Which Austria Spa? Mayr Medicine vs Ayurveda

Karen Nyoni

My mission? To immerse myself in the contrasting programmes at two Austrian spas with very different approaches. Besides their shared scenic backdrop of the Tyrolean mountains, these two retreats couldn’t be more different. Would I flourish following the thoroughly modern Mayr medicine at Parkhotel Igls – a detox clinic adhering to the principles of Dr Franz Xavier Mayr? Or would I thrive under the ancient Ayurvedic practices of the Ayurveda Resort Sonnhof?


Mayr cure at Parkhotel Igls 

After a friendly welcome and swift check-in at the Parkhotel Igls, I hungrily sit down to my first meal of the day which I must eat with a teaspoon; the concept of slowing down your eating and chewing properly is one of the keys to the Mayr cure. It feels odd at first but it does have the desired effect and slows down my eating despite my growling stomach and I even find myself declining dessert!

Room tip: most rooms at the hotel boast balconies with panoramic views of the mountains that flank it. The southern side rooms are much sunnier but also noisier as the road is here -opt for the northern side if you’re looking for quietness.

There are no treatments on a Sunday as it’s changeover day so I am shown around the medical spa and facilities. Facilities here are extensive and the equipment is high-tech - everything you would expect from a medical spa.There are consultation rooms for the resident doctors along with therapy rooms for body treatments, sleep diagnostics, colonics, a dark field laboratory, physiotherapy, osteopathy and the bathhouse. Panoramic windows let in the natural light, taking advantage of the views and bringing nature into the Hotel.

Dinner, a light soup and chicken with squash and mixed vegetables is served early between 6-7pm to give you that all-important three hours to digest before retiring to bed. Dr Brigitte Schirmer-Fereberger, one of the resident Doctors delivers a lecture about the Mayr Cure.


Back-to-Back Treatments

I wake early after a fitful hot night. Even with the window open, I feel like I am in an oven. Just as well I’m up early as my first treatment is at 07:30. I head to the medical spa and to the ‘Badehaus’ for my hayflower and mudpack treatment. It involves laying your back down on a mud pack, applying a hayflower pack and another mud pack to your stomach before being wrapped up and left to relax for 25 mins on the heated massage bed, pure bliss.

Immediately after, I see Christina for a massage which starts as a reflexology session. It is a mix of bliss and agony as she probes and finds the areas of my body that need attention. Soon she is telling me about my lower and upper back problems, my sluggish digestion, stomach troubles and that my spleen and pancreas are low in energy – I explain my recent sugar addiction. The back massage that followed was excellent and released some of the tension. After 50 minutes with Christina, I already feel so much better.

No time for breakfast or a rest as I head off to the ‘soft room’ for my next appointment which is a peeling with oils - a lovely scrub made up of oils with crushed herbs. Then I find out why it is called the soft room, the bed I am on is hard but with the push of a button it becomes softer and fills with water beneath me until I am completely suspended with no tension points. It completely takes your weight, a bit like a floatation tank but without getting wet. I slip into a deep sleep and must confess to waking myself with a snore!

After a shower, I float to my appointment with Dr Peter B. Barth. He is the epitome of health and very friendly, his areas of expertise include Neurotherapy, cardiovascular and psychosomatic medicine. A small physical examination is conducted: height, weight, blood pressure and waist measurements are taken and a brief medical history along with any current complains. My body is exhausted and bloated with excess water and my blood pressure is also elevated. I am prescribed Magnesium and also a diuretic to help get rid of the water retention in my body. Blood tests are recommended and if I was staying longer the tests would be processed at the hotel and the results back prior to departure.

I head off to the restaurant for a light lunch and having missed breakfast I am ravenous. A light soup and a main course but I am certainly not full. There is no dessert now the doctor has prescribed my diet. There are 8 levels of Mayr cuisine - from fasting to the vital diet. Your doctor prescribes the most suitable option for you.

My first afternoon appointment is with Alice the physiotherapist. After talking about the history she then shows me some exercises to improve my back and shows me how to move correctly. I naively assumed I was old enough to know how to move correctly but it appears I have some bad habits which can easily be corrected. I tend to favour my right side hence why I get more pain in this side of my body. Finishing with a treatment to alleviate yet more tension in my back I feel an improvement as I head off to meet Vera for my personal training session.

Recently I have only been taking the dog to the park twice a day and have all but given up on my gym regime,  Vera shows me some exercises and puts together a routine for me that I can do at home using the basic equipment I have. I’m delighted when she advises walking is actually the very best exercise and recommends that I only need to add the gym routine for 20 minutes, three times a week.

