Through an array of practices, Ayurveda seeks to maintain overall good health
by Rob Zukowski
When I see our options for my own healing and wellness, I am a firm believer that I should branch out and explore the wide range of possibilities that exist. I am also a firm believer that wellness is not just a straight and narrow path. As I have said before, I am a full-on fan of traditional, conventional western medicine. However, I also think it is highly beneficial to explore healing and wellness options that fall outside my usual routine, personal knowledge, and scope of practice. Recently, I have had the opportunity to delve into some Ayurvedic medicine. The practice is called Ayurveda for short and it is considered one of the oldest whole body healing systems in the world. It is said to have been developed between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago in India.
Ayurveda fits well into the “whole perspective” theme of this column as it is based on the idea that your overall health and your greater wellness come from an essential balance between the mind, the body, and the spirit. The goal of Ayurveda is not to fight disease, but to promote overall good health. However, depending on your specific ailments, the treatments you receive may be specifically geared towards your individual health concerns, goals, and problems. With an experienced practitioner, you will receive a Siddha diagnosis. This is a pulse reading which is used to determine problems and imbalances.
There are many different aspects to Ayurveda: panchakarma, for example. The word panchakarma comes from two root words—pancha which means five, and karma which means action. Within panchakarma there are five different treatments, hence the name. It is an in-depth detoxification treatment involving massage, herbal therapy, nutrition, and other procedures. It was explained to me as fresh start or a reboot of the mind, the body and spirit. I have yet to delve into the entire panchakarma program, which I look forward to doing, but I did start with something called Shiro Abhyanga.
Shiro Abhyanga is an Indian Ayurvedic head massage that focuses on the shoulders, neck, face and head. These are areas that often tend to be the most vulnerable to stress and tension that we face. This treatment brings about a feeling of relaxation, peacefulness and calm. In addition, it promotes increased levels of alertness and concentration. In my experience with more western-based massage of the head, face, scalp, and shoulders, a minimal amount of oil is used. That is not the case with Shiro Abhyanga. During the treatment, oil will be kept for a suitable period on the head of the client. This is called Moordha taila, or, the oiling of the head. There are four different types of oil use, application and/or process. Shirobhyanga is the anointing the head with oil, shirovasti is a process where the oil is kept on the head with a holder, shirahapichu refers to the process of keeping a cloth dipped in oil on the head, and finally shirodara or shirahsheka is simply pouring oil on the head. Common massage oil or gel is not used in this practice. Many practitioners use an herbalized sesame oil, but other oils or liquids, such as coconut oil, olive oil, milk or even buttermilk are used.
In Ayurvedic head massage there is also a focus on marmas. Marmas are also commonly known as life centers or energy points. It is said to be where energy is stored and processed for use in the mind, body, and spirt. In Ayurvedic medicine there are 108 marmas said to be dispersed around the body. Twelve of the marmas are classified as vital life centers and six of those vital life centers live in the head and neck region.
Head massage can help the whole body. Yes, oiling and massaging the head is good for the scalp and hair. In addition, it is helpful with eye strain, which is common in a world where we stare at screens all day, it helps with achy jaws, that could arise from TMJ, and can be helpful with some sinus conditions. Massage of the head is also helpful with lymphatic drainage and to increase the flow of cerebro-spinal fluids, which can help strengthen the nervous system. It can be helpful to improve the circulation of blood, to oxygenate the brain and help release toxins. Ayurvedic head massage is especially useful when dealing with anxiety, chronic fatigue, coeliac disease, colitis, constipation, Crohn’s disease, depression, diarrhea, headaches, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, insomnia, pain relief, peptic ulcers, and stress.
As always, I urge you to explore the wide range of wellness opportunities and remind you to always see licensed and trained practitioners.
Rob Zukowski is a New York State licensed Massage Therapist, a Certified Medical Massage Therapist and is certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. In addition, he has advanced training in Sports Massage and sports-related injuries, various relaxation therapies, and massage for oncology. His experience includes working in medical facilities, corporate health environments, wellness centers, and spas. In addition to his hands-on work, he is a writer, manages a wellness center, arranges corporate wellness events, works in private practice and lectures in the field of therapeutic massage therapy. You can contact him directly at [email protected].