how quickly I travel inside, and the joy starts to bubble up and the stress to dissipate. In a dream world, we’d all do one day’s silence a week.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Ayurveda makes our 20-year-old spa industry look a bit late to the party. But, of course, there are some wonderful spas/retreats where you can experience it. I’d like to recommend Clover Mill in the UK for Ayurvedic retreats – it's complete bliss, and in India, the incomparable Vana. Of course, there are more, but those are my top two! Am afraid I’m not a take-your-own-sheets kinda girl.