Time for a relaxing bath before dinner which consists of two gluten-free crisp breads with protein (in this case goat’s cheese). Not what I would typically call dinner! I head for bed after my action-packed day hoping I will sleep better and skipping the lecture about healthy legs for men and women.


India meets Austrian Tyrol

Breakfast is a choice between a bread roll with protein or oat porridge with maple syrup - naturally, I opt for the sweeter option! This is my last meal at Parkhotel. My stay has been short but enlightening.

I am driven an hour to the Ayurveda Resort Sonnhof in Thiersee where I am off to complete a 5 day Panchakarma cure. The style of the hotel is a typical Austrian Tyrol building with lots of wood and a calming aroma of incense as you enter. Quite literally, India meets Tyrol.

I have completed a longer panchakarma cure at a more traditional venue in India and know that whilst the results are very good the journey there can be arduous. I am fully prepared or so I think.....

After a tasty light lunch, my first treatment is Upana: Brush massage and a full body scrub with Himalayan salt and oil before a detoxifying bath to release the stresses. This is no ordinary bath - for 15 minutes I am pummelled by water jets targeting specific parts of my body, I could stay here longer but no chance of that as the timer goes off that the bath started to automatically drain.

A consultation with Gaurav Sharma the Ayurvedic specialist at Sonnhof follows. Using facial, tongue and pulse diagnosis he quickly tells me of all the ailments I am aware of and a few I am not. Just from my face, he can tell me how I sleep, including the position – on my side foetal position - and that I suffer from chronic insomnia. Apparently, 4 out of 11 of my body systems are weak: digestion, circulatory, lymph and nervous system! He reassures me I’m not ready for the scrapheap just yet and that I will be feeling much better after the 5 days (after I have felt much worse I am sure).

I am diagnosed as a combination of Pitta and Kapha – an almost 50/50 split with characteristics of both Dosha (body) types. In summary: a hot-headed workaholic with a need for a cooler climate, quick to anger but also patient.  Quite the contradiction I’m sure you’ll agree, I guess that’s why I am so complex!

Dinner this evening is lentil soup. You receive your personalised treatment plan at dinner for the following day – all your treatments and oils are matched to suit your dosha type. I’ll be starting the day tomorrow taking ghee at 07:30 - not the first thing I want to wake up to.


Fabulous Massages, Not So Fabulous Ghee

In India, I managed to rather successfully (I thought) avoid taking ghee. For those unfamiliar, it is clarified butter, warmed and placed in an ‘espresso’ cup (I can assure you it tastes nothing like a shot of warm coffee). It is actually not that bad and I knock it back thinking of all the good it will do - it goes into your cells and takes out toxins and unwanted fat.

Taking ghee means no breakfast so I retire to my room to rest with a liver compress, followed by a visit to the sauna – which is recommended prior to any treatments.

My massage is Abhyanga this morning which is a full body oil massage, long strokes from the therapist are the key to Ayurvedic massages. My therapist Anura is very good and combined with the warm massage bed I am soon starting to relax. The head massage at the end leaves me positively purring like a cat.

At lunch, a digestive tea is served first and has to be finished before you can get your small bowl of soup today it is cauliflower, this is followed with dhal served with vegetable rice and broccoli and a small baked apple for dessert.

Insider tip: I find myself a bit chilly which is completely normal during Panchakarma.  Make sure you keep the head and feet warm, drink lots of warm fluids and get plenty of rest.

The Jambira Pinda Sveda or stamp massage is my afternoon treatment which sees me pounded with poultice bags filled with lemon and herbs. It is a highly effective treatment for the dreaded orange peel… saying goodbye to my cellulite would be fabulous!

Not so fabulous is the second round of ghee taken 3 hours before my dinner of soup.


The Toughest Day Yet… but Results Within Reach

My 08:15 Virechana or colon cleansing is as inviting as it sounds. A ‘cocktail’ (hmmm dubious use of that word I feel) of Ayurvedic herbs, hot water and oil are blended together. It is not at all pleasant and holding my nose doesn’t help either. Eventually, it is down and I retire to my room to rest with a liver wrap before starting to drink warm water and completing a set of yogic exercises all designed to get your colon cleansing.

By noon, when I am supposed to be reporting on my motions (yes, no time to be squeamish here) I have nothing to report and I know what is coming next…Another round of the dreaded ‘cocktail’. I’ll spare the details but it’s worse the second time around. It is the Kapha tendency to ‘hold on’ to things and as much as I want to let go, it seems my psyche has different ideas. Christina gives me a candle and an incense stick to burn and tells me to write down what I want to let go of and then burn the paper to help with releasing the situation.

