Ayurveda Balance introduces you to the time-tested Indian system of healing that is rapidly gaining the utmost respect in spas worldwide. Translated from the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit, Ayurveda is the ‘science of life’ (ayur meaning life, veda meaning knowledge). Its basic paradigm is derived from a series of revered Sanskrit texts that reveal a healing system steeped in Hindu philosophy. At the heart of Ayurveda is the concept that our bodies are a microcosm of the universe, with three governing forces or dosha at work: vata (air; related to movement), pitta (fire; digestion) and kapha (earth; body fluids). Each of us has a unique pattern of physical, mental and emotional energy that corresponds with these dosha and is part of our constitution. Although one dosha is generally dominant, all individuals possess the three dosha in varying degrees.
A person is said to be in good health when the dosha are balanced. The appropriate amount of vata promotes creativity and flexibility, while pitta generates understanding and analytical ability, and kapha engenders stability, affection and generosity. Imbalances of the dosha are thought to disrupt the flow of prana, the ‘life force’ that enters the body through food and the breath. The key to Ayurveda is treating the body, mind and spirit as a unified entity so as to maintain health, balance and harmony. Those who adopt this self healing philosophy understand it to be a long-term lifestyle choice, with the full benefits reaped only when its core principles are adhered to in the strictest Ayurvedic tradition.
Unlike Western diagnoses that attempt to identify illness through common symptoms, Ayurvedic healing is highly personalised. Therapies are generally divided into curative or preventive depending on an individual’s needs. A typical curative regime could include a series of therapeutic massages, oil therapy, a vegetarian diet, the consumption of healthy herbal tonics and a daily routine of yoga and meditation. For those in good health, preventive measures that keep the body working to the best of its ability can also be prescribed.
Traditional Ayurvedic massage combines medicated herbal oils, specifically determined by the body’s dosha, with manual techniques aimed at eliminating excess energy. It also enhances circulation and flexibility of the body. For best results, two therapists work in unison to administer the flowing rhythmic strokes of abhyanga massage. To relieve stubborn knots and aches, the therapist may use his feet in a specialised technique called chavutti pizhichil, in which the therapist suspends himself by a rope from the ceiling to apply extra pressure.
Often referred to as the ‘massage of the third eye’, shirodhara is an extremely powerful treatment designed to relieve mental tension by invoking a quiet and more centred mind. A steady stream of warmed medicated oil is slowly poured over the ‘third eye’, which is thought to be in the centre of the forehead, to calm and focus the mind. Although it is therapeutic in and of itself shirodhara can also be performed together with other Ayurvedic therapies for a more fulfilling experience.
Similar to shirodhara, takradhara is a calming therapy where medicated buttermilk is poured on the ‘third eye’ to bring relief to patients suffering from insomnia, depression and other stress related problems.
One of Ayurveda’s most effective regimes is full detoxification therapy or panchakarma. Several stages are involved, with the overall aim being the complete removal of toxins from deep within and the ultimate rebalancing of the body’s dosha. Panchakarma is not for the faint-hearted as the full programme, beginning with the purvakarma phase (to cleanse the skin in preparation for detoxification) and comprising five separate stages, can be both time-consuming and difficult to adhere to. Depending on individual dosha and needs, panchakarma can be prescribed as individual treatments or as a complete programme that normally takes a minimum of two weeks. As the full regime is difficult to pursue in its entirety, it is not advised for those suffering from anaemia or weakness, pregnant women, the very young or the elderly.
Marma Point Massage
Marma points are essentially vital energy points in the body, much like the acupoints in Traditional Chinese Medicine. In marma point massage, the therapist uses his thumb or index finger to work on releasing blocked energy from the marma points. Beginning with small clockwise circles, the therapist gradually increases both the motion and pressure applied. Traditionally, Ayurvedic medicated oils were used in the massage although essential oils such as lavender, eucalyptus or peppermint are as beneficial today.
A proven beauty ritual for women, this traditional facial uses specific massage techniques and herbal ingredients to cleanse, tone, nourish and hydrate the face. A dosha-specific herbal lepa or plaster is applied to the face to completely cleanse and renew the skin from within.
Known in the west as Indian head massage, champissage is an immensely popular therapy that has been used for centuries in India to treat headaches, muscle tension, eyestrain and a stiff neck. Traditional Indian head massage combines physical massage with the more subtle form of chakra or ‘energy centre’ balancing. With its firm yet gentle rhythm, the massage helps unknot blockages, relieve tension and rebalance the body’s energy with powerful effects. Advocates attest that a regular head massage with natural vegetable oils keeps their hair healthy, shiny and strong, and helps them to maintain an alert and more focused mind.
Samana is the herbal medicine that is routinely prescribed in liquid, powder or tablet form to correct imbalances in the dosha. One of the more commonly used Ayurvedic medicines is triphala, a mixture of three indigenous fruits – amalaki, haritaki and bibbitaki – that is a powerful multi functional rebalancer which can be eaten, used as a shampoo or body wash, taken as a laxative, emetic or snuff for the nose. Aloe vera is excellent for regulating the female monthly cycle as well as calming intestinal pain. It is also the perfect after-sun skin soother as it gently eases pain and swelling. Brahmi (Centella asiatica, and also known as gotu kola) is a powerful dosha balancer and revitaliser. Taken regularly as a tea, this herb strengthens memory improves concentration, physical strength, digestion and brightens the complexion, making the skin more radiant.
Yoga + Meditation
Yoga is both a philosophy and a practice that enables its practitioners to reach a place of deep, lasting peace, harmony and happiness. Originally practised in ancient times by Hindus on their road to enlightenment, today yoga has become a mainstay for those seeking a more centred lifestyle. Practised regularly and correctly, ideally under the supervision of a skilled teacher, yoga is an effective exercise regime that also helps one to maintain a sense of calm amidst life’s stressful moments.
Much of what is known of yoga today is derived from the Yoga Sutra, yoga’s classical and seminal text, written in the 3rd century BC. Focusing primarily on matters of the spirit, the science of yoga consists of eight ‘limbs’: yama (laws of life), niyama (rules for living), asana (the physical postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (the drawing of one’s attention to silence), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (spiritual union). Reaching bliss and peace in samadhi is the ultimate goal.
While all yoga styles seek to balance the body, mind and spirit, they are practised in a variety of ways. It’s a matter of personal preference. Some of the more common styles of yoga widely practised today include Hatha, Ashtanga, Kundalini, Lyengar and Bikram. Regardless of the style chosen, regular practice makes for a strong and supple body.
Meditation is considered by many as the highest form of yoga practice as it calms and quietens the mind like no other routines. When pursued correctly, meditation slows the pulse rate and relaxes the brain, inducing a deep sense of peace and tranquillity. Meditation should take place in a warm and quiet atmosphere, where one is not likely to be interrupted. One should wear loose clothing during meditation. One should also not eat a heavy meal before meditating, or meditate when tired. Meditation should not be forced.