Tag Archives: holistic

Divine Dhara

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…

Amazing Aditya

Amazing Ayurveda, I find it so fascinating!

My first two blogs about my time here at this Ayurvedic hospital in Kerala were quite jokey and perhaps a bit flippant. I was still settling in and making sense of why I was here. I really felt as though someone else had planned this for me and that I had shown up 5 evenings ago feeling a bit out of place and as if I had crashed a wellbeing party.

In actual fact a friend had spent some time here about eight years ago and recommended this place to me after I asked her for some advice on places and things she rated in India. The India part I had come up with on my own but looking back, the outline of the rest of this trip was born out of her suggestions. It’s funny to think that another email and my first experience of making a payment using Western Union later and I was booked in to spend 10 or so days here taking part in some kind of Ayurvedic health treatment plan.

I have to say that this treatment plan has not become any more clear to me since being here. I feel very much in the dark, as I am at the moment, deliberately ruining my hopes of an early night by enjoying typing away on my wee iPad as the fan churns noisily overhead. As an aside, I hate fans-they are so noisy and this one makes the tune of Beyonce’s ‘Run the World’ which I now have going round and round in my head with every 360 of the propellers above me.

Simple accommodation seems appropriate for ‘cleansing’ your lifestyle

Anyway back to the hospital – it is more of a home stay run by a lovely family and a great team of caring and friendly staff. The doctor, Dr Sathya, is from a long line of Ayurvedic specialists and he and his wife run this treatment centre along with a clinic in the local town. They are both kind and sweet people who are clearly busy but never show it outwardly, instead they always have time to see how you’re getting on and if you need anything. This is a quiet place which is exactly what you need, I imagine, for healing and what people coming here seek-an escape from anything that stimulates stress or ill-ease.


Here the only provocation of stress for some is the internet playing up, but in an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to use wifi whilst receiving treatments. The holistic and traditional nature of this health system fits perfectly with the pre-technological age and you can imagine that in order for it to flourish and be of most benefit to the patient, the patient needs to also put in the work by not spending time on devices like I’m using now, but instead by appreciating the frogs jumping off the lily pads into the pond and the beautiful sounds coming from the nearby temple.


The whole settling contributes to the effectiveness of the treatments, every single element plays a part and what we’re given here, which I’m really grateful for, is somewhere you are best placed to feel well or to feel better. Ayurveda as I’ve understood it has always been aimed at preventing illness or at maintaining good health. That’s mainly because I work with the massage therapy strand of this eastern medicine and so do not administer anything ‘medicinal’ other than oils onto skin. But here the doctor receives patients from all over the world with a wide variety of conditions; many of them are in the very late stages. I’ve already spoken to two fellow patients here who have come to receive treatment with their last remaining hope that they may be able to avoid surgery for long-standing and painful injuries. Although tempted, I have resisted the nosy urge to ask anyone their reason for being here so I only know what has been offered up to me.

The first morning after breakfast I go into the doctor’s office and fill in the consultation form.

“Goodness no!” I declare in ridiculous shock at the question asking if I’ve ever injected street drugs. That was the wording of it and I think that’s what caused such an embarrassing reaction. I mean ‘street drugs’!? Any how I did have a few ticks here and there namely back and neck pain (my knee also hurts but I forgot to tell him that darnit) and PMT. I tell him I want to feel rested and energised ahead of my month long stay at an ashram where I’ll be undertaking what promises to be an intense and rigid schedule. I have nervously been leading up to this ashram experience by preparing myself through not reading the books on the recommended reading list or actually finding out what Sivananda means and what style of yoga I’ll be learning to teach, but instead by having as nice a time as possible before my life becomes a living hell consisting of yoga prison. Don’t get me wrong I chose to do it and I would consider myself to be an open-minded person, but wake up time is as 05.20 and we only seem to get fed twice a day! To say I’m already feeling hungry at the thought is an understatement. I have got protein bars, 3 chocolate bars and 2 packets of cookies for some sustenance when times get hard but I’ve already dipped into the coconut cookies and the choccy won’t last long once I’m out of here.

Small pleasures-our afternoon fruit snack

Sitting beside the doctor with my mouth wide open (like they make you do at the doctors when you’re a child but without me having to say ‘aaahhhh’) he then does what seems like the quickest check of my tongue and eyes ever by a doctor followed by a pulse diagnosis. I like his manner. He’s not smug or condescending and he seems a lot more humble and less theatrical than a lot of the western doctors I’ve encountered. He tells me I have a slight Vata imbalance probably due to all the travelling I’ve been doing along with a Pitta imbalance – neither of which comes as news. I am very much a Pitta dosha dominated person who is in a warm country eating spicy food and occasionally sunbathing. I knew my Vata was on the up because of my back pain.

However what I didn’t know exactly-and still don’t-is what to expect from my time here.
I am told that not having long enough to do the full panchakarma treatment, (unfortunately as I had been hoping to experience it) means I bypass the daily consumption of ghee and go straight to daily treatments and a general diet of healthy vegetarian and non-spicy meals. We are given medicine four times a day which I still have no idea what it is although it tastes disgusting. The focus will be on rejuvenation treatments the doctor tells me and I’ll have one or two treatments a day, the first being a massage followed by Dhara (which literally means flowing) of medicated water.

“What will I do for the rest of the day ?” I ask unimaginatively and if I’m honest a bit panicked. How will I make the time pass here?! I had thought there’d be this whole schedule. I now see that people coming here probably need routine but not a ‘schedule’. Here they get granted the space, time and fresh air to do nothing should they wish and to try to let go and unwind. The doctor tells me I could read a book, take a stroll or talk to the other patients. Hmm, the panic is not reduced by this response. I undertake to fill my time as much as possible with yoga, the act of ‘journalling’ (a word I still can’t really fully condone-is it actually a verb? I’ve only ever heard Americans use it so I’m not sure it exists in British) and reading.

Now it’s the end of my fifth full day and it’s all starting to finally sink in. We have to trust this place; the sacred surroundings, the doctor’s intuition, the age old and time tested methods that have been proven, and importantly ourselves, in order to bring about whatever changes or effects we’re hoping for. We have to let go of our past habits, stop running to our phones or the office for wifi and try not to wish we were anywhere else but here. To surrender to the simplistic facilities, the mozzies, the thunderstorms that keep you awake and cut the power and to just feel it all. The oil pouring all over you that soaks into your skin and leaves you feeling swollen and slick, but also nourished. We have to be at one with all the various treatments and powders and the oils-so important in Ayurveda-and just (I hate to say it but I can’t help it!) go with the flow!