Monday, 22 July 2019 09:52

Eastern Traditions: Incorporating Ayurveda into the Spa

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Ayurveda is time-tested, effective techniques perfectly customized using exotic ingredients and simple tools that can take results to a new level by helping each client know themselves better and find their own beauty inside and out.



The goal of Ayurveda has always been to establish lasting beauty by strengthening the body’s own resilience, calming and clearing the mind, and restoring or building radiance from within. This multilevel approach gives a whole being the best chance to live the best life possible – a life in which that individual has sufficient surplus energy, resources and resourcefulness, mental clarity and spaciousness, and the inclination to be useful and help others to develop on their own spiritual path.


A classic definition of Ayurveda is that it is the science of life. It offers a holistic approach to beauty and well-being, as well as a remedy for the many infirmities individuals encounter over the various ages and stages of life. Some claim that Ayurveda is 2,500 years old and is from the Indian subcontinent. There are some who wish to claim that it is a part of the Hindu tradition. However, Ayurveda pre-dates and has nothing to do with any particular religious tradition, although it has been adopted by many. In fact, the origins of Ayurveda go back thousands of years and the first vestiges of it have it birthed in the Indus Valley (now a part of modern-day Pakistan) and developed by a people who are the least studied of the great ancient civilizations – whose cities were very recently being excavated, possessing a written language yet be decoded. Fortunately, the basic principles were recorded in the Sanskrit years after its birth in texts called the Vedas. There are also commentaries that offer further guidance. These commentaries are where a record of massage techniques, spa therapies, and product recipes can be found.


Ayurveda is a set of dynamic principles given by sages and seers in an exquisite form that promises everyone, everywhere, in all times and places, the potential to be able to “live well and prosper.”



As one of the most complete ancient healing systems on the planet today, Ayurveda can be used to address every form of complaint, including those problems clients often present in the spa setting. In fact, Ayurveda suggests all illnesses start with what are thought of as minor complaints: indigestion, insomnia, tiredness, weakness, and mental stress – the very problems that spa clients often comment on experiencing, along with their more specific skin problems, such as dryness, puffiness, breakouts, rashes, various types of discoloration, and, of course, wrinkles and loss of skin tone. What is gratifying, if not wondrous, in offering Ayurvedic remedies for the aesthetic complaints clients come to professionals for is that, because they are customized, many of the other stress-type symptoms seem to go, as well. This is because all remedies and cures in the body of Ayurveda are designed to work in harmony with a client’s body type, mind tendencies, and ability to follow instruction – even the time and money they have available to follow through. Healing is considered a journey – a partnership between the doctor or spa therapist, the client, and those who support them. Though this sounds like a tall order, the approach is rooted in practical simplicity. Like the philosophy seen in classic spa therapy, the Ayurveda approach starts with prevention: offering treatments and remedies and teaching lifestyle practices that notice and take care of health and beauty issues before they run deeper, with timely follow-up to encourage ongoing success in re-establishing balance, health, and well-being.



Ayurveda is a form of energy medicine. As such, it would describe any type of disorder as an energy imbalance and any cure a path to reestablishing that balance. It describes the body as being the physical form that looks, acts, and feels the way it does because of a unique blend of three energies called doshas. These three dynamic forces are called vata, pitta, and kapha dosha. When vata dosha is out of balance, the skin, hair, and nails become dry, digestion and absorption become poor, memory lapses, focus becomes illusive, and sleep is disturbed. This occasionally happens when jet lagged and can also be experienced more long-term when going through times of chronic stress or deep loss. With age, the dosha of vata becomes more out of balance and in need of being addressed.


When pitta dosha is out of balance, the skin becomes flushed, discolored, and sallow and displays more moles, rashes, or pustules. Acid indigestion, sharp pains, or intolerance of rich, spicy foods are common when pitta dosha is out of balance. Unbalanced pitta can make individuals feel easily frustrated and angry, more judgmental or critical of themselves or others, overly driven, or too singly focused. They may also experience colorful, busy dreams, often featuring fights and struggles. Pitta is unbalanced by hot, humid climates, tight timelines, wine and whiskey, and a more meat-based diet – in other words, when individuals work hard and reward themselves with the good life but forget to take down time to chill, love, and be loved, be out in nature, or make that spa date a priority.


