Beyond The Beaches…Seven Must Have Experiences in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is not like other islands where all you do is lay on the beach and snorkel in the sea. Sure there are plenty of places to do that around Sri Lanka, but it is also a country full of rich cultural activities. Here are some experiences you should not miss during your visit…

Get an Ayurvedic Massage

Ayurveda is an ancient medicinal practice based on natural plants and roots. Because Sri Lanka is abundant with natural resources, spices and flora, it has used ayurveda to prevent and heal diseases of the eyes, skin, breathing, digestion, and mental health for thousands of years. One of the best places to experience ayurvedic treatments is Siddhalepa Resort where you can consult with an experienced doctor, receive massage treatments based on his/ her prescription, and enjoy organic healthy meals. The Siddhalepa Group has hotels in Wadduwa and Mt. Lavinia in Sri Lanka, as well as in Berlin, Sliac and Bad Homburg. They manufacture over 400 kinds of oils, balms, elixirs, cosmetics and teas, so make sure to pick up some gifts to take back.

Shop at an Open Air Fish Market

Fishing is the main occupation for locals in southern Sri Lanka. It is interesting to see fisherman carrying their large nets on wooden boats heading out into the sea early morning, and returning to the shore with their fresh catch at sunset. The chef from Cinnamon Bey Beruwala hotel showed us where he gets his daily catch from and we picked our dinner together at the market. If you are lucky, you can also see stilt fishing, where fishermen perch balancing on poles, careful not to cast shadows in the water, as they skillfully draw spotted herrings and mackerels from the shallow waters.

Watch Traditional Mask Dances

The ancient traditional of dancing wearing devil or spirited masks was another way of chasing away health and mental issues. Rituals would start at night and go on until sunrise to chase demons out of the human bodies. These masked dances were also performed during comedy shows and for entertainment. You can see how the intricate and colorful masks are handcrafted of very light wood in the village of Ambalagodan. At Cinnamon Grand in Colombo, I also watched live mask and fire dances.

Take a Safari

The Sri Lankan safari experience is very different from what you may have experienced in Africa. There are dense tropical forests with thick canopy, so it’s difficult to spot leopards (though they exists). Yala National Park is one of the best places to spot wild elephants, deer, monkeys, wild boar, buffaloes, peacocks and other exotic bird species. Plan to spend at least half a day in an open air jeep to get a good view of the local animals.

Go Whale Watching

The warm waters of the Indian Ocean along the coast of Sri Lanka make for one of the ideal places to sea whales in the world. From Mirissa, a charming coastal village in the south, embark on a whale watching cruise early in the morning and spend a few hours looking for the world’s largest mammal, the blue whale, with experienced guides. The best time to see whales in November to April, though you may be able to spot them year round in Sri Lanka.

Feed and Bathe Elephants

I am strictly against riding elephants as in most cases the animals have been captured, trained and abused to make a profit. But at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, baby and adult elephants who have strayed away from their packs, found on the roads, or orphaned and brought to live freely in an open space. They seem to be well taken care of. Some of the elephants who previously worked and interacted with humans are allowed to be fed and bathed by visitors, for a small fee. I enjoyed feeding chunks of pineapples and watermelon to a charming lady, with the assistance of a local guide. Please remember you cannot touch, ride, or even go close to wild elephants as they are very dangerous.

Cruise Down Madu Ganga River

The Madu River area is a swampy marshland covered in mangrove forests and abundant in wildlife. You can spot over 100 species of birds, reptiles, butterflies and molluscs when cruises on a boat safari through the river. Additionally, you can visit locals living around the river who live on cinnamon and fishing industries. Stop to visit an open-air fish spa, watch how the locals peel cinnamon, weave palm leaves, purchase cinnamon soaps, tea, oil and spices directly from the source.

Gifts That Give Back 2018

Each year I put together a meaningful holiday shopping guide especially for you. These are gifts that are tied to causes and help people around the world not only during the season of celebration, but all through the year.

