My Panchakarma Experience in Mexico
Ayurveda, the “science of life” in Sanskrit, is more than medicine. It is a roadmap to a “good” life in every sense of the word.
Detoxification & Health Spa Treatments
If you book a stay at Villa Ananda for the “Panchakarma” Ayurvedic treatments and a consultation, you can expect to be quizzed about your medical history, living habits, tastes, dreams, food preferences, propensity to perspire, bowel movements, and a hundred other things… information the practitioners need to identify your general dasha, or physiological and mental makeup. Specific therapies, foods, herbs and oils are then selected based on the individual body type constitution. The idea is that everyone has a blend of vata (air and space, representing, roughly, the nervous system), pitta (fire and water—the enzyme system in modern Western terms), and kapha (water and earth, approximating the nutritive/digestive system).
Detoxification is a key concept at Villa Ananda, and in Panchakarma in general. The detox process aims to rid the body of chemical toxins and cleanse the mind of stress, while re-balancing the dasha. It centers on daily Abhyanga Mardana and Shirodhara massage treatments (I got a four-handed massage treatment on nearly every day I was there) supplemented by other specialized treatments as recommended by the Ayurvedic experts. These extras can include everything from oil-based enemas that you can do in your room, or tea-infused colonic hydrotherapy cleanses, to a dozen specialized massages using dried flowers, herbed ghee (clarified butter), or sesame oil, to herbal steam baths.
If this is beginning to sound too much like a visit to clinic and not enough like a spa experience, don’t be misled. A few days at Villa Ananda would make a great start to a honeymoon. Ayurvedic massage is as hedonistic as it is therapeutic.
The Abhyanga Mardana is done by two therapists working in unison on either side of your body using long, sweeping strokes and precise pressure, and what seems like about a litre of warmed, herbed, sesame oil. Unlike other particularly intense Ayurvedic spas, Villa Ananda does not force you to lie naked on a hard wood table. Instead, you get a luxuriously padded massage bed with sheets. The light is very dim and the music is Indian and hypnotic.
An hour and a half of this leaves you feeling totally relaxed, energized and clear-headed all at the same time. Shirodhara involves an initial massage in similar style, followed by forty-five minutes of something that has to be experienced to be appreciated—as you lie on the massage table, your eyes covered with a cotton cloth, warmed, herbed oil is trickled from a large copper urn onto the middle of your forehead (where your “third eye” is located) until you lose track of time and everything else. The treatment ends with a few minutes in a steam cabinet with more herbs and finally a shower. “Blissful” is an overused adjective, but nothing else quite fits here. The one downside: you can expect to have your hair remain saturated with oil for at least a few days after each treatment.
Because I suffer from occasional migraines, I was prescribed a Nasya treatment, in which face, shoulders and chest are massaged with medicated oils before a few drops of an herbal infusion are placed into the nostrils, followed by a more massage around the nose, forehead and chest. I’m normally a little squeamish about things like this, but the atmosphere was so relaxing and the therapist so practiced and gentle that I found it entirely pleasurable. An Ayurvedic facial (called Ananabhyanga) was also recommended. It lasts three-quarters of an hour, and involves, once again, very specialized massage techniques and oils and creams infused with herbs selected for your particular dosha.
I can speak for the toning and rejuvenating effects of the facial, which are remarkable (I was pleasantly shocked when I looked at myself in the mirror), but whether the fact that I wasn’t bothered by headaches for some time afterward can be attributed to the treatments or not, I can’t say for certain based on my one experience. My strong suspicion is that the treatments do help, just as the detox therapies are said to help even cancer patients recovering from chemotherapy. This is real medicine (recognized by the World Health Organization), despite its gentle pleasures and the absence of side-effects.
Another memorable treatment was the Udwartan Herbal Body Glow treatment. This luxurious treatment stimulates, detoxifies and exfoliates the skin. The treatment began with skin brushing (more about the benefits of skin brushing, and how to do it at home), followed by an herbal and essential oil blend of freshly ground lavender, rose petals, cardamom and oatmeal made especially for my Vata skin type. The dried powder was rubbed into my skin, over my entire body, using rhythmic massage strokes. Finally, the herbs were brushed off and I got to enjoy an Aromatherapy body massage, which ended this glowing experience.