SPIRITUALITY AND WELLNESS
Bhutan, once referred to as Menjung or ‘The Land of Medicinal Herbs,’ boasts a valuable cultural legacy in its traditional medicine, colloquially known as Sowai Rigpa. This ancient medical tradition, deeply rooted in Buddhist principles, remains highly esteemed among Bhutanese people for its holistic approach to understanding individuals and their ailments. Consider exploring traditional healing as an alternative to mainstream treatments.
Established in the 1960s, the system of traditional medicine in Bhutan, Sowai Rigpa, is based on the belief that the human body consists of three elements (air, bile, and phlegm), and an imbalance of these elements can lead to diseases. While influenced by Chinese herbal medicine and Indian Ayurvedic practices, Bhutanese traditional medicine maintains its unique characteristics. Treatment approaches encompass behavioral adjustments, herbal remedies, physiotherapy, and spiritual healing. It’s worth noting that healthcare in Bhutan is covered by the government. To experience traditional medicine in Bhutan, you can visit the Institute of Traditional Medicine Services in Thimphu.
Spa and Massage
Even the most passionate and seasoned traveler occasionally requires a day of respite from sightseeing and trekking to recharge. This is particularly relevant in a country like Bhutan, where extended car journeys and demanding ascents to certain destinations are common. Travelers seeking physical and mental relaxation during their Bhutan journey should consider indulging in massage and spa treatments available in locations such as Thimphu, Paro, and Punakha.
Spa and massage centers in Bhutan often incorporate traditional healing practices to alleviate bodily aches and pains. These establishments are typically managed by energetic, well-trained masseurs who provide a variety of spa and massage services. Many upscale hotels, rated four or five stars, also provide these rejuvenating facilities.
Hot Stone Baths
In ancient times, Bhutan, known as ‘Menjung’ or the ‘Land of Medicinal Herbs,’ has a deep-rooted history of holistic medicine dating back to the 7th century, heavily influenced by Indian Ayurveda. Reflecting this heritage, the Bhutanese have a strong belief in the therapeutic benefits of hot stone baths in medicinal water. Traditionally, families eagerly anticipated the relaxation of soaking in a wa (traditional wooden tub), particularly after a day’s toil in the fields. To this day, many Bhutanese continue to seek hot stone baths for the treatment of various ailments.
For those interested in partaking in this time-honored tradition of healing and rejuvenation, experiencing Bhutan’s traditional hot stone baths is a must. Widely regarded as one of the most popular spa experiences, this can be enjoyed at local hotels, homestays, and certain campsites, especially after a strenuous trek or hike.
What distinguishes this bath is the method of heating the water using river stones that are heated in open fires near the bathhouse. The minerals present in these river stones are believed to have positive effects on the body, and the water is further infused with the essence of fresh artemisia leaves.
Bhutan’s hot stone baths stand out from those found elsewhere in the world due to the use of menchu, or medicinal water. Menchu is a concoction infused with leaves from the wormwood plant, Artemisia absinthium. The process involves heating river stones to an intense temperature over an open fire, and these scorching stones are then employed to warm the menchu mixture. Additional heated stones are introduced into the main tub through a funnel to elevate the water’s temperature.
The Bhutanese employ hot stone baths for treating over 50 different skin conditions, along with ailments such as arthritis, hypertension, joint pain, and stomach problems. Beyond its therapeutic benefits, taking a hot stone bath is an excellent method for relaxation, with the herb artemisia contributing to a calming effect.
While hot stone baths were traditionally located outside village houses, in back gardens or near rivers, they are now widely accessible. These baths can be experienced in homestays, campsites, resorts, and dedicated hot stone bath centers across Bhutan.
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan exudes a profound and all-encompassing spirituality, rooted not only in the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism but also in a sense of connection with all living beings and a universal quest for a higher truth.
Spirituality in Bhutan manifests in various forms, from the compassionate care of street dogs to the lighting of butter lamps and a commitment to environmental stewardship. The mountains, rivers, and forests are considered the abodes of gods, goddesses, and guardian deities, reflecting the Buddhist teachings of harmony and the well-being of all sentient beings.
With its pristine environment, serene populace, and ancient spiritual traditions, Bhutan emerges as an ideal destination for rejuvenation and solace.Spiritual travelers to Bhutan engage in activities such as meditation, yoga, the therapeutic practice of hot stone baths, and the use of traditional medicine.
Meditation retreats, prevalent in Bhutan as the last stronghold of Vajrayana Buddhism, can be found in peaceful centers across the country. Devout Buddhists commit to extended periods of meditation, sometimes lasting months or even years, with some practitioners taking vows of silence to focus on their prayers.
Yoga, renowned for its holistic health benefits, is practiced in dedicated centers, including those in cities like Thimphu, offering classes for individuals of all skill levels.The traditional hot stone baths, a beloved wellness experience, involve immersing oneself in medicinal water infused with herbal leaves, heated by hot stones. These baths are available at local hotels, homestay, and specific campsites, offering relief after strenuous treks.
Traditional medicine, known as Sowai Rigpa, presents a holistic alternative to conventional treatments. Bhutan’s history as the ‘Land of Medicinal Herbs’ dates back to the 7th century, drawing heavily from Indian Ayurveda.In addition to the mentioned activities, a spiritual journey in Bhutan may include prayer sessions, astrological readings, raising prayer flags, and engaging in discussions with monks and nuns.
No exploration of Bhutan’s spirituality is complete without visiting monasteries and lhakhangs, the strongholds of religion in the country. Popular destinations include Taktsang Monastery, Chimi Lhakhang, Changangkha Lhakhang, Buddha Dordenma, Dechen Phodrang Monastery, Singye Dzong, Jakar Dzong, and Membar Tsho lake.Bhutan’s profound spirituality permeates every aspect of life, from architectural designs to the daily habits of its people. Whether through meditation classes, yoga, hot stone baths, or visits to sacred sites, those seeking a spiritual awakening in Bhutan will find a transformative experience in this enchanting kingdom.