So get your holiday shopping off to a great start with these gifts that give back.

Layered Cuffs 

These Kayan style solid brass hammered cuffs are made by refugee designers by hammering brass into a carved buffalo horn mold, which gives them their unique size, shape and textured quality. The founder of the jewelry site Akamae, Cara Boccieri lives and works with refugee communities in the Jungle on the Thailand Burma border.

Oofos Sandal

These are my favorite slippers to wear around the house and to run errands in. Revolutionary OOfoam technology absorbs impact to reduce stress on feet and joints and provides great support for arches. For every pair of shoes sold OOFOS donates 3% directly to breast cancer research.

Rise & Grind Crew Pullover

Can’t beat the soft comfortable fabric on a cold winter day. This rise and grind crew pullover didn’t even make it to my closet as I keep it on all day long!  United By Blue is a sustainable apparel and lifestyle brand with a big focus on waterway conservation. For every product sold, they remove a pound of trash from the world’s oceans and waterways. 

Give Thanks Charm

The delicately sculpted sterling silver charm with a message of thanks is a must for charm collectors. Chamilia, a Swarovski company supports WhyHunger, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to ending hunger and poverty by connecting people in need to nutritious, affordable food through its “Give With All Your Heart” program.

 

LifeStraw Go Water Bottle

These cute water bottles are portable filtration systems perfect for camping, traveling or even school. New Go 2-Stage Special Edition bottles support public lands alongside the Conservation Alliance and also natural disaster victims through the Safe Water Fund. With every LifeStraw product purchase, one child in a community in need is provided with safe drinking water for an entire school year.

Fringe Basket

Moms will find this artisanal machine washable basket a fun place to store away toys, clothes and magazines. Portion of Lorena Canals’ proceeds helps finance the education of children in Northern India and make lives easier for moms in the community where their products are made. Recent projects include a nursery for 104 street kids in the state of Haryana in India.

Elephant Tote

Passion Lilie, eco-friendly, fair trade apparel company based in New Orleans, LA designed this beautiful elephant cotton tote using eco-friendly materials. Use it for groceries, gym or travel. Purchasing the product empowers artisans in India by creating dignified employment opportunities.

Artisana Arrow Blanket

From the first moment I spread this blanket, not only did it brighten up my living room, my cat did not leave the comfort of its warm and soft alpaca wool. The vibrant colors and artistic pattern remind you of the Andes. Each purchase helps support the weavers and craftsmen and their families in Ecuador.

Soul of Africa Canvas Shoes

Global barefoot shoe company VIVOBAREFOOT, in collaboration with Belgian co-creation brand Akaso, created Soul of Africa Ababa shoes for men and women, showcasing a unique body-painting art of Kara people in Ethiopia. The Kara tribe is one of Africa’s most authentic tribes known for their abstract body painting. This initiative provides local employment and training in Africa. It’s estimated that one fully finished product made in Africa creates five jobs along the supply chain.

LALF Limited Edition Tee

Having recently visited The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) in Nairobi, I love the new vegan, organic and sustainable clothing brand LALF (Love Animals, Love Fashion). LALF donates 25% of every piece sold from this collection to DSWT, which includes dedicated anti-poaching units, a rehabilitation program for orphaned elephants, actively working to conserve wilderness areas, and much more. 

Buddhi Box

Whether for a mom who needs a little Zen in her life, a sister the yogi, or your BFF who loves to try out new products, BuddhiBox is an easy, unique way to please even the pickiest ladies on your list. Get a monthly, quarterly or one-time BuddhiBox, filled with ethically sourced, made in the USA, cruelty-free products such as essential oils, healing crystals, mala beads, and jewelry. A portion of the proceeds are donated to a different charity every month, and this month’s benefactor is Feed the Children.

Use code buddhibox15 for 15% off all subscriptions and any sale items on Buddhi Box.

