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by Bob Samborski

Mummified with heavy soft towels from neck to toe, I realized I was staring vacantly at the thatched roof above. Was the ceiling fan rotating, or was it me?

Soft sitar music filled the air, competing with sandalwood and herbal oils for sensory attention. The indiscretions of the previous several days oozed out of every pore and found a spot among the dense fibers, adding to the weight of the towels. It was halftime of my ayurvedic massage.

Ayurveda, India’s traditional medicine and ancient health maintenance system, includes a variety of massages to correct biorhythms and align your being with nature. The exquisite Kumarakom Lake Resort near Kottayam in the extreme southeastern Indian state of Kerala includes an Ayurvedic clinic with a full range of services, and I had arranged for a consultation.

It began with an Ayurvedic doctor taking my pulse. She considered my responses to her questions about general health and various body functions, factored in her observations of "body type" (kapha, pitta, or vata), and made her diagnosis. "I suggest the Sirodhara treatment to follow a regular massage," she said. "It’s for people who have stress, are nervous, or who are losing their minds."

I had survived the hour-long "regular" massage, administered by two experts who pummeled, rubbed, squeezed, and stretched me into an oiled, quivering mass. Uncertain to what extent I qualified for this second treatment, I waited on a low wooden stool to be called into the adjacent bamboo-lined room where my mind would be fixed. No sense rushing this.

My daydream was interrupted when a tall tripod rolled past. Time for the second installment. Reclining on the table again, a rolled up towel was wedged under my neck, arching my head back. A large metallic funnel with a small cork in the bottom was hooked by a chain to the tripod, its tip positioned above the middle of my forehead. A pot of hot herbal oil was emptied into the funnel. When the cork was removed, the hot oil met my skin in a thin, very warm stream, running off through my hair into a receptacle somewhere. A whole hour of this!? I wasn’t sure I could make it.

After a few minutes, an unseen hand guided the funnel slowly back and forth across the length of my forehead. Figure 8s began, precise and methodic. By this point, eyes closed, I was watching the path of the oil in neon colors on the inside of my forehead. Suddenly, the hot oil stopped and a warm towel was wrapped around my head. Incredibly, an hour had passed. I was released from my cocoon and strong hands helped me sit up. When it was determined I wouldn’t fall over, I was ushered into the shower.

A short time later, sitting on the deck of a local dhow that had floated to a stop in Vembanad Lake, I leisurely awaited the sunset with a group from the resort. My hair had assumed the texture of a seeding dandelion ball, flowing in the warm evening breeze. With an iceless vodka and tonic in hand, I half expected a steaming sizzle as an impossibly huge, red-orange sun, wavy in the heat, met the lake’s placid powder blue horizon. Silhouettes of cormorant fishermen appeared against a darkening sky, now starting to assume the same color as the water. A sitar and tabla provided the perfect soundtrack.

I began to anticipate the sumptuous South Indian buffet awaiting in the open air dining room on shore. A final toss of vodka, and I pronounced myself totally sane.

For your own Ayurvedic sanity treatment and a pampered escape: 


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