Ayurveda: is it the treat­ment for you?

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

As fun as trav­el­ling is, it is of­ten also tir­ing, which is why, at the end of a jour­ney, many of us cry out for a mas­sage, re­lief and re­lax­ation for tired bod­ies and tight mus­cles. While some will crave the ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fits of the se­ri­ous sports va­ri­ety, sybarites will doubt­less pre­fer the sen­su­ous aro­mather­apy ver­sion.

Opt for a shi­atsu and so del­i­cate is the ap­pli­ca­tion you can be left won­der­ing whether it has started yet. Book a Thai mas­sage and your body may be shocked as some tiny fe­male po­si­tions your legs and torso where they have never been be­fore.

But choose an ayurvedic mas­sage and you en­ter a whole dif­fer­ent sphere of treat­ments. For many, ayurveda res­onates with the truly ex­otic. We know it is In­dian and one of the old­est med­i­cal dis­ci­plines in the world, fes­tooned with myths, leg­ends and prom­ises. But it also comes with prac­ti­tion­ers who have un­der­gone years of rig­or­ous train­ing.

We’ve all been se­duced by be­atific pic­tures of a serene and sweetly smil­ing face as sup­pos­edly scented oil is slowly dripped on the fore­head, the place of the third eye. That im­age re­lates to the shi­rod­hara, which should never be pre­scribed dur­ing the first few days of a spa visit (a wa­tered-down ver­sion may well be of­fered to you in spas from Brad­ford to Bari, but don’t be tempted).

First-timers should be­gin with the core mas­sage, the ab­hyanga. It’s like nothing you’ve experienced be­fore – and it too can be a shock to the sys­tem – but two things will alert you to what to ex­pect. The first is the scrap of fab­ric you are of­fered to wear, which on a good day would hardly cover a baby’s bot­tom and will most likely dis­in­te­grate after the first whoosh of oil; the sec­ond is the mas­sage table it­self. It isn’t one of those heated, hy­draulic jobs that co­coons your body, rather a hard wooden struc­ture (tra­di­tion­ally made of neem, one of the hard­est woods on the planet), and any com­fort will come from your own pad­ding.

Be­fore be­ing in­tro­duced to these de­lights, you will have had a full med­i­cal con­sul­ta­tion with a doc­tor, in or­der to discover your dosha (or mind-body type), and pre­scribed the cor­rect herbal oils.

Ayurveda is based on the body hav­ing the cor­rect bal­ance of na­ture’s ba­sic el­e­ments – earth, fire, water and air – which ex­press them­selves in the three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Once your im­bal­ances are iden­ti­fied, the pre­scribed oils will ad­just them.

Now the fun starts, as four hands set to work swiftly and vig­or­ously, ap­ply­ing more oil than you are prob­a­bly used to. While you slither around on a sea of the stuff, the speed of the treat­ment and the aroma of the oils re­move any thoughts and wor­ries from your mind. It feels al­most like a forced med­i­ta­tion.

After­wards, you are helped to the shower and ei­ther sup­plied with a green herbal paste (to help re­move the oil) or washed by a ther­a­pist.

You will feel rein­vig­o­rated and alive, with toned mus­cles, lu­bri­cated joints and silken skins. Such a mas­sage is pre­scribed ev­ery day dur­ing your stay at an ayurvedic spa or re­treat as it is an ac­knowl­edged part of the heal­ing pro­gramme.

Bal­anced: oils are in­di­vid­u­ally pre­scribed

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