Dharana Wellness Centre, Hilton Shillim Estate, India

Travelling has always been something I love, and spending too much time in one place gives me itchy feet to explore anywhere else, be it the Surrey hills or half way across the world. For a long time, I have wanted to visit India. The cuisine is one of my favourites, focusing heavily on vegetables and plant-based foods, exquisitely flavoured and perfectly balanced.

I recently had the privilege of being able to travel to the Dhahran Wellness Centre (the Dharana at Shillim estate near Mumbai), partly as a birthday present to my partner, and partly for work. With its focus on wellness and conservation, I knew it was the perfect fit!

Shillim was originally a conservation project by two brothers, who bought land to protect it from slash-and-burn, the practise of cutting down forests and burning them in the summer to create more fertile land for agriculture. Over time the brothers were able to buy and reforest more and more pieces of adjacent land. Now the site is around 3000 acres, within which sits the 330 acre eco retreat (of which 70 acres is the wellness facility).

Location & accommodation

We travelled from another local retreat, but the drive from Mumbai airport is around 3 hours. It’s long considering the distance, but compared to some of the other local roads, the journey was smooth and seamless! The hotel provides airport transfers for a fee.

The surrounding forests are what make this retreat so special for me. It creates a supremely idyllic setting, somewhat more humid than the surrounding areas, and brimming with local wildlife. The rooms are tucked away off the road that winds through the centre of the site, and thanks to the fact that they are all low-rise, all of them are quite well hidden in the forest. We were lucky enough to be placed in one of their pool villas, although all the rooms look spectacular – the spa villas have beautiful balconies with views over the surrounding valley.

The villa was gorgeous and spacious, sleeping 2-3 (a spare bed can be added on request). Ours had a private pool and was situated close to the wellness centre – perfect for guests on any wellness programme.

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Not a bad place to enjoy the sunshine! Swimsuit from Davy J

Wellness programme

Dharana seeks to help guests reconnect with nature and their bodies thorough a range of wellness programmes. Whether your stay is 3 nights or 2 weeks, programmes are available for all health goals.

Each stay commences with a questionnaire (completed in advance) and a Ayureveda/naturopathy consultation to determine the best diet, treatments and activities each guest should take on. Once drawn out, the guest is given a daily plan complete with activities, massages, treatments etc., and after the stay there is a departure consultation aiming to provide each guest with simple steps to continue the dharana way of life at home (both dietary recommendations and naturopathic suggestions).

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Treatments are incredibly varied and are planned for you after your initial consultation

Since both Fiann and I already eat healthily and enjoy staying active, our programme was focussed around relaxation (plenty of treatments), increasing focus and enjoying the nature reserve. I couldn’t think of anything better!

Food

One of my favourite parts of travelling is the food! However, in the past I have struggled with ‘healthy’ or ‘wellness’ menus, which provide watered-down versions of dishes, or portions so small they are finished before you know what’s happened. Thankfully, after speaking with our doctor, we were assured that the food would be healthy, but in line with our desires – that is to say delicious, traditional and filling.

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The food was incredible – one of my favourites was the traditional (but healthified) thali

The food certainly did not disappoint. Although the individual dishes were sometimes smaller than I would help myself to (not hard, considering my normal portion sizes), I never came away from a meal feeling like I hadn’t had enough. In fact, I was full for almost our entire stay! This was some of the best food I have ever eaten and a wonderful introduction to all the dishes India has to offer!

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My favourite breakfast was dosa and paratha

One thing I would say is that if you want traditional, large, ghee-filled Indian meals, this isn’t the place – the meals are delicious but delicate. In the Green Table, the dharana (wellness) restaurant, traditional ingredients are cooked using modern culinary knowledge to create traditional-tasting food based on Ayurevedic traditions with modern-day health benefits. All I know is that it tastes blooming amazing.

The hotel has one more restaurant, Terrazzo, which serves a combination of Indian and global cuisine. We ate here once (from the buffet) and it was delicious, but does not compare to the home-grown, fine dining feel of the Green Table. However, if you’re looking for somewhere that serves alcohol or coffee, this is your place (or head to the Mountain Bar & Bistro – bruschetta pictured below). The Green Table is for wholesome ingredients only!

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The Green Table gets many of its ingredients from its on-site organic farm (complete with friendly farm cat).

