Apr 17th 2010, 00:00

021’s Dawn Kennedy was initiated into ayurvedic massage at the Jiva Grand Spa in the new Taj Hotel. Ayurveda translates as knowledge of life in the Vedic science of health. My Ayurvedic treatment begins with a 30 minute consultation with Dr Hemanth Kumar, who was performing
surgery before relieving stress. As he peers at my pupils, I’m certain that late-night computer sessions and early morning jolts of caffeine are easily visible to his penetrating eye. Based on his observations, Dr Kumar recommends four specific oils to be rubbed onto my body during an
Abhayenga (A bee-yan-ga) treatment. Before the oil is applied, I dress into a dhoti, a traditional Indian loincloth.

Two apron-like strings are tied around my waist and a narrow metre-long cloth is pulled between my legs and tucked in at the back, like a nappy. I’m asked to sit with my eyes closed on the edge of the droni, a traditional treatment table made of neem wood, which is believed to have therapeutic properties. The raised sides of the table are specifically designed to handle lavish use of oil and prevent it – and me – from sliding onto the floor. The treatment begins with the
therapist, Deepika, washing my feet. She explains: “For us, the guest is God.” When finished, she recites a mantra to invite healing into the room. Next, shirobhyanga head and scalp massages. Handy hint: book your visit to the hairdresser after your ayurvedic massage. I’m used to treatments beginning at the feet and working upwards.

A head massage is right up there on my long list of favourite things and getting a scalp rub first is a guilty pleasure that feels like eating the icing before the cake. Deepika works her way over my face and down my body with smooth, flowing strokes. Over the next 90 minutes, I’m turned this way and that, sliding blissfully around on the neem slab like a fish. An ayurvedic treatment is more about applying the oil than massaging the muscles. Deepika rarely presses hard or works deep, but glides consistently over my skin. I melt, and liquefy. At one point I’m surprised when she
pours oil into my ears. Later I discover that this application is restrained compared to some of the more outlandish ayurvedic tricks, such as dhmapana – the introduction of medicated powders into the nasal passages via a straw or tube.

Oil is everywhere, and the smell is not entirely pleasant. I detect a nuance of fried peanut or a tinge of curry; certainly more medicinal and musky than the fruity, floral notes I associate with massage. When I’ve been covered thoroughly with oil, I’m taken into the shower room and bathed like a baby, with a claylike paste rubbed over my body and removed with hot herbal water. I end my treatment with tea in the marble lobby of the Taj hotel, decorated with paintings from Bengal. A tightly bound flower bud arrives with a glass teapot and an old-fashioned timer. The
waiter pops the bud into the transparent teapot and turns the timer upside down. As the sand drips through the funnel, the bud in the tea opens like a sea anemone – a perfect visual metaphor
for the soft openness that I feel after my experience at Jiva. Now I’m ready to welcome the world again.

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