Ayurvedic Massage in India: The Blissful & Awkward Truth

ayurvedic massage

As originally published on YogaTravelTree.com

India is a leading destination for Ayurvedic treatments and massage. There is no question of the benefits of an Ayurvedic regime, in fact, we could all benefit by incorporating some of these practices into our daily lives, the way they do in India.

Though the idea and practice of Ayurvedic massage is decadent, rarely have I had a massage outside of the United States that went anything like what I expected. My Ayurvedic massage in India was no different and I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you what you’ll be getting into so you can lay back, relax and fully enjoy your experience.

Four Hands and a Language Barrier

As you enter the small, elaborately decorated and fragrant room, there will be two Indian women ready to disrobe you and begin their work. They do not speak your language and you, most likely, do not speak theirs. If you have any special areas of discomfort you’d like them to avoid, discuss it with the Ayurvedic doctor prior to your massage and make sure your concerns are communicated to the masseuse.

Have No Shame

The two women will motion for you to disrobe. They’re not going to leave and they won’t understand (or have much patience for) your protests if you have any. Just trust that they have done and seen this all before. As you stand there to undress, they will stand there too. We Americans like to leave on an item or two (a masseuse in New Zealand told me this is unique to Americans). Don’t be modest. Take it all off or it will actually be more awkward for all of you. Once you’ve disrobed, they (might) wrap a paper loin cloth around your parts and you will sit on a stool. They will ask you to take your hair down and begin massaging sesame oil onto your scalp. Once you get used to the idea of having warm oil saturating every inch of your face and hair, it is actually very enjoyable and relaxing. Close your eyes and succumb to the process.

Full Frontal

After the scalp massage, you’ll lay on a long wooden table that has channels along the edges for oil and water to drain off. The four hands will begin massaging at your toes and move all the way up to your head. Then you’ll flip over and they’ll do the other side. There is no sheet, there is no towel over your rump, just you, your flimsy loin cloth and the four hands. Let go and let it feel good.

The Scrub-down

After the oil massage and what feels like four hours, they will rinse you off. You’ll think you’re done, but then your super soft, oily skin will be invigorated by a new sensation. The four hands will begin to scrub. You won’t know it’s coming, so you’ll try to lift your head and open one eye. What you’ll see is your body covered in brown sludge. Again, I am writing this article as a service, to tell you what to expect so you can enjoy your experience; so you’ll know what’s coming, appreciate the process and feel good. The four hands will not apply your mud-scrub gently unless you make a big reaction and scrunch your face in pain. Feel free to do just that, from experience, it works…kind of.

Now the Awkward Part

After what must be the fifth hour, they’ll start to pour warm water over the mud to rinse it away. It will feel amazing. It will also feel like you need about 15 more buckets. But you’ll be tapped on the forehead, open your eyes and be motioned to get up from the table. The four hands will usher you into the wet room where they will begin to douse and rub your naked body with buckets of warm water. Most likely, this will be the closest thing you’ve had to a hot shower in weeks and, as weird as it is, you will enjoy it immensely, even if it is administered by four hands that aren’t yours. The four hands still won’t be able to get all the scrub off though, so they’ll let you take over and you’ll dump a bucket over your head and rinse and rinse and rinse until the water turns light brown and your hair maybe doesn’t smell like peanut butter anymore. Then you’ll grab the tiny towel, pat dry and put on your clothes while the four hands stand by, demurely waiting to usher you out.

There are so many benefits of Ayurvedic massage for the mind, body and spirit. This technique is well known for revitalizing the body, balancing the doshas, eliminating toxins, boosting the immune system, relaxing tension and tight muscles, lowering blood pressure, cleansing the lymphatic system and easing stress. The list goes on and on.

Make sure you choose a reputable place and, if possible, get a recommendation from word of mouth. But make sure you get your Ayurvedic massage…in fact, don’t miss it. And know what you’re getting into so you can enjoy everything about the experience and relax into bliss.

Jamaica Travel Tips from an American Living the Island Life

Jamaica

As originally published on YogaTravelTree.com

Scott Sylvester had a cush corporate management job in Los Angeles before deciding to pack it up and travel the world. For a year, he traveled through South America, Europe, went on safari in South Africa, ski bummed Stateside in Tahoe and now resides in Kingston, Jamaica where he took a job to make a difference and live the island life. Here’s what he recommended to me, the future yogi traveler in Jamaica.

