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Ayurveda, Balance, and Bliss
Ayurveda is everywhere in Kerala—in spas, beauty parlors, hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes, and on supermarkets shelves—and most hotels in the area offer treatments and packages. Ayurvedic doctors and masseurs team up with yoga and meditation instructors to optimize your physical and spiritual well-being, but if a package sounds like ayurvedic overload, a simple massage will prove to be both invigorating and relaxing.
Ayurveda's Deep Roots
It may be trendy, but there's nothing new about ayurveda. This holistic belief system, which roughly means "knowledge of life" in Sanskrit, has been practiced for about 4,000 years. It has become linked with Kerala in particular thanks to the region's tropical climate and wealth of medicinal herbs, and its therapeutic powers are said to peak during the cool, wet monsoon season—an added advantage to tourism professionals wanting to boost off-season trade.
The purpose of ayurveda is to preserve a balance between influences on the body, mind, and soul, and ayurvedic doctors, who complete more than five years training, prescribe treatments based on their patient's constitution. They believe that people are born with unique physical and psychological characteristics and that their constitutions are made up of a combination of doshas (qualities): vata (air), pitta (fire), and kapha (earth). One or two doshas are typically dominant, but most people have a unique mix of all three, each associated with a body and personality type and a susceptability to particular diseases. Vata people, who tend to have dry skin and thin frames, are prone to chronic diseases such as asthma and arthritis and nerve problems; strong pitta qualities indicate warm bodies and keen intelligence, and a propensity toward digestive and metabolic problems; kaphas, who have cold skin and heavy, well-developed bodies, tend to suffer from respiratory disease and weight gain.
Modern Ayurvedic Practice
Although ayurveda has eight branches, including surgery, psychiatry, and reproductive medicine, treatments focus primarily on massage and panchakarma (detoxification), the latter considerably less pleasant than the former. Remedies usually involve medicated oils and herbal concoctions being ingested, massaged into, or poured over the body. Oil is believed to have restorative powers, lubricating joints, rebuilding tissue, softening and hydrating skin, removing toxins, and decreasing friction to spread heat evenly throughout the body. Massage is believed to relieve stress and pain, slow the aging process, improve circulation, loosen muscles, and improve sleep. Detox methods, on the other hand, include induced vomiting, enemas, laxatives, herbal nasal inhalation, and bloodletting. You have been warned.
The number of spas in Kerala has rocketed in recent years to cater to the hordes of tourists coming specifically for ayurvedic treatments. However, not all spas are created equal. The Arya Vaidya Sala, a charitable institution founded in 1902, is considered the most authoritative source, with a clinic and hospital in Kottakkal (between Kochi and Calicut), and branches countrywide. To regulate reasonable health and safety standards, the government has introduced an accreditation system, in which "Green leaf" is the highest classification, followed by "olive leaf." A list of accredited spas is available at keralatourism.org.Updated: 03-2013
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