Ayurveda and Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s ancient medicines are now more popular than ever, whether in treating disease or maintaining health and fitness. Here is everything you need to know about Ayurveda and Sri Lanka…
Oil head Ayurveda Shirodhara treatment. Photo: Shutterstock
Oil head Ayurveda Shirodhara treatment. Photo: Shutterstock
What is Ayurveda?

Legend has it that Ayurveda, the science of life (ayur = knowledge, science; veda = life, longevity), was a gift of the Hindu God Brahma to humankind as a token of his compassion. Based on a holistic approach to health, Ayurveda has for millennia used Sri Lanka’s prolific herb and plant life to cure and revitalise. Its origins can be traced back more than 5,000 years to the Vedas of India – and it has had a profound influence on Chinese and Tibetan medicine, and even Western surgery.

At its core is the idea that our general wellbeing is closely related to our choice of lifestyle, and illness is caused by an imbalance of food, stress and toxins. Ayurvedic philosophy postulates that all bodies are composed of various combinations of the five basic elements – Air, Fire, Water, Earth and Ether – and that all people are subject to three doshas, or ‘life forces’ – Vatta (air and ether), Pitta (fire and water) and Kapha (water and earth) – with illness resulting from an imbalance in the doshas. The aim of Ayurvedic treatments is to establish the three doshas in their correct balance, focusing on detoxification, rejuvenation, mental hygiene and spiritual healing. Oil massages, herbal remedies and prescribed diets are the most common therapies in use.

Choosing where to have treatment

 Because Ayurveda is such an integral part of the island’s culture, it is ubiquitous – be it in the form of Ayurvedic clinics and pharmacies, locals offering oil massages on the beach or hotels and centres specialising in Ayurveda. Today, many hotels have at least a small area devoted to Ayurveda, if not an entire treatment centre. When deciding where and how to experience this ancient method of healing, you first need to determine your goals. For those simply looking for wellness, rejuvenation or a dose of pampering, a good choice would be a hotel with a reputable treatment centre. However, you should be aware that many hotels have jumped on the bandwagon, among them a few who do not live up to standards. For those seeking a cure for a medical problem or illness, a recognised centre or retreat hotel solely devoted to Ayurveda is your best option. In general, a course of treatment lasting from two to three weeks is recommended to find relief from most maladies.

Ayurvedic Oil Foot massage. Photo: ShutterstockAyurvedic Oil Foot massage. Photo: Shutterstock

Types of treatment

There are lots of different Ayurvedic treatments. A practitioner will assess you and decide on the best programme to suit you. Treatments may involve massage, use of essential oils, herbal remedies, prescribed diets, blood purification, herbs and enemas or laxatives. Options might include:

Abhyanga Herbal oil massage adapted to the individual

Abhyanga-Garshana Skin brushing and herbal oil massage

Ayurvedic face and marma Facial with herbal mask and oils, designed to suit you

Ayurvedic Foot Massage Your practitioner will use his/her feet to massage you

Ayurvedic Head massage

Ayurvedic Shirodhara Treatment involving oil being poured on the forehead

Elakizhi Medicinal leaves dipped in medicated oils are tied in a muslin bag and then applied to the whole or parts of the body

Karnapooranam Oil applied to the ear canal

Lepam Herbal paste applied to area of pain

Nasya Oil administered to the nostrils

Netra Sekam Eye cleanse

Njavara kizhi Oil is administered to the body and then a medicinal paste is applied, along with massage

Pizzichili Herbal-oil massage administered by two practitioners

Sirovasti Lukewarm oil is allowed to sit on the head for around an hour

Shiro-Abhyanga-Nasha Head, neck, shoulder and face massage plus aromatic steam

Thalam Herbal paste applied to the head

Udwarthanam Slimming treatment with deep massage using herbal powder

Vishesh Deep massage using herbal oils

Ayurveda resorts

 A number of hotels and resorts cater specifically to those coming to Sri Lanka for Ayurvedic treatments, most of them located along the west coast, especially around Beruwala and Bentota. Some of these are geared up for long-stay visitors seeking the alleviation of genuine medical problems; others concentrate more on ‘soft’ Ayurveda, with the emphasis on feel-good beauty and de-stressing treatments. In addition to the specialist clinics and resorts listed below, many hotels and guesthouses around the island have in-house Ayurveda clinics.

One of the best Ayurveda resorts in Sri Lanka is Ulpotha, which can be visited on Insight Guides’ Luxury Yoga and Ayurveda: A Blissful Sri Lanka Retreat. Ulpotha has been a beautiful and peaceful site of retreat for thousands of years, beside a lake, backed by mountains and surrounded by lush paddy fields. The centre offers yoga holidays and Ayurveda retreats for six months of the year (Nov–Mar and June–Aug); the remaining time is returns to being a traditional rice-growing village. Ulpotha is non-profit. Its general income goes towards supporting the villagers and the local community, while income specifically from the Ayurvedic treatments helps to fund the local clinic that supplies free Ayurvedic services to more than 5,000 villagers every year.  

Dr Srilal Mudunkothge, an experienced and highly regarded practitioner, carries out the Ayurvedic treatments at Ulpotha. Yoga is taught by some of the world’s best yoga teachers.

Ulpotha main house entrance. Photo: Ulpotha

Other well-regarded resorts include:

Barberyn Reef Ayurveda Resort



One of the oldest Ayurveda resorts on the island, with a pleasantly low-key atmosphere and a dedicated clientele who come here for long-stay treatments at very moderate prices.

Lanka Princes



Big, glitzy and expensive Ayurveda-themed holiday resort with the emphasis firmly on ‘soft’ cosmetic treatments.

Lotus Villa



This beach-side hotel was established two decades ago by its Austrian owner, and its targeted Ayurvedic treatments are renowned among those seeking alleviation for serious health problems. A minimum stay of two weeks is recommended.

Suwa Madhu

Badulla Road, near Bandarawela


Small centre offering the standard range of cosmetic Ayurveda treatments at bargain prices. One of the very few places that accepts walk-in guests for individual massages and treatments.

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