Rick’s Cafe

Countless visitors and locals have leapt from the ocean cliffs of Rick’s Cafe into the crystalline water below. Visitors from all nations will watch and do some cliff jumping from the highest platform at 35 feet. The scene at Rick’s is a lively place to spend the afternoon at the cliff-side Pool and Ocean Club, take in a world famous sunset and then settle into Rick’s After Dark ambiance. Open all day, every day, visitors and locals alike have designated Rick’s Cafe as Negril’s premier gathering spot and taking in the sunset from Rick’s has become a Jamaican tradition. http://www.rickscafejamaica.com

Blue Hole

Unknown to most tourists, a place that’s just starting to be discovered near Oracabessa is the Blue Hole. A series of deep pools and waterfalls, this secluded spot is tough to get to, but locals know the way and are happy to guide you in for a small fee. You’ll be rewarded by beautiful blue water surrounded by jungle and an opportunity for cliff jumping. Bring your water shoes or rent some nearby.

Portland Parish

A rural area known for great beaches, Portland is Scott’s favorite Parish. The coast is a diverse landscape of caves, bays, rivers, waterfalls and hills. Scott and his friends love a place called Great Huts, an oceanfront resort made up of African huts and tree-house rooms. This resort is close to nature but also near the night life and happenings of Boston Bay and Port Antonio. Guests will enjoy the cliff-side pool, unique hut style accommodations and beautiful views of the ocean.

Port Antonio

In Port Antonio, the laid back capital of Portland Parish, you can visit Blue Lagoon, a beautiful, well-known lagoon 200-feet deep. Take a boat tour or kayak around the tiny, pristine body of water. From the lagoon, go off the beaten tourist path and try to find Winifred Beach, a super chill stretch of sand preferred by locals with fewer tourists and hawkers. Nine miles East of Port Antonio, make a stop at Boston Bay for a known surf swell and don’t miss the Jerk chicken in this particular spot.

Waterfalls in St. Thomas Parish

On the East Coast of Jamaica in St. Thomas Parish, there are numerous waterfalls including spectacular Reggae Falls where you can swim, sunbathe or hike. Also visit out-of-the-way Reach Falls set into the forest. Natural cool and hot springs nearby are reputed for their healing qualities. Visit The Bath Fountain in the foothills of the John Crow Mountains where the weary traveler can rejuvenate and get a relaxing massage.

Treasure Beach

At Treasure Beach, try to catch, or better yet, participate in Scott’s recent challenge, Jake’s off-road Triathlon. Numerous guesthouses are available or stay right at Jake’s and enjoy the natural setting. After the sport, catch a boat taxi out to Pelican Bar for a sundowner. It’s a truly Jamaican experience worth the ride for a chilled out evening. This rustic wooden bar is built on a sand bank a quarter-mile out to sea, halfway between Black River and Treasure Beach. Pelican Bar is the perfect place to spend the day doing nothing, sunbathing, drinking beer, swimming in shallow waters, eating fresh fish or fishing for your own dinner.

Jamaican Sport Culture

Jamaica is home to world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt. It’s a big deal on the island and the home-town star and Olympic athlete has a restaurant in Kingston called Track and Records. Bolt is often there and happy to give out autographs. Jamaicans are crazy about running and there is fierce competition starting in early grade school with high school championships called “Champs” which most Jamaicans from abroad will come back for.

 Kingston

Coming down to the south coast you’ll hit Kingston, where Scott lives. He recommends hitting Strawberry Hill for brunch and then taking transport up to Jah B’s Guesthouse, run by a family of Bobo Rastas and popular with backpackers and budget travelers. Scott says, “Jah B’s will give you a unique Rasta vibe and they pick, sort and roast their own coffee. Buy some to take home because it some of the best on the island.” He also vouches for the amazing, authentic Jamaican meals made by the hosts.

Blue Mountain Peak

Stay at least two nights at Jah B’s so you can hike Blue Mountain peak. The highest in Jamaica, it is also one of the highest in the Caribbean at 7,400 ft. The traditional Blue Mountain trek is a 7-mile (10 km) hike. If you feel adventurous, start the hike at 2:00am with the locals so you can get to the peak in time for sunrise over the island. Bring a few treats and one of Jah B’s Rasta dogs will follow you up the trail and keep you safe.

Dhammadipa Vihara

This monastery in Kingston rarely sees visitors but offers an authentic and powerful Theravada, Burmese traditional meditation for those who take the time to seek it out. The monks who meditate here are warm and inviting and will likely share a traditional meal with you after their Sunday sessions.

Address: No.1, Duquesnay Avenue off Red Hill Road, Kingston 10 ‪ ‪Affiliation: Tisarana Vihara. London ‪Phone: (876)9603219‪ Email: lokanata@gmail.com ‪Teacher: Ven Lokanatha.

Email teacher Ven Lokanatha at lokanata@gmail.com for more information.

Bali, Indonesia: 8 Can’t Miss Experiences for the Traveling Yogi

bali

As originally published on YogaTravelTree.com.

