For the past week I have been staying as an inpatient at an Ayurvedic hospital in Kerala, India. My favourite part of being here, along with being surrounded by beautiful flowers and plants, has been experiencing the twice daily treatments. In the morning I am summoned into the treatment room which is conveniently adjacent my room and bathroom.
My modesty is maintained by a piece of fabric tied around my waist, somewhat unnecessarily as this is later removed anyway. Then I lie face down on the huge dark wood of the treatment table which has been carved from the ‘medicine tree’. At the foot of the table in the centre there is a small whole and it has been designed in such a way that any liquid pours down the table and into the hole and is collected in a bowl situated underneath. It is very simple yet very practical as with much of the Ayurvedic procedures.
First I am given a full body massage with warm oil. The therapist uses invigorating and rhythmical strokes circling my joints and sweeping over my limbs in a flowing motion that I really enjoy. It’s not a deep massage and it doesn’t send me to sleep but it is definitely having an effect my circulatory and lymphatic systems and is working to remove any blockages in the energy points of the body.
I’ve asked what kind of oil it is and I think it is sesame seed oil medicated to produce a herbal infusion that they make themselves here, as with most of the products and medicines used. After the massage treatment I am told to do my exercises. These include single leg raises, bringing my knee to my nose, raising my hips and lifting my arms overhead (not all at once).
Next the therapist returns joined by a colleague to help her carry out the ‘Dhara’ treatment. ‘Dhara’ means flow and this treatment involves warm liquid being poured all over my body (excluding my head) in circular and long connective motions. This is not to be confused with Shirodhara where the oil only flows onto the forehead-I don’t have any images of this to show unfortunately. On the first day the liquid used was medicated oil. Medicated with what I’m not sure – I keep asking but I don’t recognise most of the names. I plan to ask the doctor to write down a bit more information about all the medication and methods used before I go.
For the next five days after that, the same warm herb-infused oil used for my massage was the liquid of choice for the Dhara treatment. Ooh it feels so decadent! This is my favourite part of the day. I love, love, love it! I find it so warming and relaxing and such a treat. When do you ever get to lie like this? I feel so lucky and lazy at the same time. I always find myself thinking how grateful I am-it’s like I’ve won the opportunity to be treated like a princess for a half hour. Maybe not everyone would feel the same; I know some people would feel like they had been treated to the inside of a chip pan, but not I. I lap it up and come away feeling like the best moisturised, oil plumped up person on the planet.
After this, I go through to the bathroom to sit casually on a steel stool while the therapist rubs a green powder over me to get the oil off and then washes me using a jug to pour water from a bucket-there’s no shower-and then finishes by tipping the rest of the bucket over me like a waterfall. A bit like being a child again especially when she also decides to briefly pat you down with the towel. So nice-who’d have thought?!
Today however, the ‘Dhara’ part of my day slipped from number one position to number 3. The fresh coconut moved into first place followed by dinner. Because today instead of thick warm silky oil, it was carried out with a special rice powder milk concoction. All thin, runny and messy. Although it was also warm, my body instantly felt cooler afterwards. It’s poured using a metal vase shaped pot with a hole in the bottom. One therapist re-heats the collected milk and re-fills the pot while the other directs it over me. I just couldn’t help thinking (between feeling a bit chilly and needing the loo) what a mess it was making and wondering how they would clean it all up. Never a good sign during a relaxation treatment.
On the plus point, it did improve when I turned over onto my back – for some reason I felt warmer face up. Also the therapist told me that the aim of the rice milk was to make me strong and prevent pain in the body. Feeling like Cleopatra who had been gunked on Fun House, I gratefully made my way to the bathroom and to the steel stool to have it all rinsed off in the waterfall wash down, again slightly reminiscent of the legendary childhood game show. I looked down at myself and I saw that I had become the Rice Pudding Monster. It’s the stuff of nightmares for anyone with OCD, I imagine…