I love a good massage. It is in some ways the ultimate pampering experience. The first time I had one was in California in the early nineties. I was so hooked on it that I would have one with some regularity even though it was expensive. Spending $80 for a forty minute massage every couple of months was a bit of self-indulgence but it was at a time when I was making more money than I knew what to do with. After I retired, in 1994, massages were a less frequent occurrence. By the time we moved to Virginia, I’d tell my kids and others to give me a gift certificate for a massage for birthdays and Christmas since there was usually nothing else I really wanted.

Once we began to travel, I would indulge in massages with greater frequency. I got them in Thailand, Cambodia, China and in India. They were of varying standards – the ones in Cambodia and China were pretty good. The one in Thailand was just so so – they seemed focused on selling other “services”! But the one that was really quite an experience in more ways than one were the ayurvedic massages I got in Kerala, India. Keep in mind that Kerala is known for the ayurvedic massage which really is more a therapy than a massage.

So what brings me to this subject? Well, it is a combination of factors: first I saw a very funny episode of Seinfeld yesterday in which George Constanza gets a massage from a good looking masseur – he was not comfortable with the idea of a guy giving him a massage but reluctantly went with it providing the set-up for a few laughs!

I also happened to read about the experience of an American tourist who got an ayurvedic massage in Kerala which brought back memories of my own massage!

Two years ago I went to an ayurvedic hospital in a fairly remote location in Kerala – a place known for the “real thing” as opposed to the so called ayurvedic massages that are sold to tourists. This was a very highly regarded ayurvedic hospital and most of the patients were people who had serious medical ailments. I was probably one of the few who was in relatively good health. Once the doctor who interviewed me realized I was not suffering from any particular ailment, he evaluated me as someone who was there for what he classified as “rejuvenation”. There were quite a few patients from the US, including several who had suffered strokes and a couple of Westerners from Germany – relatively young women one of whom had some sort of creeping arthritis which was not responding to conventional treatment.

The only “treatment” I received other than a fairly controlled diet was a daily ayurvedic massage. It was an experience I will not forget because it was so different from any massage I ever had until then.

The first day, at the appointed time, I went to the massage room and was met by the masseur – a slim, young man. Now I knew that in Kerala it is masseurs that provide massage to guys and women, in turn, are massaged by a masseuse! So that was no surprise – irrespective what happens in other parts of the world.

He told me in Malayalam to strip completely – and I double-checked with him whether that was what I was supposed to do or whether I had misunderstood him. He then left for a few minutes.

Well, I proceeded to undress somewhat self consciously and wrapped around my waist a rather small, thin and inadequate towel which barely made it around my waist. I did not want to be stark naked standing in the middle of the room. When the masseur entered the room, he had me face forward, came behind me, removed the towel, and brought out a very narrow piece of cloth which he expertly placed in front of my crotch and then brought it behind and in between my thighs and at that point I essentially had a g-string holding it all together! What little covering I had was so minimal that I may as well not have had anything. I was glad there was no one there to take a picture of me for keepsake! He told me to lay back down on a massage table which looked like a narrow bed with some sort of padded resin covering.

Thereupon another guy walked in and I realized that he was also a masseur. They then started working every part of my body with each one standing on either side of me. They got down to business right away – there was none of the new age music which one has playing in the background during massages I have had in other countries. They started with my arms pouring a liberal amount of a really foul smelling oil which I came to realize was an herbal oil called kuzhambu. Now I have a pretty blunted sense of smell but even I felt it smelled pretty awful so that gives an idea how bad the odor would be for someone with a normal sense of smell! In finely coordinated strokes each one would do this swiping movement on an arm. It was a fair amount of pressure but not painful. Later on I was told they were going easy on me! This way they worked down my body, the upper chest, and down to my legs and then my feet with liberal amounts of kuzhambu being poured at intervals. All the time there was this expert coordinated action by the two masseurs.

