This ancient Indian system of healing still thrives in spas and wellness centers throughout the globe.

Taken from the Sanskrit words “ayur” meaning life and “veda” meaning science or knowledge, ayurveda is a holistic system that has been used for thousands of years in India to prevent and heal illness. The use of ayurveda predates written records, yet still remains a vital practice today. “Knowledge of this medicine was originally handed down from one generation of ayurvedic physicians to the next,” says Graciella Zogbi, vedic health educator and marketing representative for destination and day spa The Raj in Fairfield, Iowa. “It is a lifelong study.” Nearly 80% of the population of India continues to use ayurveda, either exclusively or in conjunction with Western medicine, according to the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. And many commonplace global health practices, from therapeutic massage to specialized diets, have ayurvedic roots. As the demand for alternative therapies and holistic living continues to grow, spas can serve clients’ needs by incorporating ayurvedic treatments into their repertoire.

The Ayurvedic Approach

Ayurvedic medicine treats mind, body, soul and the universe as one interconnected entity. It also holds that all things—including people—are composed of the five elements of water, fire, earth, air and space. When the balance of these elements becomes disturbed within an individual, illness occurs. Ayurvedic practices can then be implemented to rebalance these elements and restore health and happiness.

Like traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), ayurveda emphasizes the body’s internal systems. There are identifiable marma points (similar to TCM’s acupressure points), or junctions, in the body where tissue, joints and ligaments connect and may be blocked, keeping energy from flowing freely. The channels that allow the body to function, and through which energy flows, are called srotas (“meridians” in TCM) and they refer to the internal structures that modern medicine now identifies as veins and intestines.

External factors such as sun exposure, physical exercise and mental activities are also important considerations in this all-encompassing system of health.

Evaluating a client from an ayurvedic perspective requires an assessment of both physical and psychological factors that affect functioning to determine the overall state of the body’s constitution, or prakriti. Within the prakriti, three energy forces—known as doshas—are analyzed (see Defining Doshas, below).

Seeking Clarity

The first and most important diagnostic tool of authentic ayurvedic medicine is the pulse diagnosis, or nadi pariksha, which is done before the client has discussed any of his or her specific health concerns. The practitioner is trained to analyze the vibratory frequency of the pulse at various levels of the radial artery. “From the pulse- diagnosis method, levels of toxins and blockages, metabolism, predispositions and even fertility can be ascertained,” says Zogbi.

Ayurveda asserts that purification and detoxification are the first steps toward preventing and curing illness. The prescribed, elaborate purification process, called panchakarma, may include a liquid diet, enemas, herbal therapy, nasal irrigation (and sometimes even vomiting!) in order to fully cleanse the body. The aim is to rid the body of ama, undigested food that sticks to internal tissues and joints and interferes with healthy body function and digestion. After panchakarma, ongoing attention to diet, digestion and lifestyle keep the body in balance, as continual exposure to toxins is unavoidable.

Although many of these traditional ayurvedic practices would be considered too intensive for day spas, ayurvedic principles can still be applied via a modified detoxification program that includes vigorous massage (there are 17 distinct types of ayurvedic massage), scrubs, oil applications, herbal steam and topical heat treatments. Thankfully, ayurveda is an adaptable discipline that can easily be incorporated into your spa’s overall wellness offerings.

Defining Doshas

Ayurveda identifies three doshas, or energy forces, within the body, each carrying its own set of characteristics. It is believed that we all have the three doshas within us, and usually one that’s dominant. Dosha imbalances can cause problems with skin, sleep, digestion and mood, and may lead to disease. The doshas are:

Vata Composed of air and space, vata controls breathing, cell division, the mind and the basic body functions. Vata imbalance can lead to skin conditions, heart disease, fear and anxiety.
Pitta Made of fire and water, pitta controls the digestive and hormonal systems. People with an overactive pitta dosha are prone to digestive problems and negative emotions.
Kapha Combined of earth and water, kapha gives the body strength, lubrication and immunity from illness. out of balance, kapha leads to greed, lethargy and obesity.

Ayurveda On Your Menu

There are several U.S. schools that offer training and education in ayurveda, and many product companies provide educators who can train spa staff on protocols. “Some techniques are easily learned,” says Melanie Sachs, teacher, therapist, author and co-owner of Diamond Way Ayurveda in San Luis Obispo, California. “You can buy a little copper pot with a drain and provide a beautiful five- or 10-minute shirodhara add-on, thereby introducing clients to ayurveda within a treatment you already offer.”

The Raj’s Zogbi recognizes the following deeply healing ayurvedic treatments as ideal for a day spa’s menu:
Shirodhara A stream of warm oil is poured continuously on the forehead onto the pineal gland, also known as the “third eye,” to promote relaxation, mental clarity and better sleep.
Abhyanga This rhythmic massage releases toxins from deep within the tissues and sends them toward the organs responsible for elimination. The Raj uses two technicians for powerful, four-handed massages.
Pizichilli Multiple streams of oil are poured continuously onto the body throughout this massage. The oils pool and penetrate tissues.
Udvartana An herbal paste is scrubbed into the skin in this treatment that’s intended to help break up fatty tissue and cellulite.
Gandharva Music therapy is combined with other treatments. Ancient melodies, or ragas, correspond to cycles of the day to assist the body with rebalancing.
Swedna A steam treatment is given to open pores and allow for subsequent treatments, massages and oils to better penetrate. Classically, the head is not exposed to steam; the technician might cool the forehead by rubbing it with a coconut-oil ice cube.

Material Differences

Do you need to buy special products to offer ayurveda? “Most ayurvedic treatments don’t require anything that you wouldn’t already have in your spa,” says Sachs. “What characterizes these treatments are the oils. They must be authentic. Sesame oil is used extensively because it penetrates skin and tissue really well and travels deeply into the joints.” Sachs notes that common ingredients such as ginger and nutmeg can be used to make effective ayurvedic oils. However, should you prefer to purchase premade products and equipment, there are a number of comprehensive Ayurvedic lines available.

Ayur-Medic, 800.357.5280, — Massage products; skin care for face, body, lips and eye area
Bindi, 800.952.4634, — Skin care for face and body; hair care; massage products; aromatherapy; prescriptives and supplements
Diamond Way Ayurveda, 866.303.3321, — Comprehensive ayurvedic skin- and body-care lines; equipment; books and home study programs; CDs and DVDs
Pratima Ayurvedic Skin, 646.429.9164, — Skin care for face, bath and body; hair care; massage products; sun care; aromatherapy; gifts
Shankara, 888.626.4363, — Skin care for face and body; massage products; aromatherapy
Sundari, 562.435.5000, — Skin care for face, body and eye area; hair care; candles and gifts
Tara Spa Therapy, 866.224.1391, — Skin care for face and body; aromatherapy; massage products; prescriptives; sun care; learning tools

For more information on ayurveda practices and training:
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine,
• National Ayurvedic Medical Association,, 800.669.8914
• Diamond Way Ayurveda,, 866.303.3321
• The Ayurvedic Institute,, 505.291.9698
• Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health,, 866.200.5203
• Kerala Ayurveda Academy,, 888.353.7252

Ayurveda: Science of Self-Healing: A Practical Guide, by Vasant D. lad & Angela Werneke
Ayurveda Spa, by Melanie and Robert Sachs, a home study program for spa professionals
Caraka Samhita and Sushruta Samhit, classic texts written in Sanskrit more than 2,000 years ago and available in translated form and with commentaries
The Complete Illustrated Guide to Ayurveda, by Gopi Warrier & Deppika Gunawant, MD

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