In India, massage is essentially part of Ayurveda, the ancient Indian healing system. It is more focused on healing rather than on beautifying the body or stress-busting, though they essentially follow naturally when the body heals.
The Ayurveda system says that when the Tridoshas (humors) – vaata, pitta, and kapha – are perfectly balanced, the body remains healthy. A masseuse in India first tries to understand which of these three doshas need to be and can be balanced through massages, simultaneously taking account of food habits, lifestyle, and any existing ailments. This helps the masseuse tailor the type of massage for each individual. For instance, sesame oil massage may suit someone with weak vaata, and so on.
The Ayurvedic massage uses medicated oils to focus on the lymphatic system or kapha to create proper electrical/chemical balance in the body. Masseuses require a good knowledge of human physiology, as Ayurveda emphasizes different types of massages at different pressure points or marmas on the body. There are structural marmas like muscles, blood vessels, ligaments, and bones, and regional marmas like upper and lower limbs, abdomen and thorax, trunk, head, and neck.
Some important massages prescribed in Ayurveda are:
Abhyanga: This is a
preparatory step for Panchakarma – a holistic process designed to balance the Tridoshas and eliminate the excess doshas. The entire body is massaged with medicated oil, which is selected based on the body type of the person.
Shirodhara: In this type of massage, herbal oil is poured on the forehead slowly, while the person is lying down. Shirodhara is usually recommended for over-stressed people or those suffering from insomnia, migraine, or depression.
A combination of herbal oils is massaged on lightly to the whole body. This is believed to help in removing metabolic waste through skin.
Udwarthanam: Herbal powders (churnas) are used to massage the body instead of oils. It is recommended in removing cellulite and improving blood circulation.
Massages being based on the Tridosha system are one of the fundamental areas where Ayurvedic massages differ from present-day massage therapies in the West. This also means that there is no ‘one size fits all’ type of massage. As each body type is marked by a unique mix of the Tridoshas, the massage type differs significantly from person to person.
Massages are built into the Indian culture. You get your first massage as a baby, and it continues through most of your early childhood. There is also a belief that the healing effect of touch, so evident from massages, is not restricted to the one receiving it, but also to the giving it – the masseuse.