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ayurveda and me

So one thing I did in India, was go see an Ayurvedic doctor. Ayurveda is the traditional system of indian holistic medicine. In the United States, its kind of pricey, especially as it becomes more trendy. but in India, the exchange rate was on my side. so i went.

The doctor and I went through a discussion of my medical history and current issues. He also took my blood pressure and performed a pulse test. This allowed him to diagnose the status of my doshas (Ayurveda says that your internal elements have to be in balance to be healthy) and prescribe some treatments.

The first thing he recommended was shirodhara, which is a massage followed by the pouring of oil on my forehead. It seemed a little weird, but I was actually pretty excited about it because I LOVE massages and this one was going to be done by two people, at once, on me! The second treatment he prescribed was a "hot application" of herbs. This one sounded a little confusing to me, but I figured it was some kind of cleansing steam thing which was fine by me. So I set my appointment times and was happily anticipating my massage.

So I showed up for my two-person massage on time and was shown to a small room where two women were waiting. Now, the funny thing about all this, is that I was still thinking in an american-type spa massage relaxation paradigm. Which is just wrong. In India (or at least in Rishikesh), ayurveda is medical science, and I was getting a medical treatment. Which was evident when I stepped in the room, and the two women just looked at me. and I looked at them. and finally, one of them pointed at me and said, "Shirt off." I then realized that I wasn't getting any of this whole "we're going to leave the room now so you and your delicate sensibilities can disrobe and then hide under a modesty blanket on the massage table". Nope. which was ok with me; I don't have any issues being naked for a massage. So I took all my clothes off and hopped on the table. At which point I was subjected to a 30 minute amazingly theraputic oil-filled rub down/massage by two rather intent women. Just when i thought that I could not get any oilier, the massage stopped and they indicated that I should re-position my self at the head of the table, facing up. When I did that, one of them placed cotton pads over my eyes, so I couldn't see anything. I did get rather nervous at this point, because there were some odd noises occurring. but soon they started pouring warm oil over my head, using a large metal container with a spout. That went on for another 30 minutes. It was eerie, strange, and oddly relaxing.

So when that was over, I got a brisk rubdown by the women, was instructed not to shower for at least an hour (the longer the better), and set off back for my room, smelling like herbal mineral oil. Incidentally, I still haven't been able to get the smell completely out of my clothes.

A couple of days later, I returned for my second treatment. The "hot application". This actually turned out to not be what I thought it was. I headed back into the room, with one of the same women from before. I was already with the program in terms of getting ready, but as I lay on the table, waiting for the treatment to begin, I heard a strange noise.

The woman had lit a small propane burner. ooo-kay.. and then, she put a wok on top of it. but, i didn't get nervous until she poured oil in the wok and it started to sizzle. Now, this is when I started freaking out a bit. I mean, I didn't really think they were going to burn me, but what was going on with the frying oil then??!

as it turns out, the woman did not fry me in oil, prepared though she was.

She had a set of fist-sized bags filled with herbs which she would use to mop up the hot oil. And after it had cooled down (a little), she would then pummel and massage my body with the bag. It sounds crazy, but this was even more relaxing than the previous 2 person massage I had gotten. The hot oil herb bag felt really good (if you have ever had a hot stone massage, you understand), and the massaging action was like being scrubbed down with a soft loofah. So after the initial scare, it was turning out to be an awesome treatment. but all too soon, she was done, and was motioning me to reposition my self face up on the table. and it turned out I was getting Shirodhara again (more oil poured on my forehead).

Now, I'd already had oil poured on my forehead for thirty minutes in the previous treatment. At this point, the feeling was just getting really freaky though. Its very hard to describe, but I was relieved when it was over. The doctor had mentioned that its not uncommon for people to feel uncomfortable or emotional after shirodhara because it can sometimes cause people to release emotional blockages... I'm not sure about that, but I did get to spend yet another evening covered in and smelling like herbed mineral oil.

So that was my experience with Ayurveda. and I have to say, having seen what massage is like from a medical treatment perspective, I'm having a hard time taking our 'sensibilities' very seriously. Those Indian women were there to do their job, and I doubt they cared if I was nervous about getting naked, being touched accidentally (and you can bet that happened), or needing reassurances that they were not going to burn the heck out of me.

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