Ayurveda is a traditional style of medicine which uses completely natural treatments and emphasizes a balanced lifestyle. Although predominantly associated with India, it’s massively popular in Sri Lanka, where you can’t walk a block without finding another ayurvedic dispensary or clinic. Ayurveda has also gained a foothold in Europe and, predictably, an unending line of hotels and spas in Sri Lanka (always quick to capitalize on tourists) have started to offer ayurvedic vacations from a week to a month long.
I’m skeptical of alternative medicine, but ayurveda has such a long history and so many practitioners that it’d be folly to completely dismiss it. With over 3500 years of practice, refinement and experience, ayurveda’s tenets are certainly well-tested. Much of it is common-sense and impossible to refute — healthy living, hygiene, balanced diet — but other aspects are more peculiar.
Ayurveda teaches that there are three basic types of people: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata-types are delicate and easily excitable. Pitta are sensitive people with an average build, who can easily maintain their weight, and have sharp, yellow teeth (?!) The Kapha are large, oily people with a strong constitution. Depending on your type, you must concentrate on various areas of health and watch out for diseases to which you’re especially susceptible. For example, I was told that I’m a Pitta, and so must limit the amount of salt I eat, and avoid over-heating.
I received my diagnosis from an authority: the resident doctor at the Wedamedura Clinic in Kandy. Aching and exhausted from our busy first few weeks in Sri Lanka, we decided to award ourselves with Wedamedura’s “Full Treatment”. For two and a half blissful hours, our bodies were poked, rubbed, prodded and dripped upon.
It began with an extremely thorough full-body massage; head, face, feet, toes, arms, back, shoulders, chest and stomach (you might be thinking to yourself that a “stomach massage” sounds awful; you’d be right). Afterwards, we were set in front of large bowls of hot water and oil and, with towels draped on our heads, made to inhale the steam. This was rough, but my face and throat felt great afterwards.
Then I was brought into a separate room and made to lay down on a table. My eyes were covered and hot oil was dripped onto my forehead, while my captors cackled together in an unintelligible tongue behind me. Sounds like a torture scene out of some bad 80s flick, but this was my introduction to shirodhara massage. And I loved it. For roughly five minutes, a variety of hot oils were poured slowly out onto the middle of my forehead. By gently massaging the “third eye” (think of the Hindu’s forehead dot), shirodhara relaxes the muscles in the brain and head. The warm oil spreading into my hair felt like a scalp massage from ghost fingers.
The treatment ended with a steam bath, a strong shower, and a checkup with the doctor. She remarked that my blood pressure was “excellent” — after a deeply relaxing 150-minute massage, I would hope so.
We loved our experience at Wedamedura. Unlike many (in fact, almost all) of the packages offered by Sri Lanka’s various resorts and hotels, this a legitimately ayurvedic place, with a staff trained and licensed in the practice. In addition to massages of varying lengths, they offer week-long ayurvedic vacations which encompass everything from yoga and diet, to sightseeing around Kandy.
So, ayurveda. I don’t know. The massage was incredible, and now that I’ve learnt my “type”, I think I’ll have to do a bit more research. Although I can’t imagine myself gnawing on tree bark anytime soon, there’s surely a lot of practical wisdom to be gleaned from this ancient system of medicine.