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Ayurveda magic
Viva Sarah Press
At the Somatheeram Beach Resort, Aryuvedic Hospital and Yoga Center.

While having hot oil poured onto your forehead might not sound enticing, let me confirm that it is one of the most relaxing processes to which I've ever subjected myself. Known as Sirodhara -- in Sanskrit 'sira' means head, 'dhara' is the continuous follow of liquid -- this process is the most renowned of ayurvedic treatments.

Ayurveda, meaning the science of life, is a philosophy unique to India. This medical tradition taken from the Hindu culture is said to date back over 5000 years. Its aim is to ascertain peak health – spiritually, mentally and physically – in every living being.

According to ayurveda it is important to maintain the balance between the three bodily essences, or 'doshas': pitta (bile), vatta (wind) and kapha (phlegm). Kapha, potential energy, is linked with lymph and mucus. Vatta, kinetic energy, is associated with the nervous system and movement. Pitta mediates between these two forces and is connected with digestive and metabolic processes.
Aryuvedic hospitals/treatment centers are especially prominent in the South Indian state of Kerala. Nearly every storefront and tour operator offers aryuvedic massages. Although Ellen, a traveler I met along the way, had suggested I go to the Somatheeram resort near the beach-town of Kovalam, I opted to have a massage in Cochin as the price better suited my "on the cheap" budget. I would come to regret this decision. The oil drenching - termed 'massage'– was dreadful.
However, because Ellen had raved about the treatments she received I decided to give aryuveda another shot – this time forgoing my backpacker budget and pampering myself at the acclaimed Somatheeram Beach Resort, Aryuvedic Hospital and Yoga Center.
My three days there were well worth the splurge.

Located atop a hill, Somatheeram overlooks a white-sand crowd-free beach and seemingly endless palm tree groves. It effuses tranquility - something rare in India.
In addition to the Sirodhara therapy, I also tried Urovasthi (a process said to be an effective treatment for asthma whereby medicated oil was kept over my chest for 45 minutes at a time) and their rejuvenation massage (in which my body was smothered in oils and massaged by hand and foot).
Before my treatments, the physicians on staff checked my pulse and blood pressure. Then, after a quick questionnaire, diagnosed my body makeup as vatta-kapha. I was given a list of foods I could eat, and those to avoid.

The resort is best known for its rejuvenation and body purification remedies, but it also offers programs for spine and neck care, slimming, and stress management, among others.
While I thought the treatments were expensive for my backpacker funds – which I'm trying to stretch from a 12-month budget to 19-months on the road – the therapies are actually very reasonable. At Somatheeram, massages range from US$9-24.
With such affordable treatments and helpful staff it's no wonder the resort has won the Best Ayurvedic Center Award from the Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala, four years in a row. I'd highly recommend a visit.

© Viva Sarah Press November 2002
17 months and counting...

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