In 1998 I made a clear decision; instead of going to law school, I would go to massage school. After receiving a degree in criminal justice, applying for an FBI internship, working as a private investigator, applying for law school, and working at a busy Manhattan law firm for 5 years, it was evident I was set out to help people. I finally saw the light and left my job at the law firm to pursue other ways of helping humanity. I decided to attend massage school and then went to India to study yoga, which is where I found Ayurveda.
After receiving my first massage in Vermont, I couldn’t believe how that subtle touch instantly healed an old skiing related injury and made me feel so loved. I discovered that there was possibly nothing more healing and powerful than loving touch. It was perhaps all meant to be; the two other legal assistants on either side of me at the law firm had night jobs—one was a yoga teacher and the other a massage therapist. They were both inspiring, beautiful women. Now, after 20 years as a massage therapist and working closely with clients during panchakarma, I can honestly say that every single treatment I give is a meditation and an honor because I see the powerful evolution in each and every client.
Skin is our largest organ and perhaps the root to how we receive and perceive all. With a total area of about 20 square feet, it protects us from microbes and the outside elements, allows the sensations of touch, heat, and cold, and helps regulate body temperature. But with an increase of pollution in our air, water, and soils, our nerves and glands are being over stimulated, and chemicals from processed foods are permeating our bodies on a cellular level.
Unfortunately, from a young age we not only have an exposure to pollution and chemicals that cause stagnation in the body, we also, quite often, receive a lack of reverence and affection from our parents. We live in such a driven and dominant society that we have lost the ability to slow down and care for our children in a soft and nurturing way. In India, traditional massage was not offered in clinics, as it was given daily in the home. What a wholesome ritual and, if practiced here in the West, we would see more peace and, I believe, a dramatic reduction in chronic illnesses. Perhaps the root cause of many serious illnesses is the lack of cellular self-esteem, which is born at a young age. Without the support and nurture from our parents or guardians, self-esteem is difficult to achieve.
The Emotional Act of Abhyanga
One of the comments I hear way too often from my clients is the absence of affection from their parents and never being hugged or even hearing a simple “I love you.” This is a type of unrecognized silent abuse, and most all of these clients have emotional and/or digestive issues. I truly believe that the root cause of many chronic health conditions is touch deprivation. When working with these clients in a treatment setting, I find they have difficulty relaxing, and during panchakarma treatments it may take a few additional days for the dhatus to ripen, as there is an underlying hardness that is difficult to penetrate. The lack of love one receives acts as a boundary to healing. I find myself almost always recommending self-massage as a sadhana and to receive regular abhyanga treatments as a remedy. I have had several clients tell me that, after receiving abhyanga for a week in a row, it was more healing than the many years of talk therapy they had been through, or that they have never in their lives been touched in such a gentle way. Conscious, loving touch is a magical practice that can help to restore some of the love that was lost as a child.
The Physical Act of Abhyanga
During our treatment programs, I have had the blessing to witness the changes that take place in clients receiving abhyanga day after day for 7, 8, 9, 10 days in a row. Throughout this process I have been able to feel their bodies soften, not only their face, neck, and shoulders, but the GI tract, the hips, gluteal muscles, kidneys, and liver.
I have witnessed hundreds of times, the ripening of excess dosha and ama as it makes its way back to the GI tract on day 5, 6, 7 of panchakarma, and how it feels in the abdominal area—full, toxic, and heavy. Then basti is performed and their belly feels light, clear, and luminous. I am also able to observe this during our intimate consultation time and how so often when I feel their full toxic belly, their emotions are also heightened and tears are flowing. And how by day 3, 4, 5 of basti, this changes and there is a sparkle in their eyes, clarity in their voice, and a trust in themselves. It is the power of the herbal oils and the pranic flow of the practitioner that is essential to this process.
Physically, the medicinal oils and therapeutic touch allow the body to break down food more easily, circulate nutrients properly, remove toxins at a quicker, more efficient pace, and receive, more thoroughly, the energetics from herbs taken orally. It supports tejas, sparks cellular intelligence, and stimulates the vital tissues. When the holding patterns are able to soften and release, there is more pranic flow to the body and mind, and one will have more confidence and be more decisive about life, goals, and dharma. The pharmacopoeia of the oils unclogs the channels, reaching deep into one’s soul.
Therapeutic touch (received by ourselves or from a practitioner) is a beautiful, beautiful blessing, a necessary nurturing that we need in order to be able to thrive and succeed. In this fast paced hectic and demanding world where people have often become brusque with one another, the tenderness of touch therapy is of utmost importance. I welcome us all to remember to educate our clients about this ancient art that has the incredible capability to increase agni, evacuate bodily wastes, bring brilliance to the mind and senses, release cellular memory, and most importantly restore self love.