Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Last week, I posted a story about the increase in ayurvedic tourism associated with the Commonwealth Games being held in India this year.  Today, MSNBC picked up a story from the Associated Press about the rise in tourists flocking to Kerala, India for ayurvedic treatments.   I have posted the whole article written by Karin Laub of the AP here:

Photo Courtesy of AP. Sabine Steiger, 28, an anthropology student from Vienna, left, tries the "nasya" treatment at the Athreya Ayurvedic Resort in Kottayam, India. To perform this treatment, which is aimed at clearing the head, the therapist lights a cloth soaked in camphor and other substances, and the patient inhales the smoke.

KOTTAYAM, India — Eyes closed and ears plugged with cotton, a guest at a health resort lies on a fiber table padded with pillows. Warm, herb-infused buttermilk flows steadily on her forehead from a small hole in a bowl suspended low from the ceiling.

It’s one of the treatments used in Ayurveda, or “science of life,” the ancient Indian method of healing.

In the West, Ayurveda is perhaps most closely associated with oily spa massages, but a trip to India uncovers Ayurveda’s deep roots and diverse techniques. Ayurveda’s tools include herbal extractions, a wide range of body treatments, a light vegetarian diet and yoga.

In India’s southwestern state of Kerala, Ayurveda is deeply embedded in the culture. It’s administered to India’s poorest in gritty urban clinics, but also to pampered Westerners in tranquil resorts in tropical settings.

Dr. Balakrishnan Gireesh, a fourth-generation Ayurveda doctor, spans both worlds.

He’s an Ayurveda practitioner with a storefront clinic and pharmacy on one of the noisiest corners in Kottayam, a congested town of 60,000 in Kerala. His patients come with a broad range of complaints, from swollen knees to postpartum pain and high cholesterol.

In one of Kottayam’s suburbs, Gireesh runs the Athreya Ayurvedic Centre, a resort for tourists and well-to-do Indians. Patients stay for two or three weeks, some seeking relief from the side effects of chemotherapy or anti-depressants, while others try out Ayurveda as a last resort for sometimes hard-to-treat problems like psoriasis and herniated discs. Yet others just come to relax.

Regardless of the setting, the basic principle remains the same — to cleanse the body and, practitioners believe, give it a chance to balance itself.

The treatment
Sabine Steiger, 28, an anthropology student from Vienna, said she hopes to ease tension headaches and improve her skin.

“I was always interested in Ayurveda and wanted to experience it,” said Steiger, who spent two weeks at Athreya. “It might also be useful for my studies.”

Dr. S.P. Sreejith, medical director at Athreya, says he tells patients what to expect from Ayurveda, including its limitations. For example, Ayurveda is of no use to someone who just suffered a heart attack, but its emphasis on a healthy lifestyle can help prevent heart disease.

At Athreya, a patient typically has two or three treatments a day in gender-segregated buildings. Here’s what to expect in a two-week general cleanse, though the course of treatment is adjusted for specific complaints.

For the first few mornings, you lie on the treatment table as two therapists, synchronizing movements, slowly pour warm herbal water over your body, up and down, back and front, for about an hour. In the afternoon, you get the buttermilk-on-forehead treatment. Called Sirodharda, the practice is meant to calm the mind, but according to Sreejith, it can also ameliorate psoriasis and other ailments.

Photo Courtesy of AP. This undated photo released by Prasad Ushus shows Sajo John, a yoga teacher, right, as he demonstrates the steam bath usually taken after a massage for 10 minutes or more at Athreya Ayurvedic Resort in Kottayam, India.

Patients must also undergo one unpleasant but brief session of induced vomiting. Afterwards, synchronized therapists administer daily massages with medicated oil for several days, each time followed by 10 minutes of sweating in a wooden box filled with medicated herbal steam.

In the second week, you begin at dawn each day, clearing your head with a head massage, nasal drops, facial steam and finally by sniffing smoke from a burning cloth soaked in camphor and other herbs (don’t try that at home).

After a break, the therapists, again in synchronized movements, pound and slather your body with rice-stuffed poultices, on the first few days soaked in warm oil and then in a mix of milk and herbs.