Corc Yoga Mat 

These yoga mats are durable, non slip, hypoallergenic and lightweight. Corc Yoga products are made from sustainable, organic cork, not rubber, which is gently harvested from trees in Portugal. Cork trees are the only trees capable of regenerating bark allowing for steady production from a 100% renewable, recyclable and biodegradable source. Additionally, Corc Yoga donates a portion of every sale to support the mental health crisis in Portugal.

Beaded Jewelry

BeadforLife empowers women by training them to create bead jewelry from recycled paper, earn an income, and lift their families out of poverty. These trendy bracelets make for meaningful fashion statement and cost only between $8-40. So go on and stuff your stockings!

Marula Oil

Marula oil is the trending super product this year full of antioxidants, fatty omegas, collages and oleic acid. It soothes sunburns, heals burns, moisturizes cuticles, tames frizzes, soothes lips, heals acne and reduces stretch marks and scars. All ingredients are produced by female-owned businesses and co-ops, and production of Vegamour marula oil provides jobs for women in Namibia.

Save 20% with code BLACK20 on Black Friday at Vegamour.

If you like to entertain, this handmade hamsa dish set with one large plate and six smaller serving or dipping plates is perfect for serving nuts and appetizers. When placed together, the plates create a bright, colorful hamsa hand that symbolize peace, prosperity, and protection. Each piece is made by local women for a fair wage in Neapolis, Tunisia, a city that’s been making renowned ceramics for centuries. And Kamsah supports the region even further, giving 10% of its profits to causes that benefit its artisans.

These beautiful brass necklaces won’t just make a fashion statement, they will spark a conversation. Each proceed benefits Love146, an international human rights organization working to end child trafficking through holistic, trauma-informed survivor care and prevention education. They operate two safe homes in the Philippines and care for survivors in the UK and the United States. They also have a robust prevention program called “Not a  Number,” which is currently in use in 20 states in the US, and in Madagascar and Liberia.

Growing Roots Sustainable Snacks

Instead of purchasing cookie-cutter gift baskets for your office crew, get certified organic, vegan and gluten free snacks that support urban farm initiatives across the country. From Pineapple Coconut Rum, Maple Bourbon and Coconut Curry to Cocoa Chipotle, Growing Roots snack bites and clusters are the perfect delicious, plant-based snack for any season. I am even adding them to my breakfast granolas and homemade salads!

5 Reasons Why I Could Live in the Philippines

What did I like most about the Philippines? Well, a lot of things! Beautiful beaches, quiet islands, fresh fruits, friendly people, to name a few. Each day, I thought about what it would be like to live here and thought about the five most compelling reasons I would want to move to the Philippines.

Mangoes Grow Year Round – Mangoes, undoubtedly, are my favorite fruit. I have been known to eat a lot (record 15 in one sitting)! Growing up in India, I use to anxiously wait for summers when mangoes were available. In the Philippines, there is no one season for growing mangoes. The tropical weather allows good quality production year-round. As a result, you can get fresh mango juice, fruit, yogurt, desserts and anything else you can think of. Dried mangoes from Cebu are world famous and even available in grocery stores across the US.

Coconuts Are Everywhere – Philippines is the largest producer of coconuts in the world. It is a spectacular sight from an airplane to see rolling hills full of coconut trees on many of the islands. Whether you are driving, walking or visiting a home, there’s a pretty good chance you can find a fresh sweet coconut readily available. Coconut water is good for circulation, blood circulation, skin, provides energy, healthy for the heart and helps with weight loss. Where else in the world can you find a superfood for only $0.20?

coconuts in philippinesFilipinos Have The Fountain of Youth – Well, not a fountain as such, but most Filipino look at least 10-20 years younger than they actually are. I asked a few people I met about the reason for their young appearance, and they replied that it was staying happy, always smiling and not stressing too much. “You must exercise your face muscles a lot” one lady told me. In fact, all of the Filipinos I met were very friendly and smiling all the time.

