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Ayurveda: healing touch

- Doreen G. Yu () - September 30, 2007 - 12:00am

The state of Kerala in southwest India, aside from being one of National Geographic’s “must” places to visit, is a place that must be experienced. And a large part of the Kerala experience is Ayurveda, an ancient Indian system of healing that is practiced with “absolute dedication” in the state of Kerala. Indeed, there are many Ayurvedic hospitals and clinics throughout the state, and Ayurvedic pharmacies are almost as ubiquitous as Mercury Drugstores are here.

Practically every hotel and resort in the state has an Ayurvedic center, each with a certified Ayurvedic doctor (most of them are trained to various degrees in Western medicine as well) on staff and a bountiful trove of tantalizing and aromatic herbs and other plants from which the oils and potions of this branch of medicine are made. The resort-attached centers are usually luxurious and spa-like, and for the casual traveler these centers’ main attraction is a massage.

Weary from hours of road travel from the coast city of Cochin through the agricultural midlands and up to the cool and extremely lush hill country in the Western Ghats mountains, we need-ed no urging to sign up for such treatments at the Spice Village resort in Thekkady.

A consultation with Dr. Rekha precedes any treatment, even just a massage, and one is enjoined to be totally honest with the doctor in terms of illnesses past and present, as well as any other medical or physical – even mental – condition that might be relevant, keeping in mind that Ayurveda takes the whole person into consideration.

Prinsi, a lovely little wisp of a girl, leads me to the the treatment room which looks out onto a little garden; in the middle of the room is a droni, a slightly convex, oddly-shaped (I later learn it follows the human form) wooden bed (usually of deodar wood, sometimes pine, mango or jack tree). There is also a small square stool, and an electric stove; I initially view the latter with some degree of suspicion, but it is used to heat the massage oils.

I am made to strip and a rather insufficient gauze g-string is tied around my waist (the prudish and/or squeamish should perhaps stop reading now). I sit on the stool and oil is poured on the crown of the head, which is massaged in circular motions. Oil is also poured on my forehead (she asks first), followed by a full head massage that is both calming and invigorating.

I then lie face down on the droni, which is very cool and surprisingly comfortable, and begin to understand the shape and grooves (to drain the excess oil) of the droni as heated oil with a subtle medicated scent is very generously drizzled over my entire body, from head down the spine, to the arms and hands, legs and feet. While I am supposed to have a clear mind and concentrate on the experience, I could not help but irreverently think of a lechon de leche being readied for the roast.

Prinsi, only 22 and rather slight of build, has a very firm but decidedly soothing touch; she studied Ayurvedic massage for a year at the local college. Sometime during the hour-long treatment small muslin cloth bags of herbs, warmed by dipping in the heated oil, are rubbed on the body. Aches and pains, be gone indeed!

The treatment is concluded with a warm bath, where all that oil is removed by a good rubbing of powdered green gram, a kind of green soy native to India (it looks like our monggo).

Ayurvedic practitioners point out that the massage, although the most popular, is just one part of Ayurveda, which means knowledge or science (veda) of life (ayu) in Sanskrit. It is an intricate system of holistic healing revealed by Brahma the Creator to the sages and then to man. At least a couple of millennia old, it advocates a way of life that is in complete harmony with nature’s ways, and seeks to maintain perfect balance of body, mind and spirit.

Whether to treat ailments (from sinusitis and common aches to even cancers), to rejuvenate or detoxify (today’s “in” regimen) or beautify (the weight reduction program seems to be very popular), treatment programs are tailored to each individual and can last from seven to 14 days or even a whole month or more. A full program of diet, yoga, massage and meditation is implemented under strict supervision, and those who have gone through the programs swear by their benefits, both short- and long-term, and reportedly return for annual sessions.

Dilettantes like the dozen of us on the recent Singapore Airlines/SilkAir (they fly daily to Cochin) fam tour who practically breezed through what is considered the center of Ayurvedic practice came away not just happily soothed and scrubbed but with some small measure of appreciation for this ancient fount of wellness. While it obviously will take a lifetime to plumb the depths of wisdom that is Ayurveda, let me leave you with a few eating tips from Dr. Jouhar of the Kalari Kovilakom Ayurvedic retreat:

• Eat in a quiet, calm and respectful environment (no TV, no reading, no stressful conversations during meals).

• Chew food well, and rest after eating to allow proper digestion.

• Eat warm foods and only drink small amounts of water during meals.

• Eat the biggest meal around noon, when the agni or digestive fire is most powerful.

• Never over eat.        

AYURVEDIC BRAHMA THE CREATOR DR. JOUHAR OF THE KALARI KOVILAKOM AYURVEDIC DR. REKHA KERALA MASSAGE
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