‘Modernizing’ Ancient Ayurvedic Treatments
These days, most savvy spa-goers have experienced Shirodhara the Ayurvedic application of warm herbal oil to one’s forehead, and many more have tried Tui Na, Shiatsu, and Thai Massage, all of which have roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Increasingly, these once ‘exotic’ ayurvedic treatments have become almost standard offerings, and in response, spas are digging deeper into Far Eastern traditions to create more therapeutic and truly healing services.
Historically, TCM and Ayurveda (Sanskrit for “the science of life”) were developed from a quest for wellness, from the desire to treat and prevent disease. Indeed, early texts date back thousands of years, well before the advent of allopathic medicine. Thanks to the efficacy of these early forms of medicine and the diligence of dedicated practitioners throughout the ages, these once crude concepts have been elevated into a kind of art. Acupuncture, Ayurveda, and other branches of Eastern medicine have been exported from China and India to the far corners of the earth. And though Western medicine has largely approached these ancient sciences with caution and even skepticism, their popularity and proven techniques have made concepts like doshas, meridians, and qi household words.
In the last decade or so, these ancient therapies have branched out from clinics and into day and destination spas all over the planet. As the spa industry has blossomed, so too has a desire to offer discriminating clients services that are relaxing and therapeutic. “In the future, the modern spa will provide services and resources to their client community that will allow them to achieve the highest level of sustainable personal transformation in all aspects of their daily lives physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional,” says Robert MacDonald, director of healing at Exhale Spa. Both TCM and Ayurveda have been veritable gold mines for results-based spa treatments. When it comes to these age-old rituals, it seems that beauty is not just skin deep.
One of the many principles that TCM (the foundation of acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion, meridian theory, and much more) and Ayurveda share is that balance is a critical component of health. In Chinese medicine, this means that qi (energy) is flowing freely and evenly throughout the body’s meridians, while in Ayurveda, good health means that one’s doshas are in balance. These doctrines speak not only to matters of physical health and wellness as we commonly view them in the West, but to emotional, spiritual, psychological, and karmic balance as well. Illness and disease are the products of imbalance, and in order for health to return, equilibrium must be restored.
What the ever-evolving spa industry has discovered is that these highly therapeutic treatments can be adapted to the treatment room with compelling results. Techniques like cupping are providing clients with an alternative to deep tissue massage, while offering therapists an effective, hand-sparing tool for addressing tension, stagnation, and tissue adhesions.
Acupuncture is teaming up with esthetics for surgery-free face-lifts and with massage to mutually increase and lengthen the effects of both treatments. Meanwhile, Ayurvedic wisdom is finding its way onto spa menus from traditional offerings like Pizichilli (a kind of full-body Shirodhara with a four-handed massage), to Mandarin Oriental New York’s Ama Releasing Abhyanga, which features Marma point massage, healing herbal oils, and an Oriental head massage.
Though Ayurveda has long been a source and inspiration for treatments, more and more spas are going beyond Shirodhara to offer dosha-specific therapies for their clients. At Sundara Inn & Spa in Wisconsin, clients fill out a questionnaire prior to their treatment to help them and their therapist determine their constitution. The services, including Marma massage and Vedic Facials, are then customized to their specific needs.
Other spas, like Spa Moksha in Birmingham have created entire menus around Ayurvedic services. These spas offer a range of treatments from the luxurious Pizichilli to the more vigorous and detoxifying Vishesh a four-handed friction massage usually followed by the application of hot towels (to encourage the elimination of waste) as well as lifestyle consultations and education.
The Chopra Center in Southern California offers five traditional Ayurvedic treatments rolled into one with their Odyssey Enlivening Therapy. Guests are introduced to Garshana (an exfoliation), Abhyanga, Vishesh, Marma massage, and aromatherapy all in a span of 35 to 75 minutes!