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My Ayurvedic Massage Experience

  • Posted on November 25, 2019 at 7:10 pm

When I had my first Ayurvedic massage, which was at the Chopra Center in California, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that Ayurveda was an Indian tradition that based treatments on your dosha, or body/mind constitution. But after experiencing six straight days of Ayurvedic massage during Chopra’s Perfect Health program, I had a clear understanding of how this art differs from a typical Swedish massage.

In a word? Oil. Lots of it. According to Viraf Karbhari, owner of A. Muzda Enterprises, a company that sells Ayurvedic products, including high-quality Ayurvedic oils that I regularly use, says, “Herbalized oils have been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years. The purpose of self-massage or by a therapist is to increase circulation, thus opening the flow of Life Force to cleanse and revitalize the body and to create a balance between body, mind and spirit.” He says that “one who self massages regularly stays young and free of disease.” I say Namaste to that.

A typical Ayurvedic massage will include oils in various ways depending on which massage you request. Most Ayurvedic treatments look and feel different than your average massage, which might include hot stones, reiki, Swedish rubdown, or deep tissue. Ayurvedic massage therapists are trained in very specific methods borne of this ancient Indian tradition that is based on the person’s dosha, which will be either pitta, vata, or kapha, with certain characteristics defining each. (Take your dosha quiz here to see which one best defines you.) Most of us are predominantly one dosha but maintain characteristics of more than one or even all three.

Abhyanga

The Ayurvedic therapist will choose the oil appropriate for your dosha. I am pitta-vata, meaning my overriding dosha is pitta (hot, intense, sharp) and secondarily vata (dry, airy, spontaneous). Each time I received my massage during the Perfect Health program, the therapist asked me to set an intention—something I never experienced during a regular massage—of which I’ve had hundreds. I didn’t know what intention to set, so I thought, Okay, I’ll just go with the intention to let this session heal me wherever I need it most. The therapist then generously poured pitta oil all over my body, including my hair. I almost thought that maybe she accidentally overdid it, but I would later realize that the liberal use of oils is intentional. She then vigorously rubbed my body, on both sides, with long, broad strokes. She told me this was good for the joint pain I was having, and she did not wash off the oils at the end. She said this massage was called abhyanga, and that I would benefit from doing this every day at home before going in the shower.

Shirodhara

The next day I had a shirodhara treatment, where I lay on a table on my back and a stream of warm oil flowed onto my third eye and down my hair for about 30 minutes. The third eye is believed to be the area of intuition, and this treatment is designed to awaken it. Again, I left the massage room drenched in oil. Did I mention that for the whole week, all the participants walked around in white robes with oil permeating every pore and hair follicle?

Netra Basti

A netra basti, or eye bath, was my next treatment, and I did not like this one. The Ayurvedic therapist placed round doughy circles around both my eyes and poured warm ghee (clarified butter) into each eye, while I lay on the table with my head back for about 10 minutes. Following this treatment, the other guests were talking about how much clearer their eyesight was, but all I kept thinking was, “I’m not seeing any clearer and I don’t want anything poured into my eyes again.” But the belief is that this treatment helps ease eyestrain and migraines.

Marma Therapy

My next Ayurvedic massage was marma therapy. According to Dr. Vasant Lad of the Ayurvedic Institute, “Touching a marma point changes the body’s biochemistry and can unfold radical, alchemical change in one’s makeup.” The Chopra Center calls marma points “the junction points between body, mind, and emotions.” In this treatment, the therapist gently stimulates these areas using oils in a circular motion on the body.

Neti Pot

Another treatment I had was the use of a neti pot, which I wouldn’t even consider a massage, but it is still categorized under the umbrella of “Ayurvedic massage.” The neti pot is that small teapot-like device used to open the nasal passages. With my head tilted to one side, the therapist poured a saline solution into one nostril while it poured out the other nostril. I had an unusual reaction to this and chalked this treatment up to yet another I will not want to repeat. It gave me an instant intense headache. In Ayurveda, maladies are usually seen as connected to something else, not as something in isolation. So when I told the spa director about my experience, she said, “It sounds like you were having a reaction in your gallbladder meridian.” And I said, “It’s funny you should say that because a few weeks before I came here I had emergency gallbladder surgery.”

Gandharva

The last treatment I had was gandharva, which was a full-body, heavily-oiled massage mixed with sound therapy from a large crystal bowl. I have numerous Tibetan singing bowls at home, so I knew I would love this treatment. This one was most like a typical massage, except for the lavish use of oil and the fact that the therapist stopped every few minutes to “gong” a large crystal bowl, apparently to increase energy flow.

If you’re considering trying Ayurvedic massage, here are a few places that offer it:

The Ayurvedic Institute (see “Other therapies”)

The Chopra Center

Agni Ayurveda

The Art of Living Retreat Center

Ayurveda Health Retreat