Ayurveda: is it the treatment for you?
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