Trying Ayurveda

After my trip to the Telangana State Forest Academy, I was very excited to try an ayurvedic treatment for myself.  For three months I had heard nothing but praise about the therapies and curiosity had gotten the better of me.

While I could have gotten a massage virtually anywhere in Hyderabad, I held out until I visited a retreat in Kerala— a state in southern India that is known for being the birthplace of Ayurveda. Out of all the places I’ve visited in this country, Kerala is by far the most beautiful. Everything is full and green, even in the heat of India’s summer. Coming from Hyderabad, an extremely arid city, this greenery was a welcome relief. It was the perfect scenery to be spoiled by a massage.

Unlike massages I have had before, ayurvedic treatments require the masseuse to know a few things about my personal constitution. In Ayurveda, people have a unique balance of three “bio-elements” called doshas: vata (a product of air and ether), pitta (a product of fire and water), and kapha (a product of earth and water). These doshas affect what treatments they think would be useful as well as what products to use in the massage. To determine my constitution, I was asked whether or not I can stand hot weather, how strong my appetite is, and other similar questions. From these questions, the ayurvedic doctor determined that I was a Vata-Pitta constitution. Because of that my massages were done with sesame oil to combat the heat in my body.

To start my treatments, the masseuses said a small prayer over me. Though it is not an exclusively religious thing, Ayurveda is very closely linked to Hinduism—this surprised me. Back home, medicine and religion rarely see any cross-over but they go hand-in-hand in Ayurveda. After the prayer, I was given a foot bath and prepped for the massage table.

At the resort I got two treatments: a general body massage (which is essentially what it sounds like) and shirodhara. Shirodhara is a Sanskrit term that roughly translates to head (shiro) flow (dhara). During this treatment hot liquid, typically oil, is gently drizzled over the head in a rhythmic swing for an extended period of time. It is a therapy used to treat many ailments of the brain: migraines, insomnia, vertigo, paralysis, and anxiety. Ideally patients typically get several regular shirodhara treatments but, even though I only got the one, I completely recommend it.

I know that a lot of folk reading this will be pretty skeptical about whether Ayurveda is “real” or not. In the States, anything outside of modern western medicine is dubbed “alternative” and it is almost always seen as lesser-than. But just like modern western medicine, I learned in my Ayurveda class that Ayurveda has published research papers that support their traditional treatment. Also, Ayurveda doesn’t have as many problems with overdoses, addiction, etc. as western medicine. I’m not saying one is better than the other but, after learning and experiencing Ayurveda, I can say it is worth trying.

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