Lincoln Tan

Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Alternative therapies: Balancing of elements seen as key to good life

In this new series Herald reporters try out alternative relaxation and remedies.

New Zealand Herald journalist Amelia Wade receives Shirodhara (Indian Hot Oil therapy) by Dr Priya Punjabi. Photo / Richard Robinson
New Zealand Herald journalist Amelia Wade receives Shirodhara (Indian Hot Oil therapy) by Dr Priya Punjabi. Photo / Richard Robinson

According to the ancient Indian natural healing system of Ayurveda, having a good life is derived from balancing the five elements: earth, water, fire, air and sky.

It also says three "doshas" govern the body - vata (aether and air), pitta (fire and water) and kapha (water and earth) - and getting the right balance is key to having good health.

Priya Punjabi, who brought her Ayurveda practice with her when she arrived from India in 2002, is determined to spread the Indian art of healing throughout New Zealand.

"Ayurveda, or science of life, dates back 6000 years and is the most holistic healing science system in the world [and aims for] prevention, cure and rejuvenation," said Dr Punjabi, an Ayurveda specialist who also runs community classes and hosts radio programmes on the topic.

"The human body is made up of five basic elements, and whenever there is any disorder, these elements become imbalanced and they affect bodily channels and tissues, creating illnesses in the system."

Consultations at her clinic start with looking at diet and lifestyle, and ways to detoxify and rejuvenate the body.

"It's about finding out the cause factors responsible for the imbalances, and getting that balance right, which is different for every individual," said Dr Punjabi, who runs a clinic in Pt Chevalier.

"Improper digestion can also create toxins in the body system, and these travel into deep tissues that leads to disorders in vital organs."

Treatments include panchakarma (body cleansing), chakra (energy centre) balancing, meditations, yoga, massage with stimulations at 107 neuromuscular points and shirodhara, an oil treatment to stimulate the brain.

Dr Punjabi said that besides relaxation, ayurvedic massage also removes toxins from deep tissues, cleanses the body and rejuvenates internal systems.

- Lincoln Tan

* * *

Time for some relaxation therapy Indian-style

The room smells like incense and fresh jasmine and a tall carved wood contraption with a hanging metal bowl stands ominously in the corner.

And when Dr Priya closes the door to the therapy room in her Pt Chevalier practice, you can hardly hear the traffic on busy New North Rd.

"Soundproof," she explained.

She lays slippers, a fabric headband and string knickers on the detailed wooden massage droni, or bed, and explains to get undressed then lie down under a towel before leaving you alone.

Having never had a massage before - especially one with hot oils to the forehead - I feel somewhat exposed and anxious as I wait for the therapist, Louise, to return.

Due to time restraints, we do the therapy backwards.

I lie on my back covered head-to-toe in white cotton towels as Dr Priya and Louise place traditional Hindu temple beads around my neck with a bowl of the sweet-smelling jasmine and a stick of incense next to my head.

Louise then puts rose-water soaked cotton wool over my closed eyelids before she moulds a clay mask over my eyes to protect them from the oil.

At first it feels quite strange, having body-temperature sesame-seed oil poured on to the centre of my forehead then trickling through my hair.

But it soon becomes quite relaxing as Louise slowly moves the steady stream of oil from side to side with the hypnotic chanting on the sound system droning on in the background.

It's hard to say how long it lasts, as I loose track of time, but I'm told it takes three pots of the oil to complete the treatment.

Once it's over, the clay mask comes off and with my hair matted to the droni, Louise begins the full-body massage.

It's really very relaxing as she uses yet more oil which allows her hands to slip around in circles with a soothing pan-pipe soundtrack playing softly.

She then helps me down off the droni - I'm rather slippery from all the oil - and finishes the treatment with a head massage.

The oil is rather hard to get off and it takes me at least three washes to get it completely out of my hair. I wouldn't recommend popping out on your lunchbreak for a Shirodhara unless you have a shower at work.

But it really was quite relaxing and my muscles seem to appreciate the treatment. Plus my skin was soft for days.

- Amelia Wade

* * *

THE SERIES
Tuesday: Greek leech therapy
Wednesday: Korean jjimjilbang
Today: Indian ayurveda
Tomorrow: Thai yoga massage
Saturday: Japanese ganbanyoku

- NZ Herald

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