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Saturday February 28, 2009

Mantra for massage

The ancient science of Ayurveda is fast gaining traction here, with more people becoming aware of its holistic approach to keeping the body fit.

You wake up late and – ouch! – your head hurts. Too many drinks last night. It’s a stressful drive to work, battling the traffic. At work, looming deadlines push you to drink that extra mug of coffee. Lunch will have to be a quick fast-food job, probably fried chicken from that stall outside.

Sounds familiar?

Many of us have been there before. Our lives are laden with late nights, long days at work and too much alcohol, coffee, sweets and fatty foods. This “normal” way of life is brutally abnormal for our body.

Patra Pinda Sweda using plants and herbs for a full-body massage.

Diverging from nature’s fundamental laws has a price. For the body, the risk is disease.

“As we go further from nature, we get more ‘lifestyle’ diseases,” says Dr S.K. Vats, an Ayurvedic doctor from India. Indeed, “lifestyle diseases” – heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and cancer – are, by far, the leading cause of death worldwide and in Malaysia. Cardiovascular diseases, mostly heart attacks and stroke, account for a whopping 30% of all deaths worldwide.

Dr Vats is blunt about the Malaysian lifestyle: “Here we are living life in style!” But it is a lifestyle that neglects the body and leads to disease.

From 1996, the obesity prevalence among adults has jumped more than 280%. About one in eight adults are now obese, and 15% of Malaysians over 30 are diabetic.

“People are not taking care of their health,” says Dr Vats. “They have a fast-food lifestyle – nasi lemak, roti canai.”

Vats says it’s advisable to maintain a balance between our body and the environment. Ayurveda, he explains, is all about correcting imbalances. This 5,000-year-old natural healing system from India originated at a time when everything was part of nature and there was no technology.

Yet it is more relevant than ever, says Dr Vats. “Ayurveda is made for everybody and every time.”

Using herbs, plant extracts, massage, diet, meditation and yoga, Ayurveda aims to stimulate the body’s own healing powers, which are actually substantial. Dr Vats is the resident doctor at Samkkya, an Ayurvedic healing centre in Bangsar that makes you mellow the minute you step inside with its soothing ambience. Massage is the main draw here, but Samkkya has a wide range of other treatments, including dietary suggestions.

Dr Vats is full of dietary wisdom. Fenugreek, spinach and black pepper helps to reduce blood sugar levels, he rattles off. Cumin seeds are excellent for getting rid of gas.

Shirodhara, a mind-relaxation therapy, involves dripping warm oil onto the forehead.

Then there are the detox treatments which, Dr Vats says, are needed to remove the toxins that accumulate in the body from stress, additives and the like. These treatments can involve enemas, purging, and cleansing sinuses.

You might wonder how all this matches up with Samkkya’s chic, contemporary design and rather upmarket clientele. But there is bliss in Ayurveda.

Try the luxuriously relaxing hot stone massage. Fat reduction therapy is an obvious magnet for many women.

I tried a mind-relaxation therapy, Shirodhara, where a stream of hot oil is dripped onto the forehead. As a born fidget, I was initially put off by the idea. But by the end of the procedure, I was utterly relaxed and half-asleep.

The centre itself is a sea of serenity, with its soothing décor and scents of traditional oils. After the massage, you get a hot ginger drink in the cosy lounge area.

This is Ayurveda with the right packaging for the time, place and people.

Massage, in fact, is more than just a feel-good treatment. Done with healing oils, its therapeutic value can be considered “external medicine”, as opposed to herbs which are “internal medicine”, Dr Vats explains.

“Massage is one of the oldest methods of healing. Kalari [a type of massage] is very old. It is a lazy man’s workout because it improves blood circulation,” he says. “Moving the muscles increases serotonin, a happy hormone.” No wonder we feel good after a massage. In fact, that is what draws many clients.

“A lot of people are looking for relaxation and rejuvenation, and Ayurveda has therapies for that,” explains P. Jeyathevan, Samkkya’s managing director and owner.

Rather than create a conventional centre for treating the sick, Jeyathevan wanted people to come to his centre for wellness, hence the relaxing ambience.

Some clients come in just for massage, while others seek medical services, which sometimes involves massage with certain oils.

“Massaging with these oils on a regular basis helps improve immunity,” says Jeyathevan.

He says there is a big market for “alternative” therapies.

“In the beginning Ayurveda sounds very mystical. Once they come here, most are very intrigued. Now, there is a certain level of consciousness about it.”

“We want people to realise there is a natural and sound alternative,” Jeyathevan says.

Samkkya Natural
Healthcare Centre
1 Jalan Abdullah,
Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.
Tel: (03) 2287 2111

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