Ananda Spa Review: I spent a week at Oprah Winfrey’s favorite spa retreat, and this is what changed me

It’s not often I fling myself halfway across the globe to meditate for a week, but when Oprah does it, you know it might be worth the journey. In fact, meditation is usually the last thing on my mind, so I was hoping Ananda Spa in the Himalayas, which is regularly voted “the world’s best spa resort,” could change that. In fact, I spent a week at Ananda Spa in the Himalayas (Oprah Winfrey’s favorite spa retreat) to review it.

The reason I wanted to meditate is because I was overworked, anxious, overweight, obsessed with scrolling through social media, dealing with back pain and checking my phone constantly (the national average is 52 times a day, according to Global Mobile Consumer Survey from Deloitte).

My stress levels were off the charts, and I wanted a true digital detox. I knew a quick weekend away wouldn’t do justice. So I carved out time to visit Ananda, where I knew I’d be completely removed from the world. So without further ado, here’s my Ananda Spa in the Himalayas review.

Quiet meditation area overlooking Rishikesh.

Where is Ananda Spa in the Himalayas?

Ananda is located on the outskirts of Rishikesh, a developing, riverfront town where yoga was allegedly birthed. Thousands of yoga enthusiasts visit every year due to the popularity of yoga retreats, meditation pilgrimages and the town’s rich history in healing. Rishikesh is considered “the yoga capital of the world,” according to Lonely Planet.

The town of Rishikesh.

Bolstering its “soul-searching” reputation, Rishikesh is also where The Beatles famously visitedfor a spiritual journey in the 1960s (their transcendental getaway impacted their later albums).

Why I chose Ananda

Ananda Spa is a famous wellness retreat that high-profile guests like Prince Charles and Oprah Winfrey have visited. In fact, Oprah wrote on her blog: “It’s the most authentic spa experience I ever had” and discussed the benefits of her meditation on her show.

Having stayed at some top-notch wellness retreats like Chiva Som in Thailand and Cal-A-Vieoutside Los Angeles, I knew what to expect at a luxury spa resort: daily spa treatments, healthy food, eliminating stress and holistic realignment (and, of course, some pampering). I had heard Ananda was just as special, and the location truly lent to the experience. After spending a week there, I didn’t expect meditation to have such a positive impact on my life, and Ananda would change the way I perceived it. I spent a week at Ananda Spa in the Himalayas, so I knew something would come out of it.

Water flows freely next to the stairs.

Most Ananda visitors come for the award-winning yoga program, but since my physical therapists suggested daily yoga may aggravate my back, I chose Dhyana Meditation, a package that focuses on self-awareness through Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses from the mind), Dharana(focusing on mental awareness) and Dhyana (continued meditative awareness). I was also able to customize the package to book spa treatments that would focus on alleviating back pain.

My journey

As soon as I entered the grounds, I staggered at the natural beauty. The resort is a 45-minute drive up a mountain to a peak that overlooks Rishikesh, and it’s a former palace, so it’s as stately as it is exotic. There’s a gorgeous, outdoor heated pool, outdoor yoga pavilion at the foot of a sprawling lawn, a beautiful terraced restaurant (where monkeys often swung in the trees) and plenty of tucked-away quiet nooks.

My room at Ananda Spa in Himalayas
My guest room at Ananda

Most guestrooms are in a central building, equipped with patios that overlooked Rishikesh. Just being here felt meditative enough.

Ananda in the Himalayas
The pool at Ananda.

Every guest starts with a consultation, and my visit to the doctor (whose family practiced ayurveda for generations) was eye opening. Right away, with a careful examination, he identified the main source impacting most of my stress symptoms: my poor digestion. He created a low-calorie meal plan (all food and beverage is included in the rate), as well as specific spa treatments (all-inclusive as well) and exercises that would help my back and reduce stress.

