First: a disclaimer. If you are faint of heart or fond of fancy-schmancy, this spa might give you a bit of a jolt. The Birla Kerala Vaidyashala (formerly known as the Kerala Ayurvedic Health Spa) takes spartan to a whole new level. The Marine Lines branch of the spa, tucked away under a busy flyover, is austere almost to a fault. There is no mood lighting to prettify the space or ambient muzak to lull you to sleep. The barebones rooms have little else apart from a traditional, wooden bed and a functional, attached bathroom. You don’t come here for a taste of paradise. You come here to be scrubbed down by powerful hands before returning to the hurly-burly of your life.
Meeting your kneads
Before you choose a treatment, you can consult the in-house Ayurvedic doctor who helps you pick one to suit your lifestyle and body type. I decided to try the sarvakaya abhyanga or a full-body massage with medicated oils. This treatment, which is administered simultaneously by two therapists, is said to be ideal for those with a largely sedentary lifestyle. It is believed to stimulate blood circulation, reduce muscle stiffness and flush out toxins.
Eager for some good karma, I entered the room where I was greeted by the two therapists who would take me through the next — edifying — hour. It was here, in the presence of both therapists that I would learn the disconcerting truth — that for the next hour, my modesty would be upheld by a langot flimsier than a fig leaf. It is to the credit of the reassuring therapists that it took me only a few moments to feel at ease.
The therapy started with lots of warm oil being daubed on my back. Suddenly, I was back in time to my childhood, when the only consolation for waking up early on festive days was the anticipation of a warm oil rub down. This feeling of reassuring familiarity would stay with me throughout the treatment.
With their powerful forearms, the therapists seemed to iron out every muscle in the body. Their hands moved in perfect unison on either side of my body. Starting with the torso and moving on to my lower body, they used broad, circular strokes that I have no doubt did wonders to my circulatory system.
Locked in the present
Ayurveda’s efficacy stems from the fact that it is grounded in a sound understanding of the body. These treatments don’t so much provide you an escape vent as they lock you powerfully in the present. I never drifted off at any point during my treatment — at all times, I was aware that my body was being kneaded and pummelled into better shape.
Surprisingly, an hour flew by in double quick time. After I’d been turned over, worked on and effectively turned to putty, it was time for a shower. This was no rain shower in a glass cubicle: it was a bucket bath with trusty Medimix soap. After I got over my initial horror at being scrubbed down by a therapist, I let go and began to rather enjoy myself. The final moment was also the most memorable: she heaved a quarter bucket of warm water and dunked it on my back. I could have been seven again.