When kapha is thrown out of balance, individuals experience puffiness, swelling, weight gain, low energy, and sleepiness. Too much kapha can make an individual feel cloudy minded, stubborn, possessive, and resistant to change. They may experience that stuck-in-a-rut feeling. This can happen when sitting too much, forgetting to exercise, eating late at night, or eating lots of sweets or calories in the form of empty junk food.


To treat vata imbalances, Ayurveda suggests skin treatments, as well as a diet and lifestyle that are nourishing and calming. In the spa, this would include full body oil massage, baths, steams, wraps, and nourishing masks, followed by hot drinks, such as ginger tea, along with  wholegrain cookies. Pitta imbalances need to be cooled and soothed. Using light covers, wet room treatments, muds, toners, cool foot baths, cold plunges, or showers all help, followed by cool fresh drinks, such as lemon or mint water, and fresh fruits as a snack. Kapha imbalances need a variety of gently stimulating and invigorating approaches. Variety is key, as kapha clients can go into deep, sluggish sleep easily and miss all the aromas and experiences of touch. Spicy teas and crunchy snacks work well to help kapha clients leave feeling lighter and brighter.



Ayurveda is a fantastic guide to matching holistically orientated treatment approaches to the individual needs of clients. This is one reason it has become one of the top spa trends worldwide, as well as very popular with the yoga community.


But, the foremost reason for the interest and popularity of Ayurveda is its amazing, luxurious, and transformative treatments that yield stellar experiences that deliver results. There is no better mental reset than Shirodhara, the treatment where a continuous stream of warm oil flows on the client’s forehead for 20 minutes. Nothing brings light and energy back to the face like the marma point or kansa wand massage. Massage with kansa, bronze-capped massage tools, quickly and easily erases stress and tension from any part of the body. The combination of oil massage and steam bath, classically called purva karma, eases the turbulent mind and restores strength to the body. Ayurvedic herbal powders can be added on top so that clients can experience an exfoliation and polish that leaves them feeling refreshed from head to toe.


Ayurveda has been delivering for 3,000 years and has been treasured and maintained as a living tradition the whole time. Ayurveda is a distillation of 3,000 years of human knowledge that has been carefully collected to promote health, happiness, and inspiration – the roots on which the tree of individual beauty is based.



There are treatments that are uniquely Ayurvedic and then there are those that can have Ayurvedic elements added to them.


Abhyanga is a full body oil massage with customized aromatherapy or herbal oils. Abhyanga must be given with oil, not lotion, as the quality of the oil and the healing value of the herbs and essential oils are regarded as at least 50% of the benefit. This service is often offered after a sauna or hot herbal bath or before a steam treatment. Traditionally, a warm herbal powder is sprinkled on the oiled body and then rubbed off with a dry towel. A shower is optional.


Ayurvedic face massage uses marma points on the face, neck, and décolleté, polarity balancing techniques, and a scalp and ear massage for a full 60-minute treatment. A marma point or massage with a kansa face wand can also be included as the massage part of any facial.


Kansa foot massage is a great addition to any pedicure sequence or a brief treatment which can be added to any service, especially if the client is having a problem with stress around the eyes, experiencing high skin tones from a rigorous procedure, or feels a little dizzy after a detoxification treatment. A more elaborate foot treatment can include an Ayurvedic foot bath and reflexology sequence, followed by a kansa foot massage and cleanse with Ayurvedic powders.


Chakra stones are used in a specific treatment but can also be layed on the five middle chakra points before the few minutes of quiet relaxation at the end of any treatment.


Shirodhara is always offered as a final add-on and can be offered after any spa treatment. Its benefit is enhanced if oil is left in the hair, but it can also be washed out before the client leaves. Shirodhara is deeply relaxing and can leave the client feeling clear but more sensitive to sense and mental stimulation. If offering a hair wash, it should be in a designated quiet spot, not a busy part of a hair salon. Shirodhara can also be offered after a sequence of marma point massage, abdominal massage, or hot salt stones on the feet.


Marma point sequences, in the Tibetan tradition, are sequences for various common problems, like difficulty getting quality sleep, cramps, indigestion, or mental tension. These sequences are short and can be added to a full body massage. Some can be offered before skin care services, as they are simply gentle touch techniques on the top of the back, scalp, and upper chest. Always check with your local aesthetics board or insurer if uncertain about what your license covers.



