We sit in the best “lotus” position we can handle and follow the breathing and visualization instructions:
Ohoommmm — Imagine inhaling a white light
Aaaah — Hold in a red colored breath
Huuuung — Exhale a blue colored breath
This is Om-A-Hung, a breathing meditation, part of our daily routine at the Menla Mountain Retreat in the Catskill Mountains. Menla was founded in 1987 by the Tibet House under the guidance of HH the Dalai Lama to promote authentic Tibetan healing and teachings to the West.
We visited Menla for a relaxing weekend and participated in the Tibetan Rejuvenation Immersion series led by prominent Tibetan Doctor, Nida Chenagtsang, and renowned Tibetan Scholar, Robert Thurman. The weeklong program attracted a variety of guests including practitioners and teachers of Tibetan medicine and Buddhism, many frequent travelers to Far East ashrams and serious students of Tibetan philosophy. Several attendees flew in from as far away as Goa and Bali. We got lucky! We only had to drive a couple of hours from the NYC metropolitan area.
As we entered Menla’s wooded property our pulse seemed to align with the nature around us. It seemed surreal that only a few minutes ago we were driving through the quaint town of Phoenicia and then suddenly we were surrounded by scenic mountains and acres of the majestic Catskills, nestled deep in the Forest Preserve. We later learned that the area was held sacred by the Esopus and Mahican tribes, and throughout the years the area had been home to several healing retreats. It was easy to feel the centering power of this place. The grounds are gorgeously kept (and unkept), the area is serene, with sprawling green expanses, small shrines, a tranquil pond and wooded nature trails surrounding the main buildings.
We couldn’t wait to be pampered at the Mahasukha (Great Bliss) Spa, a modern building created by New York City architect Duke Beeson and Clodagh Design. The exquisite interiors were appointed with handcrafted details created by Tibetan master artist Rabkar Wangchuk. We indulged in the spa’s signature KuNye Massage, a 90-minute Tibetan treatment with soothing herbal oils, heat, acupressure and exfoliation with chickpea powder. After an hour and a half of blissful sensations we emerged in a state of torpor enveloped in pleasurable warmth and well being.
The spa features an array of Western, Ayurvedic and ancient Tibetan treatments, all customized to guests’ individual needs. Of course Menla specializes in traditional Tibetan therapies such as YukCho — tapping with herbal or wooden substances to increase energy flow, and MeBum — applying suction cups to the body’s chakra points to detoxify and stimulate circulation, a practice that was recently brought to national attention by speculation over the strange bruises that adorned many Olympian’s bodies this summer.
We booked a private consultation with Doctor Nida Chenagtsang. He practices Tibetan medicine, a 1000-year-old healing art that integrates Chinese, Indian, Persian and Greek modalities. The diagnosis is primarily based on pulse and urine analysis. Our prescription for rejuvenation? Walk an hour a day, meditate, take holistic pills made from high altitude medicinal herbs and Tibetan flowers and replace dinner with a nutritious broth.
We followed most of the doctor’s orders, but couldn’t bring ourselves to skip dinner. The cuisine is one of Menla’s highlights, after all.
Meals, mostly vegetarian, were served buffet style in the dining room or on the outdoor veranda with a view of the Catskills. We particularly loved the salads with mustard agave and curried raisin dressing, the roasted beets with feta, the barbecued beans, and the cauliflower with balsamic roasted pearl onions. We also loved the daily broth, even though we refused subsist on broth alone.
But let’s not digress. Our purpose was to feed our minds, and this we did aplenty. Although the immersion series was intended for advanced students in search of enlightenment, and we felt like freshmen in a senior class, we expanded our knowledge and appreciation of the Tibetan culture. We learned a variety of meditation techniques, healing yoga postures, and, most importantly, we were given an authentic and immersive glimpse into the vast world of Far East mysticism and Buddhist teachings.
While the Tibetan Rejuvenation Immersion package is presented only a couple of times a year, Menla offers many other themed packages: Rest & Relaxation Cleanses, R&R Getaway Weekends, R&R Hiking Getaways, R&R Healing getaways and customized group programs. Find them all here.