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 😉