philippines travel

Freshness in Seafood is Redefined – I have turned into a pescetarian over the years and when I walk into a restaurant, my eyes go straight to the seafood section of the menu. In the Philippines, many of the restaurants would display your choices of fish, lobster, crab, shrimp, sea shells, etc. (live in tanks or on ice). You simply pick out what you want and how much of it, and the chef does the rest. I ate the biggest king crab of my life (at 4 pounds), which was still alive when I placed my order.

seafood in manilaBudget Friendly Spas – Self care in the Philippines is a priority. Every mall, hotel and street corner has a spa, and most of them are no frills but offer really good service. Skilled professionals can do deep tissue, Swedish, or a local version of head to toe massage, leaving you totally relaxed. At $20 a massage, you can definitely afford to hit the spa a few times a week.

philippines spasPhilippines is an English speaking country. Even in the most remote places, people speak very good English, which makes it relatively easy to get around and interact with the locals. Other factors that make Philippines an attract place to live include – affordable cost of living, ease of finding domestic help, and year-round tropical weather. There’s also option to live in the bustling western capital of Manila with beautiful waterfront high risers, golf courses, international restaurants, and some of the biggest malls in the world; or at some of the isolated islands where you can enjoy quiet beaches, surf, swim, snorkel, and karaoke with the islanders at night.

 

A Secret Retreat in the The Blue Ridge Mountains

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, is a well kept secret that I am about to reveal. Shankara Ayurveda Spa at the Art of Living Retreat Center is a pristine destination for those who want a short getaway to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

October is the best time to drive through Blue Ridge Parkway and watch the leaves turn into shades of yellow, orange and red. As you go up in the High Country, watch the valleys unfold beneath you and fill in your lungs with refreshing crisp mountain air.art of living boone

Perched up on the mountain on a private reserve, only a few minutes outside the city of Boone, NC, is The Art of Living Retreat Center . Originally built in the mid 1990’s as a transcendental meditation center, the place was abandoned, auctioned, and later rebuilt as one of the largest retreats in the country. In October 2011, the Art of Living Retreat Center opened its 381 acres after lots of renovations, and now offers a hotel, spa, restaurant, apartments, organic garden, pottery center, and halls that can be rented out for weddings, conferences, retreats and workshops.

The retreat’s parent organization is Art of Living Foundation,  the world’s largest volunteer-based non profit organization, that was founded in 1981 by India’s spiritual leader, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The Foundation conducts “Art of Living” stress-relief courses, based on yoga, breathing, and meditation, and offers a variety of personal-development and trauma-relief programs around the world.

art of living boone

The resort is designed on the principles of Vastu, a set of architectural and planning principles assembled by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi based on ancient Sanskrit texts. The exterior of the main hall reminds me of an elegant white palace that could be found in southern India, with its welcoming gardens, calming fountain, and giant swans guarding its gates. Wooden ceilings have a geometric layered pattern and a glass window in the middle of the ceiling, resembling an upside down stairway to heaven. Heated floors and carpeting provide comfort to those participating in weekend yoga and meditation retreats.

Across the street is the main building where guest check in. There is an unassuming reception desk managed by couple of resident staff. They greet me with a big smile and a warm welcome. Mr. Venkat Srinivasan, PhD (Manager of operations and guest experience), who has been here since the renovations began, officially welcomes me to the premises and takes me on a tour of the grounds.

We first drive a few blocks to the spa building, the newest addition to the property. On the way we pass by buildings that are rented out as apartments to the staff and students at Appalachian State University. There are also modest one bedroom rooms rented out to visitors for an Ashram type experience. Guests who are looking for solace and peace can stay here without the distractions of modern life, at a very affordable price. The spa rooms at the Shankara Ayurveda Spa are comparatively more luxurious. King and double beds are decorated with hues of purple and white, and offer unobstructed views of the forest and mountains beyond. There’s a phone, television and working desk, as well as robe and slippers. Samples of toiletries come from Shankara, an upscale skin care line that embodies the ancient eastern science of Ayurveda, and the western state of the art anti-aging science. Ayurveda is a 5,000-year-old system of natural healing that has its origins in the Vedic culture of India. Plant-based treatments in Ayurveda may be derived from roots, leaves, fruits, bark, or seeds such as cardamom and cinnamon. 100% of the net profits of Shankara product sales are donated to global humanitarian projects through International Association for Human Values (IAHV).

