I realize that by writing about today's Ayurvedic experience I'm jumping ahead of the story, which I plan to tell in some semi-linear way when I get home. (Here in India, it's been very hard to get a reliable internet connection even though we've been staying in "nice" hotels... I'll probably fill you in more on that later. Anyway, it made blogging-as-I-go totally unfeasible. Right now, I'm at the Abad Whispering Palms in Kumarkom, a fairly shmancy place - in fact probably the nicest place we've stayed at so far - in a town with nothing to do except visit the bird sanctuary, which we're doing at the crack of dawn tomorrow. The internet connection here is reliable -- reliably slow, that is, but it seems to work for more than ten minutes at a time so I'm risking this entry with cautious optimism.)
I just came from my Ayurvedic massage. In truth, I wouldn't have done it at all, except for two things; first, like I said, there's nothing else to do right now except sit around and "relax," which is sometimes hard for me to do, and secondly, it's cheap. Even at a fancy hotel where we're paying almost comparable to U.S. prices, the full-body massage is 900 rupees. If you were here, you'd know that that is outlandishly expensive and equates to about $20. Elsewhere, this could cost 200-500 rupees, but we splurged just to get the Ayurvedic experience in Kerala as opposed to back in the States or not at all.
So, TJ and I decided to both go for it, even though I was recovering from a sunburn from the Goa "snorkling boat trip" (which was great except that there was no snorkling at all, but I digress). Since the first half of our trip was devoted to attending Abby and Ashu's wedding in Pune, and the second half was nominally our "real" honeymoon, we haven't shyed away from trying to get luxurious this week. (I'll write more later about how sometimes it can be difficult to "get luxurious" in India even if you are willing to pay, as exemplified by our houseboat trip yesterday.)
So in the name of honeymooning, we got the full-body massage and TJ added on an additional 45-minute Sirodhara* treatment. He's still in his, while I just got out of mine and am ready to recount the experience.
I was curious going into it how a South Indian ayurvedic massage might differ from the classic American version of the Swedish deep-tissue thing we usually get back home. I've had maybe six massages in my life, at various occasions, and I can tell you that even in the most intimate cases, there's a level of distance between the masseuse/masseur and the client. For example, someone will show you your room, and then leave while you take off your things and get under the sheet. Then, although they may do scandalous things like touch your butt, they do them one at a time and then replace that body part under the sheet. If you flip over, you do so under the sheet. It's very decorous.
When I went in for today's massage, I came into a room where a nice young lady basically indicated that I should take it all off and lie down on a table. No sheet! In fact, she just stood there, waiting. "Ok," I thought, "I can go with this." I lay down on the fiberglass table, which was not like a standard padded massage table covered by a sheet, and more like an autopsy table. In fact, I felt like I was about to be autopsied except for having walked in off the street and not come in cold in a bag. I wonder if autopsy tables are flat, or if they are crowned in the middle like this one, with a curb all around the edges to catch the liquids?
It soon became clear why the curb was needed - this massage was more about covering me with large quantities of warm oil and rubbing me. Not kneading me, the way one would expect in a western massage, but rubbing me the way you'd rub your skin if you were trying to get warmer. I think it's all about increasing circulation and lymphatic flow or something.
She started with my face and then moved to my scalp. If she had been an American person, I would have joked around about how my thick hair was going to take more oil than she had in her pot. As it was, I didn't say anything, but I closed my eyes and envisioned the likely appearance of my head. She was rubbing this stuff in as if she were trying to give me dreds! I was cringing-slash-enjoying it.
The rest of the massage was more rubbing with oils. The oil smelled a lot like dinner, which made me feel
a lot like dinner. In fact, I felt that if you spit-roasted me right there (literally, not in the Paul Hamilton sense) I'd be extremely tender and tasty. (SIDEBAR: I've noticed that a lot of things in India smell like dinner - for example, breakfast smells like dinner, lunch smells like dinner, and sometimes dessert smells like dinner. I'm really starting to get sick of both sweet and savory things that smell like dinner. You know what I want right now? I want a hippie salad with romaine, red potatos, garbanzos, kidney beans, sprouts, boiled egg, plain tuna, olives, lemon juice and salt and THAT'S IT. No cardamom! No CUMIN, for god's sake, no more CUMIN!!! Ok, I'm done fantasizing for now.)
I'm smelling like dinner, and she's massaging. To make a short story short, a full-body massage here apparently means that they massage everything they can see without an endoscope. 'Nuff said.
After that, I got into one of those boxes that you only see in 1950s weight-loss magazine ads, the kind where you sit in it and they close the doors and slide a piece over the top so only your head is sticking out, then they steam you. I was starting to get concerned, knowing I'm not supposed to raise my body temperature that much during pregnancy, but I was really only in there for five minutes. Finally, top the whole thing off with a shower, where you try in vain to get most of the oil off you. Then, you get something more rubbed into the part of your hair, and finaly some sandalwood placed between your eyes and at the base of your neck. And voila! You're cured of what ails you.
I don't regret doing it, but it was, you know, not a life-changing experience. In fact, it got a little boring. I think I'm becoming more and more like my mother in that things that are nominally relaxing and meditative are tending to make me itch a little as time goes on. This morning, I met a girl named Salima who had come from a 2-week cleanse in Bangalore, where she was massaged thrice weekly between accupuncture treatments, yoga classes, and enemas. Bah! I couldn't do it. I like the idea of feeling renewed by such a thing, but I'd last a few days tops.
Right now, Irish Lady is waiting to use this portal into the international world at large (the internet terminal) so I'm signing off. I hope to fill you in with more juicy bits when I arrive at home! It's not too late to tell me if you want anything from India - want me to bring you a little elephant statue? Or one of those crazy dolls with the ebony fingernails? Or a beautiful Saree you'll never figure out when to wear? Just let me know, I'll do my best.
* SIRODHARA ~ Ayurvedic forehead oil flow treatment - Luke warm herb-infused Ayurvedic oil is gently and steadily poured over the forehead in a continuous stream using a special rhythmic swaying movement, while a gentle massage is given also on the forehead. This results in a fantastic sense of deep relaxation and inner peace; highly effective in removing mental stress and anxieties, in treating insomnia and headaches and improves memory.