I tried out my first ayurveda treatment today. I balked at doing it for a long time, although it’s been on offer everywhere I’ve been in Kerala; at upwards of 1,000 rupees it seemed too expensive for my budget. Then I thought about it more today, my last day in Varkala (I leave tomorrow morning on the train to Kochi), and realized that 1,000 rupees is only about $25, and I’d never be able to get an hour-and-a-half massage that cheap at home.
So what the heck: ayurvedic massage it was. I am blissed-out now, all the stress and strain and tension drained out of my body as I was pampered with hot oils and rubbed down from top to toe. (Not that I had a lot of stress and strain to begin with — it’s not exactly a demanding life, here on the beach. But what little I did have is all gone.) My massage therapist was a wee little woman at least half a foot shorter than my little sister (who's not exactly the Jolly Green Giant herself); tiny but mighty, though, as she dug into all the knots and tight muscles all over my body. At one point, she even climbed up on the table to get a better angle, such was her dedication.
It’s not like a Western spa experience; this isn’t just for pampering. Ayurveda is the ancient Indian system of medicine; according to Wikipedia, the name comes from the Sanskrit words "ayus" (meaning longevity) and "veda" (meaning science or knowledge). It is all about keeping three elements in balance; massages are a common ayurvedic treatment that are all about healing the body, not just relaxation. And it's not for those crippled by coy Western-style modesty; you strip down to your birthday suit and let it all hang out as they go to work on nearly every bit of you.
It is meant to cure back pain, joint pain, muscle pain, strengthen your entire physiology, and promote deep relaxation in order to allow your body to heal itself of its ailments. One of my Varkala buddies (now back home in the U.S.) had a course of treatment to help with a particular physical ailment, which she said helped enormously; I don’t think I’ve got any specific medical issues, but it still felt damn good. Oh, and it’s supposed to help with weight/obesity, too, so maybe I can finally shed that remaining 10 pounds before I get home.
There are other ayurvedic treatments that don’t sound like such a walk in the park or — more appropriately for Varkala — a day at the beach. The most hard-core regime I’ve read about has to be panchakarma: literally meaning “five actions”, its purpose is to rid the body of built-up toxins.
And it`s not for the faint of heart or the uncommitted, let me tell you. Try these “five actions” on for size and see if you’d be willing to go to these lengths:
- Vaman – therapeutic vomiting, induced using herbal concoctions
- Virechan – purgation – diarrhea provoked using natural laxatives
- Vasti – enemas using herbs
- Nasya – elimination of toxins through the nose, by flushing the nasal passages with oil
- Raktamaksha – detoxification of the blood, through blood-letting (cutting or the use of leeches)
Before you have any of that done, your body is prepared over the course of several days using herbal steam-baths, a special diet and oil massages. Then you may receive any or all of these actions, depending on how "toxic" you are and the specific course of treatment outlined by your ayurvedic doctor, over the next 15 or 21 days.
Yikes. I’m sure I — like most other people in the Western world — have some toxins in my system thanks to the air I breathe, the food I eat and the chemicals in everything we use. But I’m not anywhere near worried enough about them to go through all of that!
So ... ummmmm, no. I’ll stick to my massage, thanks. I might just have to have another one in Kochi. And maybe again in Goa, when I get there. And then back at the Elmwood Spa in Toronto, when I’m home — anyone want to join me?