I am no stranger to a good massage, or Ayurveda treatments for that matter. I have been a regular at Canyon Ranch Spa in Arizona for several years. While there, I thoroughly enjoy the Abhyanga-Shirodara package. For this treatment (and all the treatments at CR) you are given a cozy robe and slippers and led down a corridor with soft lighting and relaxing music. The Abhyanga-Shirodara is a treatment that involves two therapists giving you a massage; followed by the Shirodara, which is the warm oil cascading over your forehead taking you into a state of bliss. Of course, Canyon Ranch is cushy and offers the best of the best, which is probably why this discerning yogi feels right at home! Lest, we are in India. No cushy robe. No soft music. Reality check ensues. At the Ayurvedic center at the Somatheeram Health Resort, Ayurveda is their “deal.” They live it, they love it and they want you to as well. Upon checking in at the health center, everything is very clinical. Doctors in white coats have you fill out a lengthy intake form to determine your Dosha. (If you want to find out yours, go to http://doshaquiz.chopra.com ) In the intake, everyone is very matter of fact and bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired. Not to self: you are in India…
I am told that I will be receiving a head massage, a foot massage and Shirodara. I am then introduced to my therapist that would be with me all week. Her name is Usha. She is a voluptuous woman with a soft smile and kind eyes. Her English is very minimal. She knows the basics: “How are you?” “OK” “Pain?” “Sit” and “Problem?” Ok, I can deal with that, I mean, what more words do we need to have when I am expecting her to whisk me away to a room of relaxation and bliss. We head off down the path to the treatment rooms. As we get closer, I ask myself, “What have you gotten yourself into???” Upon entering the treatment room, it reminds me of something out of Christian Grey’s Room of Pain. We enter and she closes the door behind us. Hmmm…Ok, yoga breathing in place. The room is very clinical with white tiled walls and floor. The massage table is to my left. It is a thick, heavy wooden table that looks somewhat like a butcher block. I can still run now, right? From the ceiling in the center of the room hangs a 4’ rope with a knot at the end. The corner of the room hosts an altar-like table with an oil lamp, incense and various powders and oils. In front of the altar is a small wooden stool with a piece of chintzy gauze draped over the top of it. A towel lays on the floor at the foot of the stool. Usha tells me to undress. Ummm…are you going to leave the room??? Apparently, she was not. I ask her, “take everything off?” She nods. Again, I say, “Everything?” I’m not a prude, but I am a bit modest. I’ll be honest, I like my curves, but there are certainly days when I wish they were smaller! I try to remind myself that she doesn’t know me, she does this many times a day and she’s a curvy gal herself. I try to push my insecurities to the back of my mind, swallow my pride and get on with the show. After disrobing, she points to the stool and, in a calmly commanding voice says, “Sit!” I do as I’m told. She comes back over to me, stands in front of me and puts her thumbs on my forehead at my brow center. She chants in Sanskrit, much of which I can actually understand- thank you, yoga!!! The treatment begins with a head massage. Albeit not what we would normally expect, but with scratches, shakes and movements that are similar to what one does when washing their hair in the shower. I have to admit, it felt quite amazing; however, I was still trying to stuff down my insecurity of sitting on a stool, buck naked, with a women giving me a head massage. Next, on to the shoulders… Usha walks to the opposite corner of the room where there is what appears to be a hot plate with a metal bowl on top of it. She turns it on and I hear the oil begin to bubble. I turn away before she sees me watching her. She comes back with the oil and starts drizzling it over me and wiping it down my arms, my chest, back and legs. She commences with the shoulder massage. She has super strong hands and worked out several knots I had from carrying my luggage, that is for sure! The Ayurvedic method of massage is, again, quite clinical and precise. The therapist performs series’ of strokes, grabs, slaps, pats and “chops” to different areas of the body. I can tell you that the slaps to your backside while covered in oil definitely get your attention! Ouch!
