Tag Archives: massage

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…

Hospital Realisation

I realised (well the clue was in the name, ‘Aditya Ayurvedic Hospital’) or better put, I finally got the reality of where I am this morning before my first treatment of the day-a lovely full body Abhyanga. The therapist looked worriedly at my shoulder and asked if I had a skin problem. Err, not that I knew of. Or black spots on my face? You tell me I was thinking, they weren’t there last time I looked but stranger things have happened. Thankfully the doctor’s wife was there to consult with us both and diplomatically she asked if I’d had this ‘skin condition’ since birth. Another realisation hit me, she was referring to my freckles.

“Well I was a bit silly in my youth and got burnt trying to get a tan while abroad on holiday so the skin on my shoulders is probably a bit sun-damaged but yes otherwise this has been since birth.’

Phew! No horrible black spots although I’m slightly concerned that that’s what the locals see when they look at me rather than an exotic redhead goddess (which I’d hoped was the reason they usually stared but clearly not).

I have luckily and thankfully never been in hospital-I really don’t want to jinx things by writing this but I haven’t had any major illnesses, broken bones and I have even managed to dodge having my stomach pumped as a teenager, although a couple times I thought that really that’s what should have happened.

It has also never been a particular desire nor had it scared me, it kind of seems inevitable that it’ll happen one day, but perhaps that’s the negative outlook I have about getting older creeping in. Anyways it might seem bizarre that I have voluntarily admitted myself to a hospital for treatment and I know this is exactly the type of place most of my family would be mortified by. However I feel extremely grateful to be here and I can put a big fat tick next to something that had been on my bucket list for a wee while now.

This is no ordinary hospital but an Ayurvedic hospital in Kerala set in quiet surroundings with smiley staff, birdsong and unreliable internet. It’s a simple, humble yet efficient place that a friend recommended, with lovely people taking care of everything. My fellow inmates, I mean ‘patients’, include a married Russian couple, a Ukrainian, an American and I’m told, a famous, Australian yoga teacher. Similar to hospital back home only in that there’s really not much to do here other than to try to relax, rest and recover. Oh and there’s black, horrible tasting medicine and food on metal trays.

Unlike hospitals back home, there’s no caffeine (and I’m really surprised at my lack of cravings for it or cold turkey moods wings), no vending machines full of things to momentarily bring you comfort, much to ¬†the Russian guy’s dismay, and there’s no one hanging around outside having a smoke, although the Russian guy, who is staying here for 3 weeks with his wife and coming to the end of an intense ‘cleanse’ nipped out last night after dinner. Sneaky. Apparently it’s to help curb his hunger pangs.

Most people come for 4 weeks to do the full panchakarma detoxification and rejuvenation treatments. This involves cleansing the body by ingesting ghee, having daily massage treatments and eating a ‘sattvic’ diet which is mild rather than spicy and is aimed at balancing the ‘doshas’. I’m not going to get into the finer details of Ayurveda but I came here to experience it first-hand by authentically trained therapists and a doctor from a family of Ayurvedic medics. I hope that I will learn a lot in the process despite only having 10 days here and therefore not being able to take part in panchakarma, and that the experience will enhance my own Ayurvedic massage therapies.

I had therefore looked at this as a lovely sort of retreat. Seeing as it’s the most expensive place I’ll stay on my 4 month trip to India, I had secretly hoped for a bit of celeb rehab luxury. A lovely room with a view, maybe some beauty treatments now and then and most definitely a pool. 4 days in and it has finally hit me; this is a serious hospital. I mean I knew it was before, that’s why I chose it, but it’s a family run home-stay kind of hospital and I really do think that if I had to do some rehab time this would be where I’d come. There’s no TV, wifi has just come back on, hence posting this but it’s been very sketchy, and there’s a small town but nothing to really tempt you away from the serenity offered here; other than a bottle of Pepsi if you’re the Ukranian patient who told me the other day he had sent his wife home after two weeks here because she ‘doesn’t understand India and just wants to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee’. That was an hour before his contraband Pepsi tanning.

