Finally having decided on an ayurvedic training center, today is my first full day. As part of my ‘welcome package’ I had my first ayurvedic massage; in fact, my first experience in ayurvedic medicine at all.
When the therapist knocks on my door at 8am, I was very unprepared for the next hour. Let’s be clear here, I’ve had my fair share of massages, from a $100 massage in a 5-star hotel in the US to Balinese massage which constantly made me fall asleep to Thai massage, including all its pulling, pushing, and yoga-like moves to intense acupoint nearly screaming in pain Chinese and Japanese massages to more than slightly dodgy choose-your-boy, um what? no, thanks, standard is fine. Given that variety, I figured ayurvedic massage couldn’t be far off.
Woah, was I wrong. It started with stripping down–yes, naked–then a paper loin cloth was tied on. Awkward. Meanwhile the room smelled like a Chinese medicine pharmacy, or like many a Chinese medicine I’ve drank. (I think it is Huang Qin or one of the other dampness-dispelling herbs.) Not exactly starting off like a relaxing Balinese aromatherapy massage 😛
Sit on a stool for the head massage. She pours green oil down my hair and then gives me a nice head massage (well, nice, minus the oil). Not much work on the neck or shoulders. Let me just warn you, when this finished, the best part was over.
Now I lay down on the solid wood table for the face massage. More. Oil. On my face. Laying bare-breasted on this table (the image is misleading–I didn’t have the extra padding on my wood table), another woman comes in to help with the body massage. Two therapists at one time: in any normal spa this is a very premium service for true luxury and pure indulgence. Not here. The two women press me into the wood table, swiping both legs simultaneously with large strokes and oil so thick everything sticks to it. Back and forth. I try not to cringe.
Then up to my arms. They can barely hold my arms from slipping around like slimy fish they are so greasy. And on to my stomach and chest. Just upped the awkwardness factor immeasurably: one woman rubbing across my chest while the other makes rather futile attempts at kneading my oily stomach.
Is this supposed to be enjoyable? Relaxing? Um…
It gets worse. Flip over. Hip bones pressed into the wooden table. Neck strained at odd angles. More sweeping strokes hitting on points I didn’t even know hurt. Hmm… Still no neck or shoulder massage. How is this useful?
This is a medicinal massage. It felt like the ladies were trying to unblock my meridians, dredge my channels, clear my collaterals, and ensure thorough Qi flow from the skin down with just massage. What Chinese medicine does with acupuncture and needles, these ladies were seemingly trying to do with mass quantities of oil and long intense strokes down my body.
Then came the steam bath: think body-sized, 1 man only, sauna. And your head sticks out the top. So while the sweat glides off my slick body like water along a penguin’s back, to outsiders I’m like a decapitated head on a box. Being pretty uncomfortable and unable to move, I watch the therapists chatting away. I start cracking up at the humor of it all and how this must look like some Medieval magic show. The ladies think I’ve gone crazy and decide that means I’ve had enough steam bath.
They pull me out, wipe me down and I realize the oil is yellow. As in, turmeric yellow. A color nearly impossible to remove from any surface. Off comes the modesty cloth and I’m standing there as naked and slimy as a baby just popped out of the womb. I’m well beyond missing my sleepy Balinese massages at this point. Is this over yet?
Oh, this is not a massage. This is an ayurvedic treatment. This is an ayurvedic health treatment. It is not supposed to be enjoyable. It is supposed to be good for you. (Guess I’ll find out the theory behind that in the upcoming weeks and months.)
And the best part: I have to wait an hour before I can take a shower. So now I’m now wandering around greasy like a sleazeball’s hair for the next 60 minutes.
Who’s next up for an ayurvedic treatment? 😛
Massage experience aside, I’m super excited to learn all of this stuff! Theory, history, constitution, ailments, treatments, herbs (and especially to find out if the smell is Huang Qin), Five Elements, diagnosis, etc. So much to learn! And to see the similarities and differences with TCM and Balinese healing. Stay tuned.