Town and Country, January 2000

Town and Country, January 2000

Town and Country's Guide to the Best Mind/Body Spas in America

A serene 100-acre enclave located (a bit surprisingly) amid Iowa farmland, The Raj makes a perfect setting for an encounter with Ayurveda, India's ancient system of medicine. (It's practiced here as Maharishi Ayurveda, a version created by a council headed by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, fonder of Transcendental Meditation, of TM.)

To visit The Raj is to enter a zone of spacious timelessness. Its French country-style main building is truly luxurious, but not in the fleshpots sense; an elegant simplicity reigns throughout. Its sparely adorned halls and rooms are a quiet symphony of soft peach, white and sand hues. Huge, white shuttered windows look onto the estate's tree-dotted lawns and large ornamental pond.

My husband and I, slated for the tree-day Rejuvenation Program, began as all guests do- with a medical consultation. Yale-trained Chris Clark, M.D., and Professor Selote, an Indian colleague, quizzed us on our diets, daily routines and sleep habits, and performed a pulse diagnosis to pinpoint the valance of our doshas-the three biological principles that, according to Ayurveda, govern mind and body. The doshas are Vata (movement, nervous system), Pitta (metabolism, heat) and Kapha (structure, weight). Ayurveda's adherents say that, left uncorrected, the body's dosha imbalances and accumulated toxins can lead to illness and premature aging.

Once I was diagnosed (too much Kapha-no surprise there!), I received a personalized herbal regimen and a series of panchakarma massage treatments aimed at prying the toxins from my body's tissue. First was the abhyanga- a two-hour, over-all sesame-oil massage performed simultaneously by two technicians; next came the shirodhara, a slow stream of oil wandering to and fro over my forehead that set me afloat somewhere between sleep and waking. "Sometimes I don't know where people go with that one," smiled Terry, my amiable blonde technician. (The only disturbing note was the basti, or herbal enema, that finished each daily session. If you find the notion off-putting, you're not alone; but keep in mind that these treatments are optional-and given with a minimum of fuss or discomfort.)

After two days of panchakarma plus daily yoga, I felt I'd entered the uncharted zones beyond relaxation-and could easily get used to the feeling. Fellow guests who had been here for several weeks, on longer detoxification programs, looked positively radiant. Evenings, we had lectures in the library, followed by delicious hot-milk toddies and chats with our fellow guests, then bedtime (officially 10 P.M.). Other offerings (at additional cost) included Ayurveda astrological readings and a four-day course in TM. Videos about Ayurveda and TM were available for viewing. Although Raj owners Candace and Rogers Badgett and their staff are TM practitioners, we felt no pressure to study it.

SPA MANTRA: "Take it easy and give your body a break" sums it up. People with children or those who like their enlightenment intermixed with sports or other diversions might be happier elsewhere.

GUIDING GURU: The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (in a general sense).

THE CROWD: There is no crowd; The Raj has only eighteen guest suites. The guests (some with serious health complaints, some merely overstressed) might include friendly midwestern or European entrepreneurs, holistic chiropractors, well-known writers or the likes of Bianca Jagger, Alan Arkin or Beach Boy Mike Love.

FEAST OR FAMINE: The vegetarian fare, based on traditional Indian dishes, is light but satisfying. Breakfast features hot cereal and fresh juices (try the wild blueberry). Lunch or dinner might be exquisitely seasoned carrots, broccoli or yellow squash tumbled over rice; piquant chutney's; and for dessert, a crisp-but-juicy fruit turn-over. You'll also get a shot glass of a fiery herbal digestive. "Just chug it!" laughs Candace Badgett.

DON'T MISS: Inspecting The Raj's packet of scientific research on Ayurveda treatments. After learning that the panchakarma was lowering my blood pressure and cholesterol, I savored it all the more.

YOU MUST MEET: Raj owners Candace and Rogers Badgett and Candace's equally charming sister, Lindsay Oliver, who gave us a topnotch lecture on Ayurveda theories of health and illness.

WHAT TO BRING: An open mind.

WHAT TO LEAVE BEHIND: Chic or dressy clothes. Everyone wears sweats, T-shirts and other no-fuss apparel.

SKIP THIS: If you're staying only a few days, you may want to skip the videos on Ayurveda and TM, which cut into your down time.

EXPORTABLE ENLIGHTENMENT: A lasting sense of health and tranquillity. (Also exportable-some at a whacking price-are bottles of Maharshi Ayurveda herbal supplements and tonics.)

SOLITUDE SCALE: 10. You can come here alone-many guests do-or with a partner and feel perfectly comfortable either way. The friendly, collegial atmosphere makes it easy to strike up a conversation during mealtimes or after the evening lectures. Conversely, if you want some solitary or quiet time, others will respect that ; if you choose, you can even wear a small "silence" badge to notify them of your wishes.

THE BOTTOM LINE: East/West differences aside, visiting The Raj means getting back to basics; quiet surroundings, simple food; soft voices; gentle hands. With its cosseting attentions and early bedtimes, the routine may recall nursery days; but for at time, you very well may find it just what the doctor ordered.


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