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Heart and Soul of Wellness

by Nora Zelevansky

Why a visit to India will take you back to the source

Centuries before aerial yoga and meditation apps, there was India. Wellness may have proliferated from London matcha bars to upstate New York Ayurvedic retreats (like the new YO1), but India has been—and always will be—the birthplace of these conscious modalities. That authenticity may be the reason why travel to India is growing by leaps and bounds. (In 2017, the country’s tourism grew by almost 16 percent, compared to a 7 percent global average.)

“India can’t be replicated,” explains K.J. Alphons, a longtime civil servant, advocate and politician, and the current Minister of State for Tourism. “You don’t just travel to India. It’s transformational.” We sat down with Alphons to learn more about how India’s wellness philosophies have the power to make the entire world a better place.

Organic Spa Magazine: As India’s wellness lessons spread across the world and become accessible locally, why do people continue to flock to the source?

K.J. Alphons: India is truly incredible. We have 5,000 miles of sea coast, tropical forests, backwater, desert, 70 percent of the Himalayas, 36 UNESCO Heritage monuments and over 6,500 protected monuments in the country. We are a 5,000-year-old civilization. More than any of these tangible things, that is what is so important. We have one of the [most complex] philosophies, dating back thousands of years. So, India was an early intellectual leader of the world. Most of that is still intact. It’s not like other countries that might say, “This is what it was.” India is. It’s a living civilization.

OSM: Yoga is, perhaps, the most widely accepted practice that comes from India. Why are its lessons so important?

KJA: A couple of things that have crystalized from our philosophy and outlook on life are yoga and Ayurveda. Over 153 countries celebrated Yoga Day last year. So, what is really the message of yoga?The word “yoga” means union—not only of your soul and energy. It means that you and I are one, and the rest of humanity is one and our universe is one. And happiness is indivisible. So, there’s no room for selfishness or egoism. Yoga is much more than a physical and mental exercise. It’s a way of life.

Similarly, Ayurveda is 5,000 years of thinking, crystalized into a certain lifestyle. The belief is that the cure lies in the universe. India is where [these philosophies] were born and are still alive. When [people practice] abroad, it’s in a studio. But you have to really breathe India, breathe the air. When you sit at the side of the Ganges and meditate, then the whole universe becomes part of you.

OSM: How do you communicate that message to travelers and wellness practitioners?

KJA: We are now hugely focusing on this. One of the promotions we did is called, “Yogi of the Racetrack” [about an unlikely yogi and motorcycle racer, who found stillness in India]. It’s one minute. We had 22 million views in 30 days on YouTube. We did another one on wildlife and that had two million views in 24 hours. It’s not just about the exotic India that people hear about. India is very real.

OSM: In addition to yoga and other related practices, what kinds of experiences does India offer?

KJA: The ultimate message of Indian tourism is this: You come to India and you will never be the same again. There’s so much difference from province to province. We have something for everyone. The Himalayas are ideal for trekking, cycling, rafting and paragliding, etc. It’s completely unexplored. So, that’s fantastic.

Out of the 10 best airports in the world, four are in India. We have some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. If you go to Rajasthan, for example, all those palaces are converted into hotels. Every city has plenty of five-star hotels.We have a Palace on Wheels—the ultimate luxury. These are trains that have been converted into hotels. The royal family used to travel this exact same way with a personalized butler and more. The trains travel to famous destinations. Then, of course, our monuments—these are feats of engineering dating back to the 9th or 11th century, for example.

And there’s Kerala, where I live. It’s so beautiful—lovely beaches, greenery and tropical forests. So much vegetation. Home stays are very popular because each farmhouse has its own land. And it’s home to many Ayurvedic spas.

OSM: Why are the ancient practices and sites of India so important for people to see? Why are they so powerful, especially right now?

KJA: The world is hugely turbulent. We are internally in conflict with ourselves. People are at war with everybody else because they’re trying to grab all the wealth. Countries and provinces are fighting to destroy each other. We’re collectively destroying the universe with the amount of plastic that is thrown around, carbon that is emitted, etc.

So, the answer, ultimately, is yoga. Be at peace with yourself. With your brother, your sister. Be at peace with humanity at large and, of course, the universe. Ultimately, we hope that all of this will lead to people doing good things. Yoga is just the preparation. You shed your layers and, ultimately, you realize that you and I are one. It’s so important…for our own survival. It calls for a certain mindset and attitude. So, the best thing is to come and see and experience India—and the transformation part will come.

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