The spa service rooms and saunas are located only one floor up and offers traditional Ayurvedic treatments, such as Marma – where pressure points are activated to pacify the doshas; Basti – warm medicated oil massage for the joints; Netra Tarpana – eye detox for improving eyesight; as well as herbal exfoliations, Thai and Swedish massages, are offered at the spa. The therapists here are well trained in the traditional Ayurveda therapies and many of them have practiced all around the world.

art of living boone

I try the Abhyangya detoxifying herbal massage which involves a gentle full body oil massage in circular patterns. It aims to release stress and improve circulation. Regular treatments of Abhyangya also helps in weight loss. After unwinding at the sauna, I lounge in a chaise at the quiet room, sipping on a cup of soothing organic Balance Tea. Shankara blends and sells different kinds of Ayurveda teas that help with depression, anxiety and restlessness.

Dinner reservations are not necessary while staying at the Art of Living Retreat Center. Breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet is served at the main dining hall at set hours of the day. Emphasis is on healthy and wholesome vegetarian dining, while gluten and dairy free choices are also available. Executive chef, Raju, believes in invoking the taste buds with sweet, salty, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent flavors that help feel satisfied while eating less. A typical meal would include soup, salad, protein, carbohydrates, vegetables and dessert. Variations of cuisines is also great for the taste buds. On a Friday night, the theme could be Southern, serving okra and kale stew made with ingredients from the garden, vegetable Jambalaya, and maple molasses coconut bar; while on Saturday afternoon, we are offered a simple meal of Indian yellow lentils, aloo-gobi (potatoes and cauliflower curry), and basmati rice. There is a strict no alcohol and no meat policy on the campus.

art of living boone

After dinner, everyone heads downstairs to a communal hall for Satsang, which in spiritual context means a gathering with good or righteous companions. A few people pick up musical instruments, while others take over the mike and start singing in a slow melodic voice. The group joins in the chorus of short chants and songs that are pleasing to the ears, and invoke a meditative state in the room.

Visitors can enjoy free yoga and meditation lessons offered every morning and evening for anyone who wants to join in. The classes are good for any age and experience level. We stretch our joints, practice breathing techniques, and learn how to manage stress and be more peaceful. Some of the classes involve group discussions and guided meditations, most teachings act as reinforcements to keep a healthy mind, body and spirit.

huffpo boone1Art of Living offers a happiness program on the weekends where participants are taught the importance of being happy from the inside, and how it impacts immunity, health, energy and personal relationships. There are also silence, meditation, detox and weight loss retreats throughout the year.

For leisure, visitors can enroll in pottery workshops at the Clay Studio. Here you can learn how to make your own pottery on a clay wheel with a guided instructor. Extended workshops allow you to paint, bake and finish the pieces, or the instructor would mail it to your home once ready. In November, there are special holiday ornament making classes with clay conducted by studio director and award-winning Appalachian State Fine Arts Pottery alumna, Laurie Caffery Harris.

If you have a green thumb, you can volunteer at the organic vegetable farm. Resident farmer, Emily, a native of London, practices biodynamic agriculture, that emphasizes spiritual and mystical perspectives on the soil, plant growth and livestock care. Farming methods include crop diversification, avoiding the use of chemicals, and consideration of celestial and terrestrial influences on the crops. All of the produce from this garden feeds into the kitchen, and you can see a fresh basket arriving at the dining hall each morning.

