If you’re looking for a single reason to move to India this may be it. Imagine being seated is a quiet room, low lights, a bit of aromatic essence present in the air, but just present, not overwhelming. You are seated in a pillowed chair and, from behind, a warm gentle hand anoints your scalp with an oil produced from a recipe that goes back thousands of years. As your sinews in your scalp begin to relax, the masseur alternates speed, pressure, and location to further set the mood. Additional oils are drizzled over your shoulders and upper back and the hands follow their way down your neck, onto your shoulders and begin working their magic.
Warning #1: I should point out at this time that one’s attire for an Ayurvedic massage is somewhat sparse. Imagine an Apache warrior. Now imagine him wearing a mini-skirt version of the normal loincloth along with a thong-like rear section. The treatments are performed by masseurs of the same gender as the recipient. Wearing tops is not an option and the massage gets in real close to those areas reserved for spouses, steadies and/or special friends with benefits. So if you’re homophobic or any bit shy about proximity to the privates, you can stop reading now; but you won’t ’cause most of you who fall into those categories possess a secret inner desire to break free of your hang-uppedness and will relish the following details as you continue to miss out on a great part of life while living vicariously through us folks who are comfortable with our bodies and sexualities. Losers.
So as the warmth and comfort level increase, you are invited off the chair to lie on a table with slightly raised edges, kind of like a giant cookie sheet. A new type of oil, thick and viscous with smells faintly reminiscent of patchouli oil, sandalwood and musk, but not actually any of them, is applied all over one’s arms, legs, back and thighs. The next step involves massaging the toesies, ankles and feet followed by a brisk rubdown up the thighs, inner and outer. The oil heats up and penetrates the skin providing a unique comforting sense of security and ease. The upper body’s back and shoulders are the next recipients of India’s special form of TLC and the strokes lengthen starting at the feet and work their way up to the neck. Aside from linear, they begin to go in circles and other patterns such as figure eights and x’s. Significant attention is paid to the buttocks and once past the mental blockade of someone’s who you don’t know too well’s hands being there, the motion is relaxing and adds to the otherworldliness of the adventure. Similar attention is paid to the belly button and I challenge anybody experiencing one of these massages not to conjure up mental images of yogis and other transcendentalists sitting in their dhotis contemplating their navels going Ohhhmmmm. Variations include chopping motion, alternating pressures, deep muscle penetrations and a light brushing that it almost a tickle. The latter stoke is used toward the end of the massage and produces an instantaneous chill effect in a style akin to what many of us performed on each other after ghost stories or bonfires at summer camp. The principle of the Ayurvedic massage is to warm the body up and then draw all of the excess heat out of it.
Warning #2: If any readers suffer from claustrophobia, do not read the rest of this paragraph, unless you possess the same, sick, Peeping Tom-like symptoms of the sexual maladjusts referenced in Warning #1. After about 45 minutes of this delightful massage, one has been coated with aromatic and delicious oils and tenderized in a way akin to to that of a prepared chicken. Next step – the steam box, where one is seated in a black cube measuring about 3 ½ feet high, wide and deep. The steam is billowing inside and one sits on a stool in the middle of this box. The top section is slid into place with a cut out semi-circular hole – similar in style to the potion of the guillotine that holds your neck in place prior to execution, slid up against you. So there you sit – in a box, with only your head exposed. If anybody saw Bridge On the River Kwai and you remember the torture box that Alec Guinness found himself regularly consigned to, then you can relate to the image that I am attempting to convey. Furthering the chicken metaphor, you are left to bake in this hot box for a slight eternity as the steam penetrates and your pores open and the goop drips off and you find yourself to be medium-rare.
A shower follows the exit from the box and the masseur rubs down your back with a granular powder that is a mixture of aromatic herbs such as turmeric and cardamom along with a light abrasive such as Bruce and a soap such as Days of Our Lives. You do your own frontal clean up, shampoo your hair and dry off, stepping back into a world from which you had been metaphysically transported from an hour or so earlier. You feel refreshed, at peace and at one with the karmic force.
The Ayurvedic massage is only one part of Ayurvedism which dates back to the Vedic era approximately 5,000 years ago. It is a multi-disciplinary study involving diet, exercise, breathing and lifestyle designed to rid the body of toxins, poisons, and other unwanted inhibitors by balancing and harmonizing the five life elements. The massage is a bit of a quick fix and I suppose that in order to acquire its full benefits, one would have to subscribe to Ayurvedic Quarterly and do all kinds of other stuff. The massage worked just fine for me on its own. Same for Lori who has benefited as much as I have from this historic and unique contribution from our Indo-Aryan brethren. Next step is to explore additional facets of their strange, exciting and stimulating culture. I’m thinking Kama Sutra. Wish me luck.