Abigail Butcher unearths some of the best treatments in the land where the 5,000-year-old system of natural healing began
Treatment: Akshi Tarpana
Benefit: This nourishing eye treatment improves vision, removes dark circles and rejuvenates and revitalises tired eyes. It also helps to strengthen the nerves and muscles around the eyes, alleviates strain (typically, from looking at computer screens and bright light) and is said to help prevent the formation of cataracts, as well as cure a host of eye disorders, from chronic conjunctivitis and corneal ulcers to dry eye syndrome.
Process: The therapist applies a dough ring made from black gram flour around the outside of the eyes as you lie back on a massage table. A dosha-specific, lukewarm medicated ghee (clarified butter) is then poured into the ring, over the eyes, until the liquid covers the entire length of the eyelashes. After a pause, you’re asked to blink, opening and closing your eyes for about five minutes — no more — before the ring is removed and oil drained away. The whole treatment lasts around 30 minutes and will leave you with extraordinary clarity of vision. This is quite a strange treatment but works far better than any eye bath — just take care to avoid bright light afterwards.
Where: Ananda in the Himalayas, Uttaranchal. anandaspa.com
Treatment: Ayurvedic Abhyanga
Benefit: An abhyanga massage with shirodhara rejuvenates the mind and body by improving concentration, calming emotions and reducing stress. Abhyanga has been used for thousands of years to benefit sleep patterns and increase longevity, minimising the effects of ageing. Combined with shirodhara, it regulates the nervous system, increasing the body’s suppleness and vitality, as well as renewing inner peace.
Process: Abhyanga involves large amounts of warm ayurvedic oils combined with medicated herbs specific to your dosha type. The body is annointed as the therapist applies long, rhythmical strokes to calm and regulate the circulatory and nervous system. According to ayurvedic medicine, there are seven layers of tissue in the body (dhatus), and abhyanga reaches them all. The signature treatment at The Leela Palace combines abhyanga with shirodhara. Warm, medicated dosha-specific oil is poured continuously onto the forehead. Cotton pads are placed over the eyes, and the thin trickle of oil is re-circulated in a treatment that can last up to an hour, but when joined with abhyanga, takes 30 minutes.
Where: The Leela Palace, Udaipur. theleela.com
Benefit: Ayurvedic powder massage for weight loss.
Process: Traditionally performed by two masseurs using a medicated herbal powder selected according to body type. The masseurs rub the dry, warmed powder in an upward motion — the word ‘udvartana’ refers to upward, elevated strokes (the opposite direction to conventional massage). Udwarthanam cleanses and nourishes the skin and increases blood circulation, skin condition and tone, as well as increasing fat metabolism and reducing cellulite by ‘melting’ subcutaneous fat. The treatment is a deep-tissue massage, where the powder is forcibly rubbed against the direction of the hair follicles in seven different body positions for a specific length of time. If the masseurs get a little rough, say so, but it’s not meant to be comfortable. In its classic form, udwarthanam is performed once or twice a day over a seven- or 14-day period for around 45 minutes and is always followed by a steam bath — possibly the nicest part of the treatment. Although not enjoyable at the time, you’ll feel amazing afterwards.
Where: Kalari Kovilakom in Kerala. kalarikovilakom.com
Benefit: Healing for the nervous system through the release of physical and emotional tension. The body and mind are returned to a state of balance, with heightened spiritual awareness. The treatment also helps to boost blood and
Process: The aim is to use chakra and sound healing to activate and channel the kundalini (the dormant, primal energy at the base of the spine). The therapist uses cupped hands over the body’s seven chakras — base, water, fire, heart, throat, third eye, and crown — from the bottom of the body to the top. In doing so, the she is tapping into energy fields. Sound from the cupping is also used to create a surge of energy from the base to the crown. There’s a massage element, too, using ancient techniques combined with dosha-specific ayurvedic oils, but it’s massage with a light touch — not the conventional pressure-focused release of physical tension and flushing of toxins. The entire treatment process lasts around an hour and is profoundly nurturing.
Where: Ila Only Spa, Raas, Jodphur. raasjodhpur.com