For the next phase of treatment, Usha has me stand up and moves the stool to the corner of the room. Again, the politely commands me to “Sit!” She then proceeds to unfold a huge mat that resembles a vinyl gymnastics or wrestling mat. She positions it underneath the hanging rope and ties another scant piece of gauze to the rope. She performs a ritual of cleaning the mat (I’m not sure what with) by sprinkling the cleaning solution on the mat and “skating” across the mat on another piece of gauze with her feet. After cleansing her own feet, she spreads a paper thin sheet onto the mat with a piece of gauze at the top. She points to the mat. Ummmm, what? Are we naked oil wrestling??? I thought I was getting a foot massage? Well, apparently, this type of foot massage was with the therapists feet. Hmmm…ok, I’ve had the Ashiatsu at CR where the therapist massages your back while holding onto bars attached to the ceiling. I follow her command and proceed to lay face down on the sheet. I her the oil boiler again. She then sprinkles yet more oil onto my body. I feel her slightly scratchy, large feet begin to press on my sacral area and my low back begins to release. Again, she performs succinct, calculated movements up and down and across my back. As she approaches my hips and thighs, I can’t help but think to myself, that with all of this oil coating my body, one wrong slip of the foot and she is going to end up in a place where the sun doesn’t shine! Yikes! Whew! Thankfully, it does not! She tells me to turn over and she proceeds to massage the front of my body with here foot. I have had a stomach massage before, but never with a foot! A bit odd, but not terrible. Once this portion of the massage is completed, she cues me back to my stool in the corner. She takes the sheet and places it on top of the hard, heavy massage table. She calls me over and has me hop on to the table face down while she cleans up our massage mat from the floor. The massage begins again. Precise movements, circles, strokes, pats, slaps and chops to my well-greased body. By this time, I have decided to just let it be and tried to quiet my mind. Now for Shirodara…
For the Shirodara, Usha covered me with near-transparent pieces of gauze, hardly covering anything. She positions the oil cask over my head and lets the warm oil begin to flow over my brow center. It feels great! My mind starts to drift off and I begin to forget my insecurities of just moments ago and nearly forget that I am scantily clad on a rock hard table in a room that had ants climbing the walls, in India. I even catch myself dozing off a few times. At one point, my leg even jerked- now that was bizarre!
When the treatment was over, Usha guides me back over to the “submissive” stool where she wrings the oil out of my hair, rubs some type of God-awful stinky powder into my scalp and then wraps it up turban-style in a piece of gauze. She then tells me that I need to keep this on for one hour. Yikes! The oil, I can take as I tell myself it’s like a deep conditioner, but the stench of the powder was almost unbearable. Despite the fact that our cottage only has hot water for a mere 30 seconds, I couldn’t wait to scrub my hair!
Usha then walks me back to the Ayurvedic reception area and tells me to sit. She comes back with the local beverage of “Herbal Water,” which is similar to tea, but not quite. The doctor then calls me back into the makeshift “office” and pulls out bottles of brown liquid, two kinds of tablets and a jar full of a pudding-like substance (which, by the way, tastes NOTHING like pudding!) She directs me to take these concoctions either before food or after food, tells me to eat the foods on the buffet that are marked for my Dosha and tells me to come back the next day at the same time for the same treatment. Ummmm, you mean I gotta get nekked again??? Yep, ‘fraid so! I completed a week of treatments here. I followed the medicinal regimen and the Ayurvedic treatments that were prescribed for me. By the end of the week, I was feeling wonderful and was grateful to Usha for taking such good care of me in what turned out to be no where near Christian Grey’s room of pain. Thank you, Usha 😉
After taking our 2 hour train ride from Delhi to Agra, we arrive at the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Not to sound cliché, but it’s no wonder! To call the Taj breathtakingly beautiful would be an understatement. Honestly, there really aren’t words strong enough to describe it’s magnificence—like everything else I have encountered on this journey through India, it is something that words cannot adequately describe, but rather is something that must be experienced and felt. India is different for everyone depending on what they have experienced in their life and where their mindset it. If you are not ready for India, you cannot appreciate what she has to offer, but the Taj, oh, the Taj! Not only is she a sight to behold, but her story, just like each of our own, is one to be told!
The construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1631 and took 22 years (1631-1653) and 22,000 workers to complete! Fashioned out of marble and onyx inlay, the spectacular structure was designed as a mausoleum for Mumtaz Mahal, the 3rd wife of Emporer Shah Jahan. (He had 4 at the same time, but she was his fave.) During her 14th pregnancy in 19 years, Mumtaz had a dream that she would soon pass away. She then share 3 wishes with the Emporer:
1) Take care of my children.
2) Build me a beautiful mausoleum
3) Do not take any other wives (Don’t worry about him, remember, he has 3 other wives as well as 500 concubines, so he was not lonely!)
Soon after her dream, Mumtaz went into labor and died during the childbirth. In Islamic tradition, a woman who passes on during childbirth is considered a martyr. The Shah began construction of the Taj Mahal as the final resting place for his late wife. Of all of his wives, she was considered the most beautiful. The name “Taj Mahal” translates to “Place of the Crown.” The marble of the Taj is white; however, depending on what time of day you visit, it can catch the sunlight in different ways. In the morning, the Taj appears pinkish, milky white in the evening and golden in the moonlight.
The beauty of Taj Mahal and the story of Emporer Sha’s endearment for his wife is absolutely exquisite beyond words. The message of the Taj to all mankind is that Pure love is the soul of life.” Rabindranth Tagore described the Taj as a “teardrop on the cheek of time” and, believe me, while in her presence, it is hard not to shed a few of your own. Whether it be the Taj’s story appealing to your romantic side or the feeling of the energy there reminding you of the loved ones in your own life. Either way, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is impassible to visit the Taj and not be moved. Definitely another of my most amazing life experiences. Until next time…
As I mentioned before, the energy is definitely different in Delhi. The people getting from point A to point B by walking, public busing, tuk-tuks, buses, motorbikes and rickshaws is a bit overstimulating to say the least! And the incessant honking! Oy, vey! It’s constant and is meant as a means of communication between the drivers of the various forms of transportation, but for us Westerners, it is hard not to take offence. Another reminder that we aren’t in Kansas anymore (or South Carolina, Ohio, California or England for that matter!) The craziness of the streets carried with us onto the railways as we caught our 6am train to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal. Upon arrival at the train station, we are reminded of how the rails are a significant part of mass transit in India. At the station, there are people EVERYWHERE! They are bustling about like an ant colony on crack yet, others are at a complete standstill laying anywhere and everywhere trying to catch a little bit of rest before their next train. We are seated in the highest cabin possible, yet the accommodations leave a lot to be desired. While the seats are fine, describing the bathrooms as disgusting would be an understatement. We are served water, tea and breakfast on the train, albeit only the bread and the stale cornflakes sans milk were palatable. I am told this cabin is about 1200 Rupees or about $22 for this 2 hour ride. The other classes of cabins went down as low as 200 Rupees; just under $4. Those unfortunate enough to be in the lower class cabins were lucky if they even had a seat. We could see them packed in this metal box like sardines with no A/C. At one train station, we see a passenger on another train being motion sick out the window. Not a pretty sight and I am again reminded to give thanks to the man sitting next to me for switching his seat so that I could face forward in the direction that we were headed, otherwise, I would have my head out the window as well.
