I had to conjure up images of car accidents and dead kittens to stop myself from laughing out loud during my very first ayurvedic oil massage. Not literally dead kittens but I needed to think of something sad so I could take my mind off of what was happening to me. I don’t even know where to start or how much I should actually write about it, since I think you should experience for yourself an Indian ayurvedic oil massage without any prior knowledge or any expectations. I was definitely a bit nervous as the clock ticked towards my appointed massage time because I learned that rather than having a stream of warm oil drip down on my third eye (sounds passive and lovely), the oil massages for the women here are done with two ladies giving you a tough rub down for an hour (huh? not passive, not so lovely). And as I wrote yesterday, I was also concerned about what tattered old clothes I could afford to have ruined by all the oil. My clothes? That turned out to be the least of my problems.
But first, the clothes. I decided on a white cotton T-shirt. I had to choose Justin Timberlake’s “Get Your Sexy On” tour shirt which I love for its softness but of the three T-shirts I have, I thought 1) I packed this for sleeping and I can replace it easily, and 2) funny and ironic since there is no “getting your sexy on” or “bringing sexy back” at this “tranquil as can be” ayurvedic retreat where half the people are fasting. But to be safe and not offend anyone, I wore the shirt inside out and put on a long sleeve button down over it. And I wore a pair of pajama shorts and put on very baggy cotton yoga pants over them, again not to offend anyone since I feel better being 99% covered in this country no matter where I am. I definitely didn’t need to cover up so fully since EVERYONE at this retreat is from Europe (mostly German and British). And as I found out, they all made the journey with the sole purpose of detox-ing and staying at this place with no plans to travel elsewhere in India, so they are all wearing their normal resort attire here. Men are in T-shirts and shorts, women are in tank tops and yoga pants (or I saw today a tall German woman wearing very short shorts). But I’ve noticed that because they knew they were going to have daily ayurvedic treatments, most of the women came prepared with kaftans and/or long cotton robes. These items are not part of my current travel gear so I had to make-do with what I have. Onto the treatment room I went.
All the treatment rooms are in a separate building next to the doctor’s office. I was met with a very small and young looking Indian woman who led me to one of the rooms. It was dark, somewhat damp, and smelled of herb oil. I’m going to ask about it but I think more than any plant or herb, I thought I actually smelled of cedar or some other kind of wood. It felt and smelled like a sauna room that had been transported into a cool underground cave. There was a large wooden table in the middle of the room and I could see that the entire table had a raised edge about 2 inches high and on either end there were holes for the oil to drain out. It was curved by the head of the table with brass handles attached on either side (I learned later to hold onto the handles so I don’t slip right off the table) but rectangular at the bottom. But I was first put on a chair and my feet propped up on another, so that I could get a head, shoulder, and scalp massage. It started with the masseuse applying oil to my feet, my hands, and then all over my hair. It felt just like the ones you get at a good Japanese hair salon (but with lots of warm oil), until she started whacking my head with her knuckles. That brought a smile to my face; it wasn’t just light love taps, they felt and sounded like “whack, whack, whack.” While I was getting the head massage, I heard the door open and a second Indian woman came into the room. They both helped me onto the massage table and the oil massage began. It started with one of the ladies giving me a facial. It was really nice and gentle and one thing I remember in particular is how she paid attention to my eyelids. But a few minutes later, I was jolted by her slapping my face! Well, she wasn’t really slapping me; it was more like fast upward strokes from my neck to my jaw line, but it came so fast and furious that I had to clench my teeth to stop myself from laughing. Once that was over, each lady stood on either side of me and the one who seemed to be in charge (she was the one who greeted me), put her hands in anjali mudra, prayer pose, and began chanting. That, I found, very calming and peaceful.
Unfortunately, that feeling didn’t last very long. From that point forward, it was just a lot of hot/warm oil and four hands vigorously massaging, and my trying to keep myself centered. The two ladies were in total synch as they followed a sequence of massages. I think they must count the number of strokes because they knew exactly when to stop one movement and proceed to the next. At one point the only traction/landing point I had for my whole body was a small piece of my forehead on a towel, and I felt myself just sloshing around on the table. But I figured I should just relax and see what happens. Overall, it was a bit comical and not too terrible. The ladies would push me over or pull me to the side if I slid over too far, and they were really sweet and attentive. But it is definitely not like any other massage I’ve ever had. They put me in certain positions- lying on my side, one arm across one shoulder, one arm straight, one leg bent below the other, etc, like you would in Thai massage but I had to hold on for dear life so it wasn’t very relaxing. I also found it interesting that they massaged my feet but didn’t massage my hands and fingers at all. I realize that these are medical treatments and not a “I can just fall asleep now because I’m so relaxed” kind of massages. I was definitely alert and aware of what was going on the entire time.
An hour passed and by the end, my whole body did feel very loose and limber. And well oiled, since I think they must have used at least a gallon or more (enough to fry a sack of potatoes maybe?) of oil. The two ladies took my arms and gingerly helped me down the table, and toweled me off. Lastly, using her fingers one of the ladies painted a dark paste all across my forehead, covering it completely. Then she put a dot of some other lighter colored paste between my eyebrows and on the little dip where your clavicles meet. Then she located the fontanel and pressed the paste around in a circular motion. She told me to wait 20 minutes before washing it off. I was finished and out I went into the sunlight.
I could barely see anything because it was so bright out. I walked back to my cottage in slow motion and tried to let it all sink in. I was told today that I should go by the riverside and watch the water flow after my treatment. It was a strange but really interesting experience. To treat my digestive problems, they specifically massaged my stomach and also sprayed hot steam over it while I was sitting on the table. Whether it works or not, I’m glad that I can have this experience here in India.