Daily yoga sessions and herbal extractions taken before and after meals round out the day.

Sreejith or his wife, G. Jayalakshmi, who is also an Ayurveda doctor, check on you once a day, sometimes coming by your cottage for a chat on the porch. They might adjust the program depending on your body’s responses. Each patient fills out a health questionnaire before arrival and Sreejith recommends a preliminary consultation via Skype.

Athreya, with a capacity of 35 patients, is a family business (Jayalakshmi is Gireesh’s daughter) and the style is informal.

In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine says “scientific evidence for the effectiveness of Ayurvedic practices varies.” The center also cited several studies of over-the-counter Ayurveda remedies found to contain toxins like lead or mercury, though Sreejith says Athreya’s pharmaceuticals company operates under strict government supervision.

About 600,000 foreign tourists, many from Europe, visit Kerala, a state with more than 30 million people, every year, said Chandri Nambiar, a Kerala tourism official, and nearly 35 percent are repeat visitors seeking Ayurveda treatments.

This is God’s medicine’
At Athreya, a private cottage with meals and treatment runs $90 to $120 daily (single occupancy). Prices at other resorts vary; some operate in more luxurious beachfront settings, with the feel of a spa rather than a medical retreat. In all, Kerala is home to 92 government-approved Ayurveda resorts, rated either with the top Green Leaf or slightly lesser Olive Leaf rating, based on the level of Ayurveda they practice, Kerala tourism officials say.

Sreejith says visitors can avoid glorified massage parlors posing as Ayurveda centers by checking whether male therapists treat female patients and vice versa (a no-no) and whether there’s a doctor on the premises (a must).

Foreigners who come to India for Ayruveda may find it’s more affordable here than in the West even counting travel costs. It’s not uncommon for U.S. spas to charge $100 an hour for Ayurveda-style treatments.

Other advantages to seeking treatment in India include the availabilty of herbs and other ingredients. Kottayam has a weekly herbs-and-spices market, and if a therapist needs another palm leaf to scrape oil and milk off a patient’s body, she can just break one off the nearest coconut tree.

Sreejith says getting away from daily pressures can also contribute to the success of treatment. Kerala’s lush green landscape offers a change of scenery, and several day trips are available from Athreya, including to the “backwaters” — a huge network of lakes, lagoons and canals near the Arabian Sea — and to the tea plantations in nearby mountains. In Kottayam, about 15 minutes by car, large fabric stores lure shoppers with a vast array of colorful silks and cottons.

On a recent afternoon at Gireesh’s clinic in Kottayam, patients included a pharmaceuticals salesman seeking to lower his cholesterol, an older man with swollen arthritic knees (treatment: hot herb-soaked bandages) and a woman suffering from anxiety after falling off a roof.

Gireesh says his patients’ attitude is important. “This is God’s medicine,” he said. “With faith, it works better.”

Sreejith, who works at a government Ayurveda clinic during the day, has started videotaping some of his treatments of Indian patients, such as a medicated water rinse and leech application for a leg abscess.

“We would like the world to see what Ayurveda is capable of, and also what it is not capable of, and to show it as far as possible with evidence,” Sreejith said.

Gireesh says Ayurveda is experiencing a renaissance among Kerala locals. He started working in his grandfather’s private clinic in Kottayam in 1979. At the time, the rich opted for Western medicine, and Ayurveda was for the poor, he said. Today Kerala’s public health care system employs 1,500 Ayurveda doctors and patients can choose between Western medicine, homeopathy and Ayurveda.

“In Kerala, everyone has access to Ayurveda,” said Nambiar, “from the simple man to the affluent.”

As I’ve been researching ayurveda for these posts, I’ve come across a number of studies on the efficacy of ayurvedic treatments.  However, most of these studies seem to be flawed for one reason or another, so it will be interesting to see how (and whether or not) more extensive, peer-reviewed studies will be performed in the future.  I’ll keep you posted!