The arrival into the Agra train station was my first realization at just how much poverty and despair there is here. Women carrying babies, small girls who couldn’t be more than 10 or 11 years old carrying babies passing them off as their own (or who knows, maybe they were their own) and little children begging for anything and everything: food, water and even asking for shampoo, of all things. This was almost unbearable. The pulling at your bags, your sleeves and your pants as they beg and plead was yet another reminder of the amazing life I lead back in the States and I wonder what my own children are doing at that time—hopefully behaving for Daddy!!! To add to the experience, the number of disfigured and crippled beggars is gut-wrenching and since I am at a loss for words to describe the pain I felt in my heart at that time, I won’t even attempt to try. Until next time…
A 3:15am wake up call roused us to catch our plane from Kerala in South India, to Delhi in Northern India. We were ready! Let the next adventure begin! As we arrive in Delhi, we meet our guide who will accompany us throughout Delhi, Agra and Varanasi. As we navigate the airport to our driver, it is had not to notice that we are definitely in the minority here; as Americans, but as women as well. Many sideways looks from the men, that honestly, made me a bit uncomfortable. This feeling will serve as a reminder to me whenever I may see someone back in the States who looks different or out of place. Rather than balk or stare, a simple smile may serve as a simple gesture that can relieve a stranger’s anxiety. The lessons and reminders have been subtle, thus far, but grow in intensity as our trip progresses, but more on that later! We meet up with our other travel companions and venture out to see Old Delhi. We visited the oldest mosque in India, the India Gate and were given a “private tour” of a Persian rug store. I say “private tour” because we have been informed that the guides receive a cut if the people they bring in buy something.) After an authentic dinner that evening- and the first “adult” beverages we have had in quite some time, I might add—we head out into the streets to shop. The hustle-bustle and energy of Delhi is different from that of the resort-y, beach-y Goa or the relaxing, Ayurvedic rejuvenation of Kerala. You actually feel like you are in a real city much like New York. It’s quite refreshing, actually! In the markets, we find all sorts of different treasures from jewelry to stationery to journals. It is a welcomed change of pace from the retreat center in Kerala. On the move again tomorrow! Until then…
Greetings from the Somatheeram Ayurvedic Health Resort in Kerala, India! In previous posts on Facebook or Twitter, some of you may have seen me mention Ayurveda and asked yourself, Ayur-what??? Broken down, AYUR means “life” and VEDA means “science,” so literally, the science of life. Ayurveda is a scientific system that uses mostly plants and herbs to treat common ailments and to keep the body functioning optimally. Ayurveda is a form of medicine that is approximately 5,000 years old. In Ayurveda, every living thing is made of of 5 basic eternal elements:
These elements are present in each person, but to varying degrees. The elements are broken down into what is called our body’s “constitution.” The constitutions are then further broken down into what are known as Doshas. There are three Doshas:
Each Dosha carries different properties, functions and present themselves in different places of the body.
Vatta is the prime Dosha and steers the ship for the other two Doshas.
Vatta Properties: Dry, bright, cold, rough, subtle and minute, moving
Vatta Functions: Controls movement, breathing and natural urges, tissue transformation, motor functions, sensory functions, controls secretions and extretions, fear, impluses and anxiety.
Vatta Sites: Large intestines, pelvic regions, thighs, ears, bones and skin
Pitta Properties: Slightly oily, penetrating, hot, light, unpleasant odor, spreading nature, liquid form
Pitta Functions: Facilitates metabolism & hormonal function, regulates body heat & temp, helps digestions, intelligent, hunger & thirst, perceptive, color & complexion, anger, hate, jealousy
Pitta Sites: Naval, stomach and upper part of small intestines, sweat, lymph, blood, eye, skin
Kapha Properties: Oily, cold, heavy, slow acting, slimy, soft, stable
Kapha Functions: Gives stability and energy to the body, development of the body, lubrication, enthusiasm, sexual urges, forgiveness, immune resistance, attachment, holding, possessiveness, greed, accumulation, knowledge
Kapha Sites: Chest, throat, head, trachea, joints, stomach, lymph, fat tissue, nose & tongue.
Hmmmm…any of these sound like you How can you know for sure? You can visit one of my favorite websites and answer a questionnaire to learn what your Dosha is and how to care for it to keep you body in balance. More on our Ayurvedic treatments in my next blog.
To learn what Dosha you are, please visit: http://doshaquiz.chopra.com