He said altering my diet would substantially help right away, and within two days, it miraculously did. I felt better, both physically and mentally, and combined with some spa treatments, like massages, I felt less heavy in my stomach, I slept better (I didn’t have to take sleeping pills), and I had more energy.

The fix in digestion worked in hand with my twice-daily meditation, which I was now excited to do. I had done detox, weight management, stress management, physical therapy and fitness programs at wellness resorts in the past, so it was time to try something different, and I felt that Ananda (quite literally removed from the rest of the world) was the best place to do it.

Ananda Spa in Himalayas Food
Healthy meal at Ananda.

With the meditation program, I was paired with a meditation master, Sandeep, who I met with on a daily basis in a different location (the spa, the palace, the outdoor yoga pavilion, etc). My one-hour meditation session was complemented with daily hatha yoga (which is more breathing than poses) and a one-on-one breathing class.

I honestly thought I’d be bored most of the time but I couldn’t believe how much all of this meditation was exactly what I needed. Breathing right made me mindful of my posture, my body and I felt that it helped my vision (which was impacted from staring at aa computer screen all day).

Naturally, when you’re traveling to India, I recommend you protect yourself from the hot hot heat. Our favorite selection of sunglasses are at Bloomingdales.

And, of course, the best sunscreen is Jack Black. Why? It’s affordable, and it has zinc oxide, which offers full UVB/UVA SPF protection without the white streaks — and it’s the most affordable we’ve found for the value.

Initially, meditating was not easy. I have an active brain and a New York City pace. I need to be doing something all the time, and if I’m not, I need to distract myself with literally anything else. Sandeep was perfect for bringing me down to earth, helping me transition into a place where I learned how to clear my mind.

The session usually started out with a conversation, essentially me asking him a million questions about meditation, life, the universe, yoga, whatever, which not only brought me more clarity and ease with his answers, but getting these thoughts out of the way helped clear my mind for meditation.

Ananda Spa in the Himalayas
Yoga pavilion for meditation.

For me, the daily discussion was the most important part, as I left with aphorisms and proverbs to abide by, small thoughts I could apply to my life, simple things like: “What creates stress is thinking of the past or future. Be happy in the moment. Be like water. You can’t catch water. Water flows.” Or, questioning tragedies in the world: “The world cannot have an ideal situation but an individual can have an ideal way of thinking.” Or when I feel super stressed out and defeated: “Accept things. The mind needs logic to explain things. Some things we just never know. Accept it. Always seek the light. The light is good. It can have layers of shades but when those are removed, the light is still there. Every human being has a very pure soul. We can cover it, the way we do a light, reducing the purity. We need to connect to something positive to let that light shine.”

BTW: You can actually buy your own Tibetan Singing Bowl on Amazon, if you don’t want to lug one home from India.

As for the meditation itself at Ananda Spa in the Himalayas, it’s not what I expected. You don’t just sit there and close your eyes and think about your life. In fact, it’s the opposite. You let everything go and think about breathing. It’s all about being aware of your breathing. Then, when you can get to the point, you can guide the mind to something, like a lit candle.

Even thinking about meditation is meditation. This short moment of thinking of nothing but focusing on your breathing brings clarity. Not just at that moment, but for the rest of the day. You just think positively. You release bad thoughts, experiences, ideas and even bad energy this way. As Sandeep says, “Meditation is to become aware of your own limitations, trying to change limitations to positive. It’s not just about closing your eyes but this technique helps to observe ourselves, then change can happen. We need to be able to handle the mind. Surrender yourself and do your best. You will be successful without stress.”

Ananda Spa Himalayas
I’m a new person!

I took this new way of thinking back home to the states. A month after my visit to Ananda in Rishikesh, I’m mindful of what I eat, how I email with other people, how I treat my neighbors, how checking my phone less brings less anxiety and how meditation in the morning (even for 15 minutes) truly impacts the rest of my day.

I’m sure Oprah would agree.

I spent a week at Ananda Spa in the Himalayas… have you? Let us know your thoughts below!

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