I Spent 5.5 Hours In An Ayurvedic Spa. Here's What Happened

Written by Natalie Decleve

Photo by Alex K Colby

About a month ago, I had my very first Ayurvedic experience in Jaipur at Chakrapani Ayurveda Clinic while I was visiting partly for pleasure and partly to shoot a campaign I was working on (I’m a stylist and content creator). Two weeks later when I was working in Los Angeles, I found myself curious for more, so I decided to visit Surya, an Ayurvedic spa in the Pacific Palisades. More spa treatments personalized to not only make you feel great but also cure what ails you? Yes, please.

Journey to Ayurveda

Alex K Colby

While the difference between the clinic and the spa was pretty dramatic, they both utilized principles of dosha-based treatments to go beyond relaxation and promote serious healing. Both involved a consultation to determine my “dosha,” one of the three guiding Ayurvedic energies: Vata, Pitta, or Kapha. Everyone has all three energies but leads with one—the goal of Ayurvedic practices is to balance the doshas using specific foods, herbs, and even beauty products.

In India, the quick consultation informed the type of oil (sesame and bala) that would be used in my otherwise general massage. And, boy, do they use that oil. Unlike a Swedish or Chinese massage in which oil is lightly used to lubricate the touch, in Ayurvedic massage, you’re basically drenched. After signing up for an hour of methodical rubbing at Chakrapani, I was sloshed around a padded table wearing a paper diaper, which made me feel like a skinny sumo wrestler. That night I attended a dinner at Jaipur’s chic palace restaurant, Baradari, looking a little like John Travolta in Grease (I still couldn’t get the oil out of my hair after six washes), but I was too relaxed to care.

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Take Two

Surya Spa

Two weeks later I found myself at an oceanfront house that is Surya Spa, after graciously being offered a comp visit. The day before, I learned that my appointment would last from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and I was advised to cleanse before coming in. Oops! Thankfully, the clean eating began upon arrival with a complimentary homemade Vedic meal of mung beans and roasted veggies. While waiting for my appointment, I sat around a table with other clients discussing the types of crystals they’d been advised to wear as a part of the treatment called Panchakarma or “PK.” Although I was there for only one day, everyone else was there for three- to eight-day programs or longer, designed to alleviate various physical and mental ailments. Having struggled to coordinate this lightning-quick visit, I thought, Who has time to spend four hours a day for eight days at a spa?! The answer included a woman with chronic pain and a sharp sense of humor, an elderly man who promised I’d be back for more, and a life coach of sorts who answered, “I free people’s minds” when I asked his profession.

My skepticism began to fade when I heard some of their success stories. One account that was particularly moving came from a 32-year-old woman who had been on medication for six months, nearly unable to leave home without vomiting. Four days into PK, she was medication-free; eight days later she was going back to Florida feeling cured. Her longtime fiancé had brought her to Surya after his own successful healing years earlier, and the two had just chosen a date to finally tie the knot according to the recommendation of Surya’s house astrologer, Michael Norris. The couple seemed healthy, happy, and, what's more, totally sane.

My anticipation was building by the minute, and finally, it was time to get started. Martha Soffer, the Panchakarma specialist with 24 years of training under her tiny belt, served me a second spoonful of lentils before I realized she was the Martha...and it was now my turn. I followed her into a warm and homey treatment room where I was instantly engulfed in a feeling of ease. Unlike during my clinical evaluation in India, Martha calmly asked a series of questions while taking extensive notes about my pulse. Apparently, the pulse reveals a lot, like my high mercury levels and adrenal fatigue—both previously confirmed in blood tests. Martha talked to me about my primary dosha, Vata, which tends toward high energy and creativity when in balance, anxiety and frustration when not. She explained that Vatas tend to run cold and struggle with digestion (check, check, check) while suggesting dietary amendments to help. Now it was massage time. Like in India, I was doused in oil. Unlike in India, the table was comfortable, the oils were specifically blended for me the night before, I didn’t have to wear a diaper, and I had not one but two practitioners working their magic all over my body for what seemed like hours. They also employed Kizhi treatment, in which hot pouches full of herbs are used to further detoxify and stimulate circulation.

Next up was Shirodara or “third-eye therapy.” Here I laid faceup on the table for 30 minutes while more warm oil was drizzled over my forehead in a steady stream. The feeling was as satisfying as soaking in a tub after a cold day and seduced me into a sleepy state. Eventually, the pot of oil was drained and I was excused for a bathroom break while a soft-spoken practitioner re-dressed the table for my next treatment: a seven-chakra awakening. By this point, I was as open and receptive as a newborn, which was good because things were about to get interesting. Back on the table again, a huge contraption containing seven crystals (one for each chakra) was placed above my body. The crystals glowed with light while I listened to a guided reprogramming meditation requesting that I “call on the angels, and thank the source” for my healing. I did as I was told, thinking that if I was being brainwashed, it was probably what I needed to shake my chronic stress.

We ran out of time before I could experience the iodized foot soak meant to relieve my heavy metal toxicity, but I heard myself promising to return for a final fix the next morning. I say “heard myself” because, by the time I showered and checked out around 6:30 p.m., I was in such an out-of-body state that I had trouble thinking of anything or anyone outside the present. Thankfully, Martha clued me into a little trick to get the oil out of my hair in one go (shampoo before water!) and I floated off to meet some friends. One friend asked if I was high; another thought I’d done Botox or gotten a facial. Nope, I’d just spent almost six hours being “reprogrammed” into wellness.

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