The last thing I feel like is my Udanavata or stomach massage. As someone who stores their stress, tension and emotions here, I find this quite painful and pray for it to be over. Time to rest in my room and more importantly be near the loo before my next treatment.

I am so busy in my head that my planned back treatment is replaced with a foot polarity treatment instead. This attention to detail makes sure each individual client is given the best treatment for their current condition. I am a Reiki master so I’m used to working with energy rather than actual touch and I absolutely loved this treatment – just what was needed to bring the energy down from my head and make me more grounded.

Rice soup for dinner its the first thing I have eaten today and it tastes surprisingly good, warm and easy to digest which are the main benefits since my stomach cannot take anything else. Exhausted, I head to bed.


I Can See Results… and the Finish Line

A light breakfast of stewed fruits which now tastes so sweet to me, clearly the treatment is working and my sugar addiction is being alleviated. It is probably the diuretic and liver detox teas that I am constantly drinking.

My first treatment is Garshan - a massage using a silk glove that activates the lymph system and aids with fluid retention and our good old friend cellulite too. You would expect a silk glove massage to be smooth right? Actually no, it’s more like being massaged with a loofah. Squeaky clean once more I head for the sauna before lunch.

Apparently, I am still not squeaky clean as my afternoon treatment of Udvartana – a herbal powder massage – consists of another abrasive massage. I am now feeling slightly prickly at being scrubbed. The Eucalyptus steam room follows to get the most benefit of the oils and herbs used in the powdered massage. After rinsing in the shower I have to say that my skin feels amazingly soft and my body feels much softer generally.


Time to let the Sunshine In

Today I feel so much better and decide to go to the Sun Salutation yoga class before breakfast. It is the first class I have felt able to attend and I love my yoga practice. Instructions from the lovely Andrea are given in German and English and I find no problem at all in following the class. The sun is indeed making its first appearance through the clouds hugging the mountains.

Things are looking up on the breakfast front too. I can add spelt mash to my stewed fruit today along with a little honey.

Sekka is a traditional full body oil massage treatment performed by two therapists simultaneously. Warm oil is poured in a constant stream on each side of your body by each therapist, it is important they move at the same time else it becomes very distracting and your brain tries to follow the movements. Damith and Francesca work in perfect harmony together and the treatment is very relaxing and also very detoxifying. The oil seeps into your skin and then sitting in the Vata sauna with a salt block brings out the oil with the impurities after the treatment.

My last treatment is another Abhyanga massage followed by a Shirodhara treatment. I enjoy the massage but find the unconventional Shirodhara treatment unusual. Warm oil is poured on the forehead in a constant stream which relaxes the head and it is very good for relieving migraines, calming the nervous system and insomnia.  For me personally, the oil is too copious and I constantly fear it will drip into my eyes. It doesn’t, as Anura is very good but the flow of oil is much faster than I have previously experienced.

Knowing that tomorrow morning I will head back to London and the busy humdrum of my life, I enjoy the peace and quiet of my last night here in the Austrian Tyrol.  


The Verdict:

It has been a difficult week for me, detoxing, after all, is not supposed to be easy or pleasant – at least not at first. I was just starting to feel better when I had to return home, ideally, 10 days is an optimum start for a detox programme so you can enjoy a few days of feeling good before you return home.

I’ve experienced two very different types spa retreats in the Austrian Tyrol using contrasting approaches - one very ancient and the other very modern. At both spas, my existing conditions were picked up and a few I didn’t know about but both were consistent with each other’s findings.

I found the medicine taking part particularly challenging but cannot argue with the results. I feel much brighter, relaxed, rejuvenated and have lost several inches and 5kgs in a week! Now I need to implement some of these changes into my daily routine just as the spring sunshine arrives at home this is a great time for me to get ‘summer ready’!


So which is best? It’s a tricky question to answer simply. Both retreats offer excellent choices of programmes and treatments though in totally different ways. The key is to understand what will resonate best with you personally. If you struggle with alternative therapies, you are unlikely to get the best from an Ayurvedic programme. If on the other hand, you steer away from conventional medicine, the approach from a medical spa is less likely to suit you.

The key I think lies with exploring and understanding your own preferences, something we at Healing Holidays try to ascertain from each client we speak with. Each person has their own set of requirements and issues dictating the need for very individualised programmes, with the best blend to match with our own personality and personal needs.


For help choosing the right Healing Holiday for you call our team of wellness consultants on 020 7843 3597.

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