I was then asked to turn on my stomach which may sound like an easy enough task under normal circumstances but when one is on a relatively narrow resin covered massage table where both the body and the table is soaked in oil, it is all one can do to not fall off the table. Both the masseurs helped me turn on my stomach and remain on the bed. The interesting thing about something like this is when one’s primary focus is on making it without falling off, any concern about what I will refer to as the “thong” I was wearing and what it was doing during the maneuver ceases to matter. By the time I was turned around, I realized that a part of what the thong was to cover around my crotch had “escaped” the narrow cloth covering. It was getting the full oil treatment as it came into contact with the oil covered massage table. Well, the coordinated massage continued with the focus on my back and thighs! As they massaged me, I’d tend to slide back and forth on the oily, slippery massage table. The final steps were when one masseur began to massage my head and scalp and the other proceeded to untie my “thong” exposing my butt. He then thoroughly massaged each butt cheek while I lay on my stomach in a slight daze! He tied the “thong” back on and told me that the massage was over.

The above image is not me but gives you an idea of what my head probably looked like when it was all over!

They each held me by one arm and helped me sit up on the massage table so that I could dismount. The portion of the cloth which was supposed to cover my crotch was no longer doing its intended purpose. With both my arms being held by the two men, I did not have a hand to rectify the situation! Never fear – the guy who worked my butt pushed the exposed portions back under the cloth with a finesse and lack of inhibition which suggested it was not the first time he had done it! Just think how George Costanza would have reacted!!!

They showed me to the bathroom and closed the door. There was a mirror there and when I caught a glimpse of my naked foul-smelling oil-immersed hairy body with nothing on except the “thong” it was a sight to behold! I looked like something that had just come out of a horror movie! By the time I washed off all the oil from my hair and body, I had literally gone through half a bar of soap!

I had a couple more massages, at this hospital, after this one but by then I knew the routine and I was more comfortable while it was going on than the first time.

I’d have to say that the ayurvedic massage which I have no doubt is therapeutic and alleviates lots of ills when compared to the conventional massages did not leave me relaxed when it was all over. Perhaps it is a question of getting used to it because there are Westerners who come to Kerala from Europe and the US just to avail of an ayurvedic massage!

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8 Responses to “Ayurvedic massages and my George Costanza moment”

  1. saira says:

    This whole entry was so hilarious! I think you had told me about this before but between the additional detail and the graphics that you included in this blog, this time hearing it was WAYYY better! As a fellow lover of massages, I’ll stick to having them here in the US!

  2. Vivek says:

    Hilarious Rana A…Amma and I had a good laugh. btw, is the photo in the middle(face in a grimace between 2 masseurs) really you?

  3. Vishal says:

    Yea exactly!!Damn hilarious!!I cant stop laughing over it when i imagined you there 😀

  4. Ian says:

    Brilliant! I went through a very similar massage experience in Kerala.

  5. Gaurav says:

    A very funny one!!!!:):)) Guess what!!..I’m reading it again and again and laughing more and more.. I can picture every second of you being there:):)) I would also try it for sure.
    The last pic would ever remain in my memory..hahaa.

    Patient:” Take my head off. I can’t take the headache any more”

    Masseur: “Hey!! I’m trying my best” Don’t worry!! It will be in my hands anytime.:))

  6. TJ says:

    Thanks for all the comments. I just got back from a week of travel and could not respond earlier.

    One thing I will say – and this is based on a couple of emails I received. I was not looking to make fun of the ayurvedic massage – far from it, because I know that ayurvedic treatments have helped numerous people. My post was just a commentary on the unique nature of ayurvedic massages – especially when done in its true form – and so for someone who is used to the more conventional massages, it is quite a learning experience!

    BTW Vivek, that second image does look a bit like me but it is not! I would never have allowed a camera there while being massaged! 🙂

  7. Peter says:

    that was too funny! your description of the aftermath as in attempting to stand up after the treatment rang a bell from days gone by…as for the smell of kuzhambu, its something you learn to live with if you were brought up in Kerala, so much so one day you like it as much as a Chanel perfume <:)

  8. TJ says:

    If with my blunted sense of smell, I found the odor from kuzhambu to be foul, I don’t know that I would ever get used to it.

    The foul smell of kuzhambu brings to mind the adage that seemed to exist in our parents time when it was felt that for good to come of something there had to be a level of “pain” or unpleasantness associated with it. So kids of my generation were forced to drink foul tasting cod liver oil and I have heard of others who used to have to drink milk with an egg yolk mixed into it – but no sugar because that would nullify the beneficial effect.! The notion that medication and supplements might be beneficial while making it more palatable was non-existent unlike today with medications having cherry, grape, etc flavors!

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