People from all over the world flock to Bali for its lush landscape, crystal blue waters and to connect with its long history as a healing and spiritual center. It is a soft, safe place to land for the spiritual seeker and offers many opportunities for the international yogi and yogini.

Find Your Center in Ubud

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Rich in art and culture with a long history as a hub for natural medicine and healing, Ubud is the spiritual center of Bali. It is the perfect place to restore from long hours of travel, begin your journey, find your footing and ground back into your uprooted center of self. Gamelan music performances, cultural dances and leisurely strolls along the avenues watching the grinning Balinese working on their art and crafts are perfect ways to get into the spirit of the island and begin to understand its rich culture. With the excitement and energy you bring to the beginning of a trip, you’ll enjoy wandering through Monkey Forest, hiking around the area and visiting local artists in working studios. Make sure to spend some time sipping coffee or a smoothie at one of the many cafés backing up to the lush and peaceful rice paddies. There are also a wide variety of yoga classes available in Ubud and Yoga Barn is a notorious stop for yoga inspired travelers.

Get quiet and go Within at Balian Beach

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This rich, black sand beach is off the beaten path and offers its low key travelers majestic waves, long beaches, sacred waters, lush tropical forests and a peace perfect for meditation and self reflection. There is a drastic separation here from the commercialism and tourists you’ll find in other parts of the island. Come here when you’re ready to go deep within and have some peaceful alone time. Yoga classes, healthful meals and retreats are close by at Shankari’s Bali Retreat.

Take in a Spiritual Sunset at Tanah Lot Temple

One of seven sea temples around the island of Bali and one of the most important temples for the Balinese, Tanah Lot brings in a large number of tourists in the high season. As one of the most recommended places to go, you’ll want to make sure to bring a little cash and a lot of patience for the local vendors and their wares. There are many opportunities from the surrounding areas to go for a day trip and take in a stunning sunset. Wear your water shoes, you’ll have to get your feet wet to get to the little rock/island temple, but the excursion is well worth it.

Let Your Spirit Soar Atop Mount Agung

When you’re ready to take your spirit to the next level, book a guide and hike up this ancient but active volcano. It is the highest mountain on the island and the place with the most spiritual significance for the Balinese. The Besakih temple on Mount Agung miraculously survived the devastating eruption in 1963 reinforcing its spiritual substance for the island population. Begin your climb in the lush forest at the base and make your way up through the barren volcanic rock at the top giving way to spectacular views. There are three intermediate to advanced climbing routes, guides should be organized in advance.

Choose Your Own Adventure in Padangbai

This port town is the perfect point to intersect with other travelers on their way out to the exterior islands. This small backpackers spot is a high energy and transient place to go when you’re ready to get moving and need direction; come to Padangbai and let it launch you into your next adventure. Spend the day at Blue Lagoon Beach then charter a small boat out to the Gili Islands or Nusa Lembongan. Make sure to negotiate a snorkel as part of the ride.

Return to Civilization by way of Kuta & Seminyak

Kuta is a bustling city with the best nightlife in Bali. When you’ve been secluded on a quiet island for weeks, it’s just the ticket to get you back into the swing of civilization and get socialized and ready to re-integrate into the world. There are many interesting spots where you can spend your remaining rupiah on a hot shower, some fresh seafood and a live show during dinner on Jimbaran Beach.

Spend a Day at the Beach in Sanur

When you’re ready for a break from adventuring, this upscale resort town offers one of the biggest and best beaches in Bali. You can sit in a lounge chair on the beach or swing in a hammock, frozen cocktail in hand. There is a long stretch of oceanfront boardwalk, ideal for gift shopping or a romantic stroll. The sand in Sanur is white and soft, not rocky underfoot like most other beaches on the island. There are lots of places in town for healthy eats and a beautiful spot for yoga on the beachfront at Power of Now Oasis.

Get Back to Basics on the Island of Nusa Lembongan

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Escape the main island and ferry or charter a boat out to Nusa Lembongan to experience the simplicity of island life on this speck of map. You’ll spend easy days napping, diving, doing yoga, sipping smoothies and watching beautiful sunsets. Rent a bicycle and cruise through the mangroves to the Beach Club at Sandy Bay for lunch, a cocktail and a swim overlooking a stunning ocean view. On Lembongan you’ll witness the simple life of locals who work as seaweed farmers in this small working town. If you’re a diver, spoil yourself in the crystal waters with instructors and masters at Big Fish Diving and get to a yoga class with Yoga Travel Tree writer Caroline Layzell at Yoga Shack.

When traveling in Bali, it’s important to take advantage of the balanced experience the island allows for. Spend some quiet, healing moments in reflection, meditation and yoga and then explore her many opportunities for adventure, diving, climbing, snorkeling and surfing. Bali is a special place. Enjoy your exploration of her countless treasures.