Ayurvedic treatments are given by Ayurvedic physicians that have been trained in India, Ayurvedic lifestyle counselors trained in the United States that have either a massage or aesthetics license, and spa therapists. To perform specific Ayurvedic treatments, it is essential to have training in both the theoretical basics of Ayurveda and hands-on training in the techniques. Fortunately, there are many books, DVDs, and online programs available, as well as some hands- on trainings.



The products, room setup, and equipment needed to offer Ayurvedic services will vary from treatment to treatment, so let’s look at the most commonly offered Ayurvedic treatments and explore what is needed for each.


Ayurvedic Facial

Treatments are customized per skin type and all include oil. Professionals will need one oil for each skin type: oils balancing for vata, pitta, and kapha skin and an organic cleanser, toner, and mask. Ayurveda has always taught that the skin eats, so traditionally, all Ayurvedic skin care products are safe to ingest. Cool compresses can be used with herbal facial steams, in which case a big bowl, hand towels, herbs, and steamer are necessary. The massage part of the facial uses marma points. A kansa wand massage for the face is also a great addition.



Ayurvedic treatments are all oily, but this full body massage is the oiliest. Professionals will need herbal or essential oil blends that are balancing for each body-mind type, at a minimum, with additional options for the scalp, feet, joints, or general tension. Warm oil is what is desired; a hot towel cabinet works. Oil that is not absorbed by the skin is removed by using herbal powders called ubtans. These are dusted onto the body once they are warmed in a hot towel cabinet, then wiped off with dry towels. Abhyanga may follow an herbal bath or precede a shower, but these additions are optional. Traditionally, this treatment is given on a polished wooden table with no linens, which is not very comfortable or hygienic by western standards. Instead, try disposable sheets over cheaper sheets or professional, medical-grade laundering to keep sheets clean. Mere conventional laundering of very oily sheets usually leaves a rancid odor and creates a possible fire hazard.



This is the treatment where a fine stream of warm oil is placed on the forehead. There are various types of equipment that will do this. Some use an electrical pump that recycles and rewarms the oil, others that are more traditional are free standing or use a simple, small copper vessel with a tiny hole in it held in the hands. But, one of these options is needed. The client does get oily hair, so sending clients home in a towel turban works or offering a shower or hair wash before they leave are other options.



This is a full massage service for the feet which includes a foot bath and massage with the largest and smallest kansa wand. Along with the wands, bath or foot salts, a foot oil, butane cleanser, and foot file are needed.


Chakra Treatments

This treatment requires semi-precious stones, a pendulum, and dosha balancing oils.



Ayurveda offers a great variety of muds, many of which are blended with herbs. They are used on the face, head to toe, or just from elbows to fingertips and knees to the tips of the toes. If including full body mud treatments, a wet room and shower are needed. Mud on the face and extremities can be managed with dark colored, warm, wet towels.


Additional Tools

Pillows that support the head and neck, light eye pillows, and warming tummy packs are delightful additions to enrich every Ayurvedic treatment experience.


Ayurvedic treatments seek to use all of the senses to bring the client delight and balance their energy. Choosing music that is more meditative or culturally, spiritually Indian, along with décor that uses rich colors and fabrics, customized aromas, and seasonally selected teas and snacks for post-treatment relaxation are wonderful enhancements to the overall treatment experience.


As modalities go, Ayurveda is not expensive materials-wise to introduce. Start small and gradually introduce more as clients get a chance to become familiar with the benefits, rhythms, and textures of Ayurvedic treatments. However, like any new technique, invest in training. The more you know, the more confident you will be, and, thus, the more you will be able to share and sell these unique Ayurveda services.


Melanie SachsThe pioneer of integrating of Ayurvedic bodywork techniques in the spa and beauty industry, Melanie Sachs has worked for over 30 years to bring the benefits of this ancient healing art to spas worldwide. She founded Diamond Way Ayurveda in 1996 with her husband Robert. Together, they provide excellent educational programs and Ayurvedic products. Sachs is the author of “Ayurvedic Beauty Care” and co-author of “Ayurvedic Spa,” the creator of educational DVDs and online accredited courses, and a contributor to many professional spa magazines. She lives in Oceano, California, where she teaches signature Ayurvedic treatments and sees her own clients.

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January 2022

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