Ayurveda Is Not Your Average Day At The Spa

Covered in medicated oil I’m lying on a hard wooden table. I can feel the constant stream of the pleasantly warm oil flowing onto the top of my skull, slowly moving from left to right causing a feeling of unusual weight. A hand is gently stroking my head, making me drift in and out of sleep. Bear with me, this is not my take on 50 shades of poor writing. This is ayurveda.

My first encounter with the traditional Indian medicine happened almost four years ago and it wasn’t remotely as blissful. I experienced the first shock as soon as I set foot out of the Kochi Airport terminal, having broken my promise to myself that I am “never ever travelling to India.” When we were brought to the Mooss Ayurveda Nursing Home and were ushered to our room I felt as if I were entering a prison to serve my life sentence. The first meal, brought to our room on a tin tray (exactly like in prison) was the final straw. I could no longer hold back my tears as I was trying to get some of the awfully tasting curry down my throat. “How will I ever survive two weeks at this horrible place?” was all I could think of. What saved me was my first treatment on that same afternoon. When four therapists simultaneously started to massage me with warm oil I suddenly saw the light at the end of the tunnel – all was not so bad…

Presentation of the food leaves a lot to be desired. The quality improved considerably with a new chef though.
Presentation of the food leaves a lot to be desired. The quality improved considerably with a new chef though.

From that first two-week therapy we’ve been returning to this same clinic every year. We turned into true ayurveda fans. But I also learned that ayurveda, at least when it is delivered by professionals, is not everyone’s cup of tea. Even if it may sound like pure pampering, it is far from a spa break and you should know what you’re getting yourself into:

  • It’s called clinic for a reason. An ayurvedic panchakarma therapy is a serious affair. That’s understandable, as it actually cures diseases like arthritis or allergies, going after the root of the problem. The “chief doctor” is the main authority in the house and nothing happens without his permission, not even a yoga lesson or a visit to the kitchen to learn how to make chappatis (believe me, I’ve been trying to do this for the last three years without any success). The days are determined by a strict schedule of taking medicines and treatments. Forget sightseeing in between. A short walk to the town is all we can usually manage and even that is sometimes frowned upon.
This is a serious affair, with consultations and everything.
This is a serious affair, with consultations and everything.
  • Therapy comes first. Everything else like comfort and design of the rooms or general appearance of the building is only of secondary priority. We’ve developed our own little routine of checking on our every return if anything has changed. It’s funny how you notice each slight improvement when everything else remains the same for years: like new tiles in one of the treatment rooms or a shiny new stool in another. But when it comes to treatments reluctance to change is a good thing. These remain consistently professional, leading to actual results.
  • Greasy worn-out chic is the dresscode of the day. (Even for the always-so-stylish Italians). The basic principle of the treatments is application of oil in all possible ways to all possible parts of the body (without going into further detail here). The chances of thoroughly washing it off your body depend solely on your ability of taking a shower “Indian style”: using a simple pitcher to pour water out of a big bucket over yourself. Once my hair is soaked in oil, it remains greasy until my first shower at home. The scent of herbs usually sticks with me even longer. But it’s easy to pack, though: my “day attire” consists of old T-shirts and two wrap-around skirts which I’m saving only for this occasion. The extra space in the bag is for shampoo and soap which get exchanged for follow-up medicine on the way home.

It doesn’t sound so appealing anymore, does it? Nevertheless we were willing to trade off our annual two week journey to some faraway places for a course of ayurvedic therapy for the last four years in row. I’ve accepted the hard beds, very basic rooms and total lack of any charm. I used to be tempted to try one of the many other much nicer places with a more relaxed approach to the whole thing, but not anymore. I’m all in, willing to commit to hard-core ayurveda. So hit me with a vasti, if you want. (You will have to look this one up, I am definitely not going to explain it here.)

Male therapists going out for a cup of tea. “Photography not allowed,” they said. I was photographing the carefully manicured lawn anyway…