Activities

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Hike to Shillim peak – we hiked up in 18 minutes and ran down in 9!

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You can also practise yoga on the peak

I was amazed when I found out that most of the activities held at Dharana are privately run. From bird-watching to block painting or pottery, if you choose to sign up you can guarantee a personalised feel. We loved every single activity we tried – I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, but so you know, we did:

  • Forest Bathing
  • Birding trail
  • Sunrise hike
  • Hike to shillim peak (above)
  • Cycling trail (below)
  • Block painting (below)

Our only problem is that we didn’t stay longer! We heard about a 6 hour hike on our penultimate day, but didn’t have time to fit it in, which was a real shame!

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We cycled at 6:30am to see the sunrise!

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Our birding trail didn’t just involve birds!

I adored our stay at the Dharana Wellness Centre, and would love to go back for longer after the rainy season sometime, where the activities are focussed around the rejuvenated forests, waterfalls and rivers. I can imaging coming back here over and over again and never getting bored, which is what I now plan to do!

Have you ever been to India? Would you like to visit somewhere like this? Comment below!

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Too many photos, not enough space

This trip was very kindly gifted by Dharana at Shillim, but as always all views are my own.

nb/ I offset my total carbon footprint from general living monthly, and offset the flights from this trip. Although not a perfect alternative to not flying at all, you can read my thoughts on Carbon Offsetting here.

 

Rhiannon – Winter wellness

This is a guest blog post by leading Harley Street nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert, taking us through some advice to keep us fit and healthy this winter. Find Rhiannon’s socials at the bottom of the post and enjoy!

 

As we enter these next few cold wintery months, our immune system can often get shot down by illness, whether that is cold and flu, sore throats or generally feeling exhausted. But what can we do to keep our wellness high and working in the winter?

Following a balanced diet full of nutrient dense foods such as complex carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats and of course vegetables and fruit are the key to a successful healthy winter. While there is no, one food that dispels infection, there are plenty of foods that can be introduced to help prevent infection and keep your body fit and healthy.

 

5 KEY STAPLE FOODS FOR IMMUNE SYSTEM:

  1. Citrus Fruits

Citrus fruits are full of Vitamin C, which is known globularly for its benefits to the immune system. Vitamin C is highly concentrated in immune cells that help fight infections fast, and since our bodies do not produce or store it, we must source it from the diet! Popular citrus fruits include; oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit. Have a piece of fruit for a snack, or infuse your water intake with lemon and lime!

  1. Spinach

Spinach is also a brilliant source of Vitamin C. But additionally, spinach is full of beta carotene and antioxidants, which increase the ability of your immune system. Spinach is also a darky leafy green, which we hear so much about as they are full of vitamins such as A, K, C, and B and minerals such as magnesium and calcium.  Cook your spinach, or eat it cold, either way claim the benefits of spinach.

  1. Ginger

Spice up your foods. You can even try a whole range of spices such as garlic, chili peppers, and turmeric to boost immunity and enhance circulation. Ginger is great to remedy a sore throat, and acts as an anti-inflammatory. Ginger is great in hot water on a cold winters morning, as well as in autumnal soups.

  1. Yogurt

When buying Yogurt, it is always important to look for one that contains “live and active cultures” as these cultures will stimulate your immune system to fight infection and disease in your body. Yogurt is also a great source of Vitamin D which can often be low during the winter months, but is needed in the diet as it can be beneficial to the immunity. A thing to note, often pre-flavoured yogurt contains high amounts of sugar so try to choose a plain yogurt and top with your own fruit for flavour!

  1. Protein

Everybody in their lifetime has been given chicken soup or broth when they are ill in bed.  Poultry, such as chicken and turkey is high in Vitamin B6. This vitamin plays a vital role in many chemical reactions in the body, such as forming new and healthy red blood cells.  Additionally, when making chicken broth, the use of boiling the bones holds benefits such as gut healing and immunity.

Vegetarian sources of protein, especially pulses, contain tons of fibre and nutrients to keep you fighting fit. Quinoa has a complete amino acid profile, which is excellent for the building blocks of protein (the structure of our body) and add some pulses to your meals. Pulses can also be a great source of iron and B vitamins providing you with energy and ensure your veggie sources are fortified as often as possible to get B12.