Read Full Post »

Last week, I wrote about the yoga performance at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.  Today, I found a pretty good video of the entire demonstration, gold lame body suits and all.  Watch until the end when the human figure in lotus pose arises out of the floor and all of the chakras ascend up the figure.  Pretty neat.

Hope you have a great weekend!

Read Full Post »

The relationship between China and India is a longstanding one. Despite the fact that the two countries are separated by the breathtaking but insurmountable Himalayas, their interconnectedness obvious. The are culturally and religiously connected by Buddhism, which was spread from India to China between the 6th and 4th centuries. And economically, as routes between and across the mountains were blazed and the silk road routes were established, the two countries depended on each other for trade.  However, in the late 1950s border conflicts began erupting, which resulted in a war in the early 60s, and several other “skirmishes”.

In recent years, India and China have developed a close partnership, and the similarities between the two countries are many.  They are two of the most populous countries in the world, and each boast two rapidly growing economies.  Today, India is a main supplier of natural resources to China.  As the India readied itself for hosting the Commonwealth Games, the comparisons to the Beijing Olympics abounded.


Liu Li Yang during a yoga demonstration. Photo courtesy of The Hindu


How does all of this relate to yoga? Well, despite the interconnectedness of the economy and culture, and despite the relatively peaceful recent political relationship, an article in today’s edition of The Hindu profiled the use of yoga by the Indian government as part of a campaign to “win the hearts and minds” of the Chinese people. It represents the first time the Indian government has attempted to directly engage the people of China. This campaign has included about a dozen Bollywood dance troupes performing in various cities across China, art exhibitions, events honoring Rabindranth Tagore (a Bengali poet, novelist, painter, and songwriter, who was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913), and yoga performances.

Apparently, yoga is quite popular with the Chinese youth.  However, there are very few schools in China to train teachers in authentic Indian yoga.  In fact, the Indian government has employed the help of Liu Yi Yang, the first Chinese national to graduate from the national Institute of Yoga in New Delhi.  This week, she will give public demonstrations and later will help to establish the first yoga academy in Shanghai.

Interestingly enough, another news item came to my attention today, again involving both yoga and China.  In an effort to attract more people to attend a yoga studio in Shanghai, some dude folded himself into a box and handed passerbys business cards.  Apparently the campaign cost only $74 U.S. dollars, and helped show people that….um…when you practice yoga…you can…um…fold yourself into a box?

Watch the video below:

Read Full Post »


Photo courtesy of the examiner.com


Indian news outlets are reporting that Indian business sectors including ayurveda and “medical tourism” are expected to generate large sums of money as a result of the influx of tourists to the subcontinent for the Commonwealth Games.

One notable tourist seeking rejuvenation at an ayurvedic spa?  The Times of India is reporting that none other than the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker-Bowles, spent four days at the Soukya Holistic Health Centre at Whitefield.

Ayurvedic medicine is the traditional Indian medical practice, which has been around for over 3,000 years (according to some estimates), and is still widely practiced in South Asia and all over the world.  However, in the Western world, ayurveda is considered a system of complementary and alternative medicine.  Ayurveda’s focus is prevention of disease and extension of life.

The practice and use of ayurvedic medicine has been increasing in the United States.  In 2007, the National Institutes of Health conducted a comprehensive survey of Americans, and over 200,000 American adults responded that they had used Ayurvedic medical treatments in the past year.  I suspect that number has been steadily climbing.

I must admit that my knowledge of ayurveda is minimal, despite the fact that it is sometimes referred to as the “sister science” to yoga.  But if its good enough for the Duchess of Cornwall…

Read Full Post »

Yoga in Gold Lame Body Suits?

The Commonwealth Games opened on Sunday evening in New Delhi, India, amidst much controversy.  Radio Canada described the grand Bollywood-style spectacle of the opening ceremony:

After the athletes parade and official opening remarks, a cascade of dancers in classical Indian dance costumes infiltrated the grounds and performed “The Tree of Knowledge” segment, featuring India’s guru shishya tradition with folk dancers and musicians.

That was followed by performers in gold lamé body suits doing yoga moves, eventually grouping around a luminous, electrical image of Buddha with coloured discs going from tailbone to its head to represent the different chakras.

