The soulful cry of a loon pulls me from one of the best sleeps I’ve had in a long time. Who wouldn’t sleep well here? The serene, lakeside setting that’s been home to The Birla Centre for Hast Jyotish since 1972 is most conducive to shuteye and the lost art of simple relaxation.

Sleep aside, I’m here to have my palm read. If you’re thinking, “Yeah right, palm reading, crystal balls and tea leaves,”?I, too, was a little skeptical. But not anymore.

Set up like a small village and surrounded by rolling farmlands about an hour’s drive northeast of Ottawa in the town of Cheneville, Que., The Birla Centre is the largest Vedic palmist institute of its kind in North America.

Vedic Palmistry (a.ka. Hast Jyotish), which originated in India some 5,000 years back, is the study of the structure and markings of the human hand. Its purpose is to help one gain self-understanding, so don’t expect to hear you’re going to meet your true love or receive an unexpected windfall.

Under the direction of master Vedic palmist, astrologer, author, lecturer and teacher Ghanshyam Singh Birla, who came to Canada from India in 1970, the institute offers a government-recognized Palmistry Diploma. At the time of my visit, Patricia, a yoga instructor from Germany, was here on a three-week study program.

The centre is also a healing retreat.“People come here for body, mind and spirit,” says Guylaine Vallée, one of the many palmist-astrologers trained by Ghanshyam.

Each session begins with a hand inking and imprint making. Next, in a private office, Vallée, a palmist for the last 23 years, pours me a cup of mint tea and launches into the 50-minute analysis, which takes me through her thesis on who I am and what I need to do to improve my life.

She’s astonishingly accurate. One of the many things she points out is that I’m very creative, but I do too many things too quickly, and I need to learn to relax more. She recommends yoga, meditation and massage. Coincidentally, I’m booked for a massage immediately following the session.

There is no actual spa here, only Ayurvedic massages such as the one I’m scheduled for at the hands of therapist Chandan Rugenius. The special blended oils he uses and the colour therapy lights over the treatment table are all designed to help a body relax.

While this 100-minute massage (which includes reflexology) may seem like a long time — it’s pretty standard here where massages can actually be extended up to four hours for someone with specific health problems or who is experiencing blockages (due to extreme stress, for instance).

Like everyone else here in this wellness community, Rugenius is multi-tasking — therapist, palmist, yoga instructor and meditation coach.

In the meditation pavilion overlooking the lake, he gives me a quick lesson on meditation, a practice that will help still mind, calm the body and — according to widespread belief — helps preserve the body and extend life.

Except for the new, two-storey, self-contained four-bedroom log guest house with its beautiful stone fireplace, the collection of buildings that make up the centre are more homey than fancy, and there’s a feeling of “camp comfort” that prevails. All meals are vegetarian and are mostly Indian cuisine, with recipes taken from the institute’s own cookbook, Simple Pleasure Of The Indian Table.

Along with palm reading, yoga, meditation, detox and Ayuvedic massages, there are walking trails on the 500-acre property, paddling activities and, of course, catching up on much needed snooze time.

Anne Dimon is a spa and wellness travel writer and founder/editor of