I love natural and alternative therapies, so much so I am actually a qualified massage therapist and have dabbled in reflexology. Whilst I have tried many different therapies including acupuncture (yes I find those needles quite relaxing), naturopathy, homeopathy and every type of massage I can find, the one thing I have never tried was Ayurveda. Strange considering that Ayurveda has been around for thousands of years and originated in India.
Kerala is home to Ayurveda in India, so whilst here I decided to give it a go. Not one to do anything by halves, rather than just a single treatment I chose to do a 7 day panchakarma treatment. This started with a visit to Dr S who is located in an island in the Kochi region. It was an adventure just to reach him, an auto rickshaw, a ferry ride that included loading trucks and about 50 motorcycles onto a rather rusty looking vessel and another auto rickshaw ride until finally reaching this quiet house right on the backwaters.
Before any treatment begins, I am asked a multitude of questions by Dr S ranging from whether I prefer bitter to sweet foods to how soft my stools are. A very personal and thorough history is taken and I am also given a questionnaire to complete where I answer questions like whether I make decisions quickly and am I more sensitive to the cold. As I respond to the inquisition I can feel him assessing me physically and emotionally to determine the best treatment.
I am then led into quiet room with a massage table by his wife and asked to take all my clothes off. Dutifully I do, and then am given a small piece of cloth to tie around my waist for modesty. Seated on a low stool, beautifully scented warm oil is rubbed over my shoulders, into the top of my head and my temples. I start to relent, to relax. Its been a challenging 24 hours and a little pampering and escapism is exactly what I need.
Quietly I am asked to move onto the table and lie on my stomach. The table is wooden and looks rather hard, but I am surprised to discover it is padded underneath the towels and is actually quite comfortable. Gently warm oil is poured on my back…. lots of it. The scent of blended herbs, sweet and heavy fill the air. Then long gentle strokes slowly massage the oil into my skin, from my calf to my torso to my shoulder and down my arms. Long, slow and fluid strokes repeated over and over again. It’s almost impossible not to relax, the rhythm of the movements is hypnotising.
The same stroke pattern is repeated as I lay on my back, and I can feel myself relaxing. Then it stops quite abruptly and my eyes are covered with a towel. I can hear some pots clanging gently and what sounds like a gas stove being ignited.
Then begins the Shirodhara.
All of sudden a small trickle of warm oil is moving along my forehead, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The rhythm is mesmerising. I can feel myself starting to fall asleep, there’s no point fighting it, that would be futile.
I am not sure how long it is, but I awake abruptly…. to the sound of my own snoring. I don’t normally snore, at least I don’t think I do, but this soothing rhythmic motion seems to send me into a different type of relaxation than I have experienced before. I feel tired and heavy, but as soon as the oil is removed I am awake and spritely.
My body is covered in oil, from the tips of my toes through to my hair. I am shown the bathroom, and have a shower where it seems no amount of soap and shampoo will rid my body of all of this oil. It doesn’t matter, my skin smells musky and glows with all the care it has been shown.
Dr S sits me down just before I leave and hands me two bottles. One looks like a dark cough mixture and I am asked to take it twice a day. The second looks a lot like ghee, and he advises me to take a teaspoon tomorrow morning and then increase the intake by another teaspoon each day for the next 5 days. I can take it with some warm water if that helps me. Hmmm, not sure how I feel about this, but I guess time will tell.
The herb mixture wasn’t so bad, definitely something that I could manage to take each day, but the ghee mixture was definitely not one of my favourite experiences. It was literally like having a spoonful of ghee, it stuck to the roof of my mouth and slowly melted into my mouth. It was revolting. Stupidly I didn’t keep any warm water on hand, I didn’t make that mistake again.
For the next two days, I received exactly the same treatment from Dr S. The Shirodhara was just blissful and I was certainly very happy with my diagnosis.
Then a change entered the mix. On Day 4 I was taken into a different room but the process was the same to begin with. Take off my clothes, sit on a small stool and have my head and neck rubbed. Long flowing strokes of oil along my body, and then all of sudden this stopped and something else was being rubbed on me. It felt like big heated powder puff with a slightly burnt smell was being rubbed against my body. There was some powder on it, I could feel it rubbing against my skin.
It wasn’t an unpleasant sensation, but it certainly wasn’t as relaxing and dreamy as the Shirodhara. I was told that this was to increase my circulation and metabolism, and would have the added bonus of reducing my body fat. It was an interesting treatment with a more therapeutic feeling rather than just pure relaxation.
For the next 3 days this treatment was repeated. I felt my mood lift a bit with each day, it had been quite depressed before. This was a pleasant side effect for me. I am not sure if it was the treatment, medication or something else that was lifting my spirits, but it was all good.
On Day 7, which was my final day of treatment, I once again had a Shirodhara. A fabulous way to end my Ayurvedic treatment… or at least I thought it was the end.
Then Dr S pulls me aside to discuss how I felt about my 7 day treatment, and tells me that there is one more day. The final cleanse.
I don’t like the word “cleanse”. It has all sorts of horrible connotations, think “ethnic cleansing”. I felt clean after all those fabulous massages and treatments, I certainly didn’t feel the need to cleanse any more.
This cleanse was going to be an internal one though. It involved me taking castor oil, herbs and some hot water with lemon that evening, and then again in the morning.
I was terrified.
The thought of what this would do to my body scared me. My evening ahead was not going to be pleasant. Though dutifully I followed Dr S’s instructions that evening and prepared for the worst. I am happy to say it wasn’t as bad as I expected. Yes my sleep was interrupted to.. ahem.. cleanse during the night, but by midday the next day the worst of it was over.
An hour later I was drinking a glass of wine and toasting quietly to myself how much lighter I felt. Everything in moderation I say.