Lauren Taylor soaks up the healing power of Mauritius

Shanti Maurice Resort in Mauritius

Shanti Maurice Resort in Mauritius

First published in Travel

AS I struggle to perform a tree pose followed by sun salutations, only the sound of birds chirping and leaves rustling in the ocean breeze threatens to throw me off balance.

But the setting, a gazebo surrounded by pretty gardens, helps to induce a much-needed sense of calm, and my early morning yoga session puts me in a relaxed frame of mind for the day ahead.

I'm deep in the Indian Ocean, on the island of Mauritius, and in an attempt to unwind and raise my spiritual awareness, I've enrolled in a Reiki master course at the dreamy Shanti Maurice resort.

I'm not 100% convinced that a novice can master this healing practice in just 48 hours, but I arrive with an open mind, which I'm told is the first step.

One thing I am certain of is that the island's sandy beaches, swaying palm trees and calm turquoise waters spell instant relaxation.

The five-star Shanti Maurice is located in the rural, unspoilt south of Mauritius, dominated by farmland and sugar cane plantations. There are far fewer hotels here than in the north of the island.

Presidential pool terrace at the resort 

Basingstoke Gazette:

The floor-to-ceiling window in my room is a picture of ocean water and white sand. As the days go by, I find myself leaving the curtains open so I can wake up to the sunrise in the huge bed facing out towards the sea. The room itself is elegant and minimalist, with a balcony overlooking the beach and an outdoor rain shower.

But this island of one million people has far more to offer than just its picturesque coastline and year-round sunshine. Steeped in history, it's a melting pot of diverse beliefs and culture. Officially discovered by the Portuguese in 1505, it's since been occupied by the Dutch, French and British, before becoming independent in 1968, but it was Indian ethnic groups that were the first to arrive on the island to settle.

The European and Indian influence is evident in the local food, dress and culture. Many people speak English, French, Creole and an Indian dialect, Bhojpuri. And the religions include Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Buddhism.

I witness the religious fervency on a visit to Ganga Talao lake. Surrounded by temples and statues of deities Shiva, Hanuman and Lakshmi, it's considered to be the most sacred Hindu place on the island. People are gathered around the water's edge, excitedly dressing the statues with colourful decorations as a mark of respect.

Lord Shiva statue 

Basingstoke Gazette:

"Everyone comes out to the streets to celebrate, no matter what religion they are," our driver tells us. "Mauritians are proud of being so inclusive and welcoming of lots of different cultures."

Having soaked up some of the spiritual atmosphere, I'm ready to embark on my Reiki training. Developed by a Japanese Buddhist in the early 1920s, the technique involves laying hands on specific areas of the body to channel 'life energy'.

Many champion its healing powers and it's even used in a number of private hospitals and hospices, as a complementary therapy on top of conventional treatment, for illnesses such as cancer. There's no evidence that it can cure conditions, but many people believe in its powers of improving overall wellbeing.

Vijay Raghavan from the Centre of Natural Healing gives me and my fellow travellers an introduction to the Reiki principles, its history and all things spiritual. We learn abdominal breathing and meditation, where we are encouraged to channel positive energy.

I can't help but feel it's a shame the teaching isn't outside, given that the surroundings are so pretty, but there's a lot to get through in two days. We learn about chakras and energy and self-healing, and then practise techniques on one another.

We meditate and chant, which feels incredibly alien at first, but I tell myself to get over it. Then we take part in 'attunement', where the Reiki healer 'transfers' the Reiki ability over to us, allowing us to finally learn the technique for laying hands on ourselves and others.

It's pretty simple but people react very differently. Some say they feel something very powerful, others just that it's "comforting" or "relaxing". It sparks diverse debate at dinner afterwards though, but what someone will get from a course like this completely depends on the individual.

I continue my spiritual training with a soothing yoga session, indulgent 60-minute full body massage in the heavenly Nira Spa and a day spent lounging on the beach.

Nira Spa 

Basingstoke Gazette:

When I'm not feeding my soul, I spend time feasting on excellent seafood in the resort's restaurant. Mauritians are warm and welcoming hosts, as I discover on a visit to the Rum Shed, a beach hut-style rum bar within the resort. I sip on a cocktail while wriggling my toes in the sand, and marvel at how the 20-year-old barman Sunny might just be the happiest man I've ever met.

Later that evening, we dine at Fish Shack where lanterns line the beach. A roaring bonfire lights up the dark sea as Mauritian dancers in traditional dress spin in the firelight to a drum beat.

On my final day, I wake up early, not for another yoga session but to take a catamaran ride in search of a school of dolphins that gather in Tamarin Bay. They jump alongside the boat, and when a mother and baby appear, everyone squeals with excitement.

On our way back to the resort, we stop at a tiny uninhabited island where stalls line the beach and men sell jewellery from rowing boats. But even insistent hawkers do little to dampen my mood. I certainly feel far more centred, mindful and relaxed than I did a week ago.

While I'm not sure I'm quite ready to offer up my services as a Reiki healer, it will easily make for good dinner party conversation back home, and the process of learning a new skill has helped focus my thoughts for a few days.

Instead, I wrap my healing hands around another cocktail in the Rum Shed and raise a glass to the setting ball of fire on the horizon - my own take on a sun salutation.

TRAVEL FACTS

Lauren Taylor was a guest of Western & Oriental (www.westernoriental.com) who offer seven nights at Shanti Maurice (www.shantimaurice.com) from £2,040 per person, based on two sharing.

This includes seven nights' accommodation half-board, economy flights on Emirates from Gatwick and private airport transfers in Mauritius.

Valid for travel from October 1-December 22 and must be booked 30 days before departure.

The two-day Reiki Workshops cost an additional 299 euros (approx £247) per person and will be running October 18-19 and December 13-14, 2014.

For more information about Mauritius, visit www.tourism-mauritius.mu

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