Well this is not a glossy blog, no fancy camera so excuse the photos but since being here I have really had the urge to write, not having posted anything in ages. So with the time and space to do so and wifi permitting, I’ll be posting a few things about my time here. I’m doing this for the first time on an iPad app so it’s even less picture perfect than I would like but hopefully I’ll get the nac and I hope you enjoy ūüôā

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My home whilst here.

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Lunch!

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The murky, foul tasting mysterious medicine-bottoms up!

Day 5: Feeling Alive

Today I feel really positive. ¬†I am over my temporary downer from the previous day and slight insanity and I have feeling in full flow of the week’s juice cleanse. ¬†I think I’m in the routine of it now and I don’t feel hungry or tempted to eat. ¬†Bacon smells seem to waft everywhere I go, following me around but I have decided that I will try to be veggie after this so I am happy for the people tucking into their bacon sarnies but I won’t be joining them.

So far the juicing has not turbo charged my life – I am no stealth ninja acrobat – but it has helped to curb my night owl bad habit and I’m generally feeling calmer and more content as if I’ve just had a camomile tea every minute. I’m not as cold either these past two days and although I can’t say I have amazing clarity of mind, I have moments when I feel the fog has lifted. ¬†I love feeling lighter inside but not hungry. ¬†The sky is blue and it’s a lovely morning.

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So I jump out of bed for my morning’s juice scavenge. ¬†Well more just driving across town to pick it up. ¬†Oooh juice lovely juice. I am not fed up with it yet and I enjoy my first of the day in the car. ¬†Another benefit I have noticed is that my skin¬†feels great and unless I am thinking wishfully, my forehead seems smoother and almost ‘younger’ looking. ¬†This could be the combined effect of feeling more relaxed and possibly better quality of sleep although now I regret not monitoring this throughout with one of those sleep apps.

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Afterwards I head for a swim, jacuzzi and steam at the gym. ¬†Ironically and probably like most people, now that I have quit my gym membership and have only a couple of weeks left of it, I have started to actually use it. ¬†Feeling refreshed, I then have a lovely 2 hour Slavic massage treatment planned. ¬†I think steams, saunas and massages are fab ways to complement a detox and I’m excited about this massage as I’ve never had it before.

This was a therapy fuelled day for me both in receiving and giving treatments. ¬†As a therapist, I am lucky from time to time to do swaps with other therapists and this is one of those times. ¬†Slavic massage is a long flowing massage which is extremely relaxing – probably one of the most de-stressing treatments I have ever had. ¬†You don’t wear anything while on the massage couch but you are draped from the waist down with a sheet. I start by lying on my front and the therapist dripped warm oil over me – this is a first for me and after a while I get over thoughts like ‘this feels a bit messy’ and ‘ I hope it’s not spilling and dripping everywhere’ to thinking ‘this feels really therapeutic’.

Flowing and rhythmical strokes are used from the top of one arm stretched over head, down to the bottom of my foot. Two hours is the perfect length for a massage as you get a balanced full body treatment and massage to the tummy is included which is often missed out in shorter treatments. I really don’t know how I’m going to get up at the end, I could just lie there and drift away.

However, after that it is my turn to do the treatments and I fuel up on some more juice before I give 4 clients massage treatments that afternoon.  I am all prepared with a sneaky juice jar and a straw ready for in between clients. I have learnt that going longer than an hour without some juice is not fun.

Finally after a lovely clinic, it’s home time. ¬†I take my final jar of juice, a green one, to bed and work my way through it. ¬†It’s quite late but I feel like drinking it all. Tonight though I am freezing again – so frustrating as I thought I had acclimatised to the arctic conditions of juicing. ¬†I go to bed with 3 tops, one jumper, a dressing gown, a scarf, a hot water bottle, a duvet and a blanket and still feel chilly. ¬†Maybe drinking cold juice before bed is a bad idea. ¬†Turning over I am ready to sleep though and really happy to have made it through 5 days!

So far juicing has taught me that getting up in the mornings isn’t so bad and also to be a bit more organised with what I eat. Oh and that I would like another Slavic massage!