I've become an India bore. I lugged home pashminas, swiftly made clothes and new yoga techniques, but most of all I brought back a new diet. I'm an Ayurvedic nut, just like Cameron Diaz, Madonna and Cindy Crawford.
I became a convert in its birthplace - the Ananda spa in the Himalayas. Ayurveda is India's most ancient holistic healing system, founded some 5,000 years ago. Its Sanskrit meaning is 'science of life' and it aims to maintain good health and avoid illness by treating body, mind and soul.
The basic premise is that what you eat affects you profoundly. It's a practical philosophy that can be adapted to wherever you live but is based on simple principles: food free of pesticides and additives and as freshly picked as possible; milk from cows that haven't received growth hormones (tricky, I get organic); nothing from a tin (also tricky) or containing preservatives.
The breathtaking and utterly peaceful Ananda is perched in the Himalayan foothills. Far below in the valley is the hippie hangout of Rishikesh, a city on the holy Ganges, filled with temples where Hindus come to pray and bathe in the river. It was at an ashram here that the Beatles hung out with the Maharishi.
Happily, Ananda is bathed in tranquillity, miles away from mad traffic and poor sacred cows eating carrier bags. Built in the grounds of a maharajah's palace, it consistently wins top spa awards, unsurprising as it offers an astonishing 79 different therapies, and a consultation to analyse your body type is the first stop when you arrive. Dr Mane has limpid brown eyes and a scary knack of clairvoyancy. 'You make friends with the wrong people quite often,' he said as he took my extremely sluggish pulse. And 'you mustn't eat when you're driving the car'. I am Vata/Pitta and he proceeded to turn my diet on its head. Plenty of warm food, frequent small meals, very little raw food. My daughter Katie turned out to be that rare creature, a Tridosha - the perfect balance of all the elements. Dr Mane has only seen four of them in 12 years. While other guests ate their specially constructed Ayurvedic diets (one girl had been there five weeks and shed a stone), Katie was allowed the run of the menu by an admiring set of waiters. The word 'blessed' was bandied about and Dr Mane would scoot out of the spa quite often to stroke her hand.
With a combination of fresh, healthy food, treatments, yoga and quite a lot of walking and navel gazing, it wasn't hard to come home feeling like a new person. However, heeding the diet and the advice has been an utterly transforming experience. When I feel bloated or lethargic I know that I've been eating badly, and what to do. There's a great new cookery book out - The Modern Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amrita Sondhi (Arsenal, £9) that I really recommend, but it was Ananda that put me on the straight and narrow.
· Ananda in the Himalayas, The Palace Estate, Narendra Nagar, Tehri Garhwal, Uttaranchal, India; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.anandaspa.com
Ayurvedic body types: what are you?
Ayurveda is based on maintaining the correct balance of the universal elements within the body for optimum health. There are seven body types from the combinations below:
Pitta (fire and water)
Body type: Medium build and height, soft fair skin, not happy in extreme heat. Easy-going, but also fiery with instances of aggression and competitiveness. When out of balance can have bad breath, body odour and excessive thirst.
Should eat: Non-spicy food, dairy.
Avoid: Oily, fatty, fried foods, red meat and preservatives.
Body type: Slim and unlikely to gain weight. Dry skin and hair, hates the cold. When in balance is energetic, creative and artistic, but out of balance is prone to anxiety, indigestion, bloating, insomnia and forgetfulness.
Should eat: Small frequent meals, warm soups and stews, dairy, green beans, almonds, sunflower seeds, cumin, ginger, herb teas.
Avoid: Salads, raw vegetables, beans except mung, fruit only two hours before or one hour after a meal, coffee.
Body type: Often large-framed, calm, content, makes good friends and saves money. Out of balance can be prone to mucous congestion, allergies, weight gain, laziness.
Should eat: Between 10am-6pm, two main meals a day (one being a salad), apples, apricots, fresh vegetables, chillies, onion.
Avoid: Eating for emotional support, dairy, sweets, oil and fatty food.