Friday, January 19, 2007

Sampling Ayurvedic Treatment

Ayurvedic treatment clinics and hospitals abound along the coast of southern Kerala, within each community they are attached to numerous resorts, attracting tourists for one to twenty eight day stays with various treatment packages. A legitimate clinic will have an Ayurvedic doctor in charge and offer massage and herbal medicine treatments. An initial consultation with the doctor who will go through a series of questions to diagnose your disease or whatever ails you. She will then prescribe a specific treatment. For example, for shoulder arthritis a poultice of turmeric, lemon and sometimes fenugreek in heated coconut oil to be lightly pounded along your naked body while you are lying on a massage table. For some ailments a hot steam hose is gently sprayed after the oil massage, for others a steam bath with only your head above the wooden box is prescribed. Yet another treatment is warm oil dripped from slowly on your forehead as you lie prone on a table. Warm oil with various herbs is the mark of an Ayervedic massage. Some tables are wooden, looking something like an oval embalming table with a trough and lip bordering the sides to keep the oil contained. Other tables are the more typical standard massage table covered in thick vinyl that westerns are used to seeing. (That is, if you are a massage affectionato.) Regardless, you need to check the facilities each time for cleanliness, because standards vary and some are filthy with dirty towels and enough leftover oil on the table to be deep fried. Other tables are clean in an antiseptic hospital clinic type room, complete with drab painted green walls.

The doctor at one of many Ayurvedic resorts in Yarmaka, a relaxed tourist beach hang out built out of coconut palm plantations on a cliff overlook the Arabian sea with scores of Aryvedic treatment centers, sat at her desk in her neatly wrapped sari and questioned my general health. For a sore back she had a specific treatment in mind, but when I revealed that we were staying only for two more days, her eye brow arched, she tried to hide her slight disgust and suggested two back massages. When I asked, “for one hour?” as is typical for most treatments, her eye brow arched again, and she replied, “Half body, half hour massage.” Two half body massages later at 300 rupees each, the back feels pretty good. The exchange rate is roughly 45 rupees per US dollar. Anjee, one of the massage therapists is one of four who works for the good doctor’s clinic. She spent one year in a massage school in Kochi, up the coast. Now she takes two busses for one hour each way from her home 20 km away from the clinic and says she does seven massages on a normal day. A tour group from France was expected the next day so she would be busier.

During three nights at the Sivananda Ashram, which also had an Ayurvedic doctor and massage therapists, we met three young men from Kerala enrolled in a yoga teacher training with about 160 others from Europe, Iran and the Americas. They had just finished a year long course in hotel management and had stopped on at the ashram for a month long yoga teacher’s certificate training. A certificate and English, the language of business seems to be a perquisite for a decent paying job. Malayalam is the language of Kerala and many people are bi or tri lingual, Hindi being the legal national language.

On the road, or boat, again looking for that next massage further north on the Malabar Coast.

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