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Q: “What is Ayurveda? Is there a massage component, and if so, where can I learn about it?”

Mamta Landerman, president of the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine explains that Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old healing system from India, addresses the spiritual, emotional, mental and physical processes of the human experience.

“It is a complete form of medicine in that it deals with not only the physical body but also the creative forces and components that make up that body,” Landerman says. The difference between Ayurvedic and Western medicine, she says, is that Ayurveda addresses the spiritual, emotional, mental and physical aspects that make up a person’s life, not just the symptoms of disease.

Landerman says Ayurvedic medicine has a strong mind/body component and includes massage therapy. “Ayurveda addresses therapies that relate to all the five senses, and a very important component is the sense of touch,” she says.

In Ayurveda, the type of touch, oil and herbs used in massage are directly dependent upon the client’s personality type. For example, Landerman explains, “If a client is prominently extremely active, creative, mental, inspirational but out of balance, they will be hyperactive, overextend themselves, get very quickly fatigued and have a mind that does not stop. We look to balance this [by using] the kind of touch in the massage which is very calming, very grounding. We would use warm oils, [to quiet the] senses.”

Can a massage therapist learn these techniques in a weekend workshop and then apply them to her practice? No, according to Landerman.

“Massage therapists need to be properly trained to recognize the various [personality types], not read books and arbitrarily administer therapies,” she says. “One needs to train to discern between what is a person’s constitution and what is the imbalance and how to go about invoking balance back into that individual.”

According to Jim Garrett, marketing director of The Raj, an 18-room spa in Iowa that pioneered Ayurveda in the United States (Deepak Chopra learned his Ayurvedic techniques here), it’s not possible to just learn Ayurvedic massage and then take it back to your practice. “[Ayurvedic medicine is] a comprehensive rejuvenation program, everything is interrelated and interconnected; you can’t just take massage out,” he says.

“The use of the word massage is somewhat deceptive,” Garrett continues. “[Technicians] administer strokes totally in synchrony in a way that goes back to ancient tradition. Some of our technicians are massage therapists, some aren’t. We put them through our own specialized training of about one month, and then they continue to learn after that.”

So, how would a massage therapist who is serious about learning Ayurvedic medicine receive education? Landerman says there are about 200 colleges in India that teach a four- or six-year medical course in Ayurvedic medicine and that some authentic practitioners have come to the U.S. to teach the techniques, work in spas or open up their own clinics.

She did agree that massage therapists could take training in various aspects of massage as performed in the Ayurvedic tradition, but this would not qualify the therapist to say she or he is an Ayurvedic massage therapist. “Therapists should not, in a superficial way, offer Ayurvedic massage as a way to attract people [to their practice]. It is deep; it requires more than ‘this kind of oil and this kind of touch,’” she says. “However, just like massage therapists today learn about different acupuncture points and they incorporate that in a superficial way into their practice, there are certain components of Ayurveda that will lend themselves to massage therapy—as long as you emphasize that it is very peripheral and not call it an Ayurvedic massage.”

 – Charlotte Michