India Lesson #5: Continue to Relax into What's Happening

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First Abhyanga Treatment

I am not a terribly modest person by nature. Coming from California I’m used to de-robing and stepping into a hot tub with friends and new acquaintances. But here in India, my usual uninhibited self feels modest and almost shy about showing any skin.

Revealing any shoulder or leg skin is frowned upon in general, and especially in Muslim  areas. It’s simply not done by the multitudes of Indian women I’ve seen. It seems the mid-drift is the only area on the body that is ok to reveal – at least within Hindu culture.

You can imagine my surprise when I was called to my first Abhyanga massage, given by Dr. Sastry, a 30-something year old man, and handed a long piece of stiff white clothe with two strings attached to one end. He held it up and I looked at him with a question in the tilt of my head. 

“Loin clothe.” He said with a kind look on his face.

“I see,” I thought. I’m supposed to wrap this little piece of clothe between my legs, tie it from behind and come out practically naked. 

“Ok.” I said.

I put on the requisite article of clothing to cover my privates. When I emerged from the bathroom, he gestured with his arm for me to lie on the pink fiberglass table.

“Face up.”

“OK.” I scrambled to reconcile the plethora of feelings running through me in a moment’s time. I felt the twinge of shyness, the teenage embarrassment that this strange man was not only going to see me half-naked, but was going to be massaging me with oil all over my body. I took a few deep breaths to relax into the moment, reminding myself that he’s a doctor and we all have bodies.  But the twinges of discomfort poured into the nooks and crannies of my psyche mainly because I couldn’t quite reconcile the intense modesty in India with the openness of the Ayurvedic treatment.

I lay myself down on the hard table, face up while he lit a candle, turned on some chanting music and then began the treatment. He gently placed one hand on the crown of my head, his other hand on my inner thigh to ground the top and bottom of the chakras while softly chanting a mantra, invoking a higher power.

As I lay there, I, too, said a little prayer, setting my own intention that they whole PanchaKarma treatment would bring about clarity, greater healthy, rejuvenation, and joy.

He began pouring the warm medicated oil in circles around my navel, then around each breast, up and down each arm and then down each leg. Slowly he worked the oil into my body with circular emotions around the belly and breasts, and with long strokes up and down the arms and legs. I felt myself relaxing into the experience. When he was done with the front side, he tapped me lightly on the arm to have me flip over.

Easier said than done when covered with oil. I was like a slippery fish. The warm oil felt luxurious as he poured it over the backside of my body.

Twenty five minutes later I was done with the oil portion. He told me to wait 5 minutes for the following treatment, which was a medicated warm water drizzle to be poured all over the front and back of the body in specific motions. 

I found myself dropping into an almost trance like state as Papa G (Dr. Sastry’s father) drizzled the water on me. The two treatments took about an hour, and to be honest they felt fairly benign. Once done, Sumitra, one of the assistants, guided me to the bathroom where two hot buckets of water awaited me for a shower.

Breakfast followed, and after breakfast I lay down for a short nap. 

I didn’t get up until lunch. As I napped I felt a buzzing energy moving through my body and at the same time, felt like I’d been infused with melatonin and couldn’t move any of my limbs. I had a deep sleep.

This was all on day one. I was curious to see how the three week treatment would unfold.