In contrast to the tranquility of the yoga piece, the next section was a busy showcase of how the majority of Indians live — with a cavalcade of village-like scenes in which people carried fruit on their heads, rode bikes, danced in circles and carried pots or bricks around.

The grand finale included a rock ‘n’ roll piece by AR Rahman, who captured two Oscars for his compositions for the hit film Slumdog Millionaire. Rahman sang Let’s Go,a piece that recalled a kind of stadium rock with modern and traditional dancers nodding to the beat.

The Commonwealth Games are a multi-sport event similar to the Olympics which have been held every four years since 1920 (except for 1942 and 1946, during WWII), and feature competitions involving world class athletes from the 54 members of the Commonwealth of Nations. While there are only 54 members of the Commonwealth, there are 71 teams as each of the 4 countries which form the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), the British Crown dependencies (Guernsey, Jersey, and Isle of Man), and British overseas territories (i.e., Australia, Cook Islands, New Zealand, etc.) send their own teams.  The games include many sports of worldwide acclaim; however, they also include sports played mainly in the Commonwealth countries, including lawn bowling, rubgy sevens, and my personal favorite, netball.

There has been an incredible amount of controversy and scandal in India regarding the games this year.  My hometown newspaper, The Los Angeles Times, has been covering the issues and it is worth the read:

India puts on a show with Commonwealth Games’ opening ceremony

India hurries to hide its poor

Ready, set – wait . . . India not ready for Commonwealth Games yet

Perhaps next year, taking a cue from what’s happening in India, Lululemon will come out with gold lame yoga pants.  Here’s hoping!

Read Full Post »

The blyogasphere is yet again abuzz with the issue of the sexualization/commercialization/westernization of yoga.  Last month, it was this very issue that got me to start thinking about blogging again when Judith Hanson Lasater issued her response to the ToeSox advertisement published in Yoga Journal featuring a buck-nekkid — well, okay, she was wearing a pair of socks — Kathryn Budig striking a series of various and sundry asanas.

The Toe Sox ad begged a lot of questions amongst readers of Yoga Journal and the readers and writers of yogacentric blogs (what I like to call the blyogasphere).  While we’ve gotten used to seeing half-naked chicks in advertisements for alcohol, perfume, and jewelry, why does the Toe Sox ad strike such a dissonant chord?  Is it unwise to advertise a yoga product with a young, nude woman?  Are we denigrating the value of yoga?  Does it make yoga and yogis seem shallow, superficial, frivolous? Or, are we being puritanical?  After all, isn’t the ad simply a celebration of the human form?  On the other hand, if it were a celebration of the human form, why not use model who is older, and more pleasantly plump?

Another rumpus has been raised over the ad for Tara Stiles’ new book, ‘Calm, Slim, Sexy’.  The cover of the book (see below) somehow isn’t as as bad as the full marketing campaign, in which Tara, while wearing more than a pair of socks, doesn’t seem to be sending a good message about body image.  Moreover, given the subtitle of the book “The 15-minute yoga solution for feeling and Looking your best from head to toe”, it doesn’t seem to be sending the right message about yoga.  What, you mean, you weren’t satisfied that the publishers put the “feeling” before the “looking” in the subtitle?

It is an interesting controversy, and one that stirs up a lot of emotions.  I, for one, can’t help but feel frustrated and saddened seeing these advertisements.  It somehow wouldn’t be such an affront if yoga were just a form of physical exercise.  But it is not.  And that’s the issue which seems to get most people ready to throw down.  I haven’t read it, but apparently, Tara’s book is quite substantive and in it she shares her personal stories of struggling with body image as a young model.  If her book is at all aimed at helping others through theirs, she certainly lost touch with her message on her way to the printing press.

What say you, yogi friends?

Read Full Post »

…try doing yoga on ice!  Check out these little yogis …

Photo courtesy of The Hindu

To read the rest of the story, visit:  http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/kids/article600267.ece.  I will never complain about my hands slipping in downward dog again! 

Read Full Post »