Festival founders Ram and Sonali Banerjee continue to lead us through their Ayurvedic retreat diary.
Abhyanga (oil massage) is an individually prepared herbal-oil massage designed to deeply penetrate the skin, relax the mind-body, break up impurities, and stimulate both arterial and lymphatic circulation. It enhances the ability of nutrients to reach starved cells and allows for the removal of stagnant waste. The desired result is a heightened state of awareness that will direct the internal healing system of the body.
The massage is the hallmark of Ayurvedic treatment, but seeing it and experiencing it are two completely different things. One of the two masseurs came to our cottage to escort me to the therapy room with its gigantic wooden bed in the middle. On the wall was a statue of Lord Dhanwanthari, the presiding deity of Ayurveda.
I was fully clothed and now came the tricky matter of exactly how much clothing they expected me to remove! Off came the shirt and trousers, what now? This was my introduction to the loincloth. It’s a word everyone knows, they know what it covers, but EXACTLY what is it? Well it’s a piece of cotton cloth which has had two one inch strips partially torn from it that are tied behind you and the rest of the material taken back through your legs to be tucked into the tied waistband. Voila, a simple but very effective and inexpensive gadget to protect your - and more importantly my - dignity.
A prayer to Lord Dhanwanthari was then chanted to ensure that the massage was performed correctly and be of therapeutic benefit. I was asked to sit down on a stool and given the most amazing head massage with oil, followed by a face massage including ears, eyebrows, cheeks. Nothing was left out and was finished with a massage of the neck and shoulders. Logical really, since while lying down, these areas would be hard to massage fully.
I was then seated on the side of the bed while my feet were cleaned to remove any dirt or dust – no reason to rub that into my body! I then sat as they poured warm medicated sesame oil over my chest legs and back. The first strokes are to distribute the oil evenly over the skin, then comes the four-handed massage in a symmetrical series of movements either side of my body. It is like a dance with smooth choreographed movements timed to perfection. I had no role to play as they lay me down to massage the front and then onto each side to massage the back. For those that are interested, your gluteus maximus muscles do get a massage but not their more sensitive front cousins!!
The 45-minute massage is followed by a 2-minute rest while they prepare hot water for bathing. Trying to get up from the table when fully ‘oiled up’ makes you feel like a cross between a mud wrestler and a beached whale. Eventually seated with your legs dangling from the edge your feet are wiped so that you may walk unaided to the adjoining bathroom to try to get the oil off.
At home, the cooker is normally degreased with some sort of liquid from a squeezy bottle but no such thing 5000 years ago instead you are introduced to a bowl of green paste. Having confirmed that I was not expected to eat it, they proceeded to show me that the coarse green gram flower paste is a perfect de-greaser, which handily doubles up to exfoliate the skin. Miraculously, all the oil came off and one felt like a shiny new penny fresh out of vinegar only smoother.
After dressing, a ritualistic placement of vindi of white and red power on the centre of the forehead is followed by a quick rub of a dried root powder on the top of the scalp and 3 sniffs of the same - to ward off colds apparently.
I had survived my first Abhyanga and I was pretty pleased with the result and especially pleased that at least half my dignity was intact! Sonali’s experience was a little more severe since the loincloth did not extend beyond the waist and was removed entirely while a lady bathed her afterwards! Giggles aside, it was a comprehensive massage and as we got home we both felt the better for it.
We were exchanging our experiences when a knock at the door at 6pm signaled the delivery of our medication. Four individual cups or sweet wrappers each with a label signifying its intended recipient and the time of administration. Mine read 6pm, AFD, BT and 6am while Sonali’s read 6pm, AFD, 6am and AB. It was explained that AFD was after dinner, BT was bedtime and AB was after breakfast. The 6pm was consumed immediately. It was a herbal concoction neither pleasant or unpleasant.
Dinner was delivered to us at 7.30 and consisted of a bowl of vermicelli with lentil soup. Very little salt but luckily there was a saltcellar (rock salt and not sea salt since sea salt is not good for the eyes apparently). We were whacked from our flight and needed to get to bed but Sonali, through the kindness of her heart, reminded me that I still had one more medication to take before bed.
If any of you have tasted the under scrapings of a rowing boat that had been on a stagnant pond for many years, well this was 100 times worse! They have the audacity to call it ‘Jam’. Made up of 52 types of leaves, it is the ultimate in rejuvenation, if it doesn’t kill you first with its taste!
Thus ended the first day. We had arrived, survived and were now comfortably in bed ready for whatever tomorrow would bring. Goodnight!