Finally, Srinivasan shows me a well manicured labyrinth, historically been used as a meditation and prayer tool. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world.

art of living boone

Being so close to nature, solo and guided hikes are encouraged during your visit. I go through 3-miles of natural trails encountering various kinds of trees, shrubs and mountain herbs, as well as occasional deer. The walk along the edge of the hill offers spectacular views of the fall color. Seeing how nature has shed its leaves and adjusted its appearance for the seasons right before me, I begin to recognize a subtle transformation happening inside of me. After the clean air I ingested with my newly learned breathing techniques, the release of stress from my body during the Ayurvedic massage treatment, the farm to table organic vegetarian diet in my system, and the communal gathering of spiritual companions, its hard to walk away not feeling any different that when you first came in to the Shankara Ayurveda Spa at the Art of Living Retreat Center.

Go Eat Give is offering a weekend Spring retreat at the Art of Living Retreat Center in March 2016, in partnership with Calmtivity Yoga. Click here to read more.

Doctor Fish

After walking around the streets of Seoul for hours, my tired feet came across a sign for SPA, and had to stop. While South Korea is well known for its day spas (known as Jjimjilbang), another fun treatment to try is by Doctor Fish. My friend explained that hundreds of little fishes nibble on the dead skin off your feet. The result is you have a gentle foot massage. Continue reading “Doctor Fish”

Detox with spices

Often times “spice” is used synonymously with “heat.” Spices are generally used to impart flavors to food, and not all spices are hot. When people refer to spicy food, they are thinking curry, red chili and strong flavors. But the truth is cinnamon and nutmeg are as much as a spice as are cumin and turmeric. There is a reason why spices have been used across cultures for thousands of years. Most spices have some advantages for the body and have been used to treat illnesses, prevent diseases and detox. For example, turmeric is a natural anti septic and Alzheimer’s preventer, while black pepper and curry powder help prevent breast cancer. Continue reading “Detox with spices”

Celebrate your BODY in Santa Fe

The city of Santa Fe is aptly known for high spiritual energy that stems from its unique landscapes and Native American history. It is home to a number of spas, yoga and meditation centers, spiritual healers and alternative medicine practitioners. While the choices are endless, many locals pick BODY of Santa Fe as their daily destination for a complete inner and outer retreat. Continue reading “Celebrate your BODY in Santa Fe”

Infinite Healing – holistic mobile spa

Toshii Cooper calls herself a dedicated humanitarian who is committed to sharing her gifts and passions with the universal community. Toshii’s passions lie in being of service through healing minds, bodies, and souls with her touch, energy, words, and artistic creative expressions. She runs a holistic mobile spa in metro Atlanta, called Infinite Healing. Originally from New Orleans, Toshii has lived in New York before and been practicing  for 12 years. She is a Licensed Massage Therapist and Reiki Master.

Infinite Healing offers holistic services to relax both your mind and body. They do massages, body treatments, guided meditations and reiki. They bring the experience to you so you avoid the stress of making it to your appointment in traffic and relax in the comfort of your own home or work.

On a Thursday evening, Toshii brought over her equipment, massage table, scented oils, and candles (all-natural of course).  She set up a personal space in my home where we spent over a hour of ultimate pampering and relaxation. Toshii started out with a Swedish massage using deep circular movements that release tension from the muscles. That is her signature style, she said. Then while I continued to rest on the table, she did reiki on my entire body. Reiki is an ancient Japanese healing therapy performed by intuitive sense of hand positioning. Reiki is described by adherents as a holistic therapy which brings about healing on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels. I definitely felt a wave of energy over me while Toshii performed the treatment. Apparently, the reiki master is also able to read the chakras (energy wheels) of her patient and translate what they mean in personal or professional life. Just after the ritual, Toshii was able to tell me a few things about my personality that perhaps only a very good psychics would be able to. I was surprised how much she could find out about her patients without even talking to them.

A holistic treatment with Infinite Healing is something I would highly recommend everyone to try, at least once. The company offers individual services, spa parties, businesses visits and more. Her clients include musicians, dancers, corporate executives and women’s groups. She is quite popular at baby showers, bridal showers and bachelorette parties!

Toshii Copper is also working on her first soulful holistic self help book, details of which will be released soon.  To book your appointment with Infinite Healing, click here.