In total, we should be focusing on not only macronutrients, but the micronutrients that are often forgotten, such as vitamins A, B and C, and minerals such as Iron and Zinc.

Apart from keeping our diet full of goodness, there are other ways to keep your body both mentally and physically well in the next coming months.

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Follow Rhiannon on her Instagram to see delicious food like this!

EXERCISE

Getting out and about, breathing in fresh air does your health a world of good. But also exercising stimulates the release of endorphins which makes you feel “happy”.

 

CLEANLINESS

Illness can spread fast in a home, especially the common cold. Preventing infection from spreading around the entire family is vital, and cleaning surfaces, door handles and objects that everyone touches; TV remote, toilet handle can minimise contamination from family member to family member.

 

REST

Taking enough time for yourself, to recuperate can be beneficial for your health. Getting enough sleep at night can make a big difference when waking up the next morning. We all know when we don’t get enough sleep we feel grouchy, and this can affect the rest of the day, and even your immune system. So be mindful in the winter months, give yourself rest to maintain your health.

 

There are so many ways to a healthy winter, and most are basic. Eat well, sleep enough, and get out. Most seem like common sense, but making an active effort to follow through can be beneficial in the long run and the key to winter wellness.

 

Don’t forget you can pre-order Rhiannon’s book, Re-Nourish, released on the 28 December 2017!

 

Nutrition pre and post workout

When you’re training hard, whether it’s for a race, match or just life in general, you’d be wrong to think that your hours spent training are all that’s important. The amount you train can only get you so far – your food intake fuels your training and so what you eat can determine your progress day by day. Trying to workout without any fuel is like trying to go on a roadtrip without filling up with petrol: you’re not going to get very far!

If you’re working hard on your regime it’s important to compliment it with a good diet. Learn the best foods to eat before and after your workout to get the most out of your training.

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Make sure you fuel yourself properly before doing intense exercise (photo by David Wren)

Before you workout

When it comes to fuelling for your workouts carbs are your best friend (hooray!). They can provide energy that is easily accessible to your body and means that you won’t burnout half way. Complex carbs will keep you fuelled for long periods of time, whereas simple carbs are immediately available for your body to use, and are helpful for that extra kick of energy. If you’re training hard you’re also likely to sweat a lot, so consider eating something that has a little salt/minerals too (bananas!).

Food is important, but be careful of eating too much, too close to your workout. After we eat (especially carbohydrates and large meals), we release melatonin, the hormone that prepares us for sleep. Try to eat around 2h before attempting an intense workout. The smaller the snack and the less intense the workout the closer together they can be. Boost your energy without causing a food coma by eating something like these (and don’t forget to keep hydrated!):

  • Fruit (banana)
  • Slice of wholemeal toast and an egg/ ¼ avocado
  • Energy ball
  • Small smoothie

 

After you workout

Your body has worked hard for you during your training session, breaking down muscle fibres to rebuild new, stronger ones. You will have depleted your glycogen stores in your muscles too, especially with endurance exercises, so these need to be restored. However, be careful of the ‘I earned this mentality’ – whilst a protein shake or lean protein and toast may help, it doesn’t follow that an entire extra meal and packet of crisps will be better! Try one of these balanced options within 30 minutes of ending your workout to replenish your muscles without ruining your progress:

 

  • Wholemeal toast, peanut butter, ½ banana
  • Protein shake with berries
  • Low sugar protein bar or ball (preferably homemade)

 

There are so many contradictory pieces of advice out there when it comes to fuelling your workouts. It doesn’t help that all our bodies are different, as are our training styles, goals and lifestyles. What really matters is finding something that works for you and your routine. You should do what feels good and healthy to you – some people can’t eat at all before a workout, others can’t finish a workout without food. What is most important is that you’re feeding yourself enough of the vital nutrients to achieve the fitness gains you want to see – our bodies are engines designed to run on the fuel of food, and deprivation will lead to minimal improvement, if any.

 

What I do:

I eat up to 1.5h before a workout, usually something small like a homemade oat biscuit, slice of toast or banana. If I’m really tired and I know I’ll be working out later, I’ll also have a coffee a few hours before, but I save this for emergencies so it continues to have an effect! After I workout I’ll just have a simple protein shake with milk to allow my muscles to recover, but at the next meal (usually dinner) I’ll eat carbohydrates to replenish lost glycogen stores.