Pouring Oil On Troubled Bodies

23rd October 2009

Jill Glenn visits Healing Hands in Kenton – or should that be Kerala?…

The last time I experienced an Ayurvedic massage I was in a beach hotel in Kerala… palm trees swaying outside, a warm, gentle breeze wafting through the open shutters, the taste of tropical fruit punch fresh on my tongue …

Preston Hill, Kenton, is a far cry from India, but you’d have to go a fair distance to obtain an Ayurvedic consultation and massage as thorough and pleasing as the one I enjoyed there, at Healing Hands Holistic Health Centre.

First impressions – of the building, at least – are uncertain. It’s located on a housing estate, for example (I don’t know why that should seem odd, but it does) and inside, the feel is more doctor’s waiting room than luxury salon; the reception area is very clean, and pleasant, but rather… functional. The reason, though, is that Healing Hands is not a ‘salon’ – it’s a therapy centre, and a therapy centre with a purpose: to use Ayurvedic medicine – a comprehensive system, based on a holistic approach and rooted in ancient Indian culture – to treat a range of modern conditions. Once you appreciate that, the clinical atmosphere becomes more understandable. Welcome, even. There’s an air of professionalism about the place that is very reassuring. Staff are friendly and warm, and before my treatment there’s a questionnaire to complete, and a consultation more comprehensive than many I’ve had with my GP.

The questions enquire not only into your physical condition, as you might expect, but also your mental activity and behavioural profile; they range from your opinions on the weather (choose which you dislike most: cold & wind; hot & humid; cold & damp) to your spending/saving patterns, your decision-making style and even the speed at which you speak. They’re designed to help your practitioner determine which of three constitutional types or doshas best describes you: vata, pitta or kapha. Ayurveda takes as its start point the idea that the body is governed by a balance of these three elements. Effectively they’re medical ‘humours’. Vata relates to the elements of air and space, pitta to fire and water, kapha to air and water. Each constitution type has particular strengths, characteristics and susceptibilities, and, to complicate matters still further, your mind might tend to one, and your body to another. Overall, it seems I’m almost equally balanced between the three, although one dosha dominates my mental activity, another my behaviour, and the third my physique. It’s enlightening and confusing in equal measure.

I grasp enough, though, to appreciate that there’s much more to Ayurveda than a relaxing massage in a palm-ringed, coconut-thatched hut on the beach. It’s an intricate, integrated approach to preventing and treating illness through lifestyle interventions, natural therapies and medications. Modern research is, it seems, supporting the ancient practices, and showing that both Ayurveda and Yoga can have a far-reaching impact on the physiological and psychological causes of many health complaints.

Rangini, the Healing Hands manager, who’s conducting the consultation, suggests that in the future I would benefit from Sirodhara, a process in which warm oil is streamed continuously onto the forehead for around 40 minutes while the head is massaged. It relieves stress and headache (and even, apparently, slows down the ageing process), rejuvenating and revitalising body and mind. Today, though, she recommends that I try Abhyanga, a full body oil massage that uses specific medicated herbal oils for my body type and conditions. My therapist, Reeba, comes from Kerala, and has plenty of international experience.

Ayurvedic herbs

Ayurvedic massages are heavy on the oil, and you do need to remove all your clothing. Back in India, I recall that my modesty was protected by an unflattering piece of fabric not unlike a linen loincloth; here, disposable underwear serves the same purpose. Reeba massages my head, and begins on my back while I’m seated, and then I transfer to a couch for the rest of this very indulgent, restorative process.

The sensations throughout vary; at one point it feels as though Reeba is clapping castanets on the side of my head: strange, but not unpleasant. As she moves up and down the length of my body she uncovers small areas of tenderness that I hadn’t even known were there, and efficiently eliminates them. Pressure is quite firm (you can ask for less, if you prefer) and the constant reapplication of warm oil is very lovely.

There are, of course, some areas that hurt more than others: ‘pain, there?’ Reeba asks, as I wince and whimper pathetically. I agree that, yes, there is pain there, and she calmly continues… pressing, probing, soothing. At the end, after around an hour, I step into a steam cubicle for a further ten minutes or so – it helps draw out the toxins – before showering, with a powder made of sandalwood and turmeric, restoring order to my hair (which looks as though I’ve been dragged through a Keralan jungle backwards) and emerging remarkably refreshed and relaxed. There’s a further brief consultation afterwards, and some suggestions for lifestyle changes – Ayurveda, is, after all, a system of care for the whole person. Western problems; Eastern solutions.

The only downside to the whole experience? I’m still in England, and I still have to drive home… I want a magic carpet to whisk me away, or, at the very least, a stroll down to the ocean, and a bowl of Fish Mollee.

Healing Hands is at 120 Preston Hill, Kenton HA3 9SJ

Email: info@ www.healinghandshealthcare.com

Call 020 8931 0301 or book online at www.healinghandshealthcare.com

Find Your Local