I Spent 5.5 Hours in an Ayurvedic Spa. Here's What Happened

Last month I was invited to visit Surya, an Ayurvedic spa in Los Angeles. About 2 weeks prior, I’d had my very first Ayurvedic experience in Jaipur at Chakrapani Ayurveda Clinic. I didn’t really know what to expect from either, but figured the latter would be more “legit”, being in India and all. I figured wrong.

First of all, the use of the word “spa” vs “clinic” seemed both unclear and interchangeable from my limited Ayurvedic experience. Yes, there are luxuriant massages involved, but services are are tailor made to go beyond relaxation and promote serious healing. Spa treatments personalized to not only feel great, but also cure what ails you? Yes please.

While the difference between the clinic and the spa was pretty dramatic, the principals of dosha based treatment were the same. We began with a consultation to determine my “dosha” or one of 3 guiding Ayurvedic energies: Vata, Pitta or Kapha. Everyone has all 3 energies but leads with one, and it is the goal of Ayurvedic practices to balance the doshas using specific foods, herbs and even beauty products. In India, a quick consultation informed the type of oil (sesame and bala) that would be used in my otherwise general massage. But boy do they use that oil… Unlike a Swedish or Chinese massage where oil is lightly used to lubricate the process, in Ayurvedic massage you’re basically drenched. At Chakrapani, I signed up for an hour of methodical rubbing and sloshing around a padded table; wearing a paper diaper that made me feel like a skinny sumo wrestler while doing exactly nothing to keep me modest. Other services were available a-la cart, but I only had time for the massage. Still, I left Chakrapani feeling (and looking) like a wet noodle. 6 washes later, I still couldn’t get the oil out of my hair. That night, I attended a dinner at Jaipur’s chic palace restaurant, Baradari looking a little like John Travolta in Grease, but I was still too relaxed to care.

2 weeks later, I found myself in the Pacific Palisades in an oceanfront house dubbed Surya Spa. I learned the day before my appointment that I’d be there from 1pm to around 5pm, and was advised to cleanse my diet prior to coming in. Oops! Thankfully, the clean eating began upon arrival with a complimentary homemade vedic meal of mung beans, roasted veggies. Other clients/patients sat around the table discussing the types of crystals they’d been advised to wear as a part of the treatment called Panchakarma or “PK”. Although I was only there for one day, the others were all doing 3-8 day programs or longer, designed to alleviate any physical or mental complaints. Having struggled to coordinate this visit, I thought “who has time to spend 4 hours/day for 8 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 vanish when I heard their success stories. One account in particular was from a 32 year old woman who’d been on medication for 6 months, nearly unable to leave home without vomiting. 4 days into PK, she was medication free, 8 days later she was going back to Florida feeling cured. Her long-time fiance had brought her to Surya after his own successful healing years prior, and the two had just chosen a date to finally tie the knot (two weeks out!) according to the recommendation of Surya’s house astrologer, Michael Norris. The couple seemed healthy, happy and 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 small belt, served me a second spoonful of lentils before I realized she was THE Martha and my turn was up. I followed her into a warm and homey feeling treatment room, where I was instantly engulfed in a feeling of ease. Unlike the 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 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, where hot pouches full of herbs are used to further detoxify and stimulate circulation. I’ve never felt more pampered, but that was just the beginning. Next up, Shirodara or “third eye therapy”. Here I laid face up 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 state somewhere between asleep and awake. 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 7 chakra awakening. By this point I was as open and receptive as a newborn; which was good because things were about to get woowoo. Back on the table again, a huge contraption containing 7 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 and 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, 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 asked if I was high, another thought I’d done botox or gotten a facial. Nope, I’d just spent almost 6 hours being “reprogrammed” into wellness.

My bliss lasted the better part of a week, and I can only imagine the effect of a full Panchakarma program. Not only would I go back, but I immediately recommended Surya to a dear friend suffering from Epstein Barr and chronic, mystery inflammation. While I know some of the treatments would be outside of her comfort zone, I also know that sometimes that’s where healing begins.

Written for Mind Body Green

WHERE TO GO

Chakrapani Ayurveda Clinic & Research Center

8, Diamond Hill, Shanti path, Tulsi circle, Behind Birla Temple

Walk ins welcome

+91 141 262 4003

Surya Spa

Pacific Palisades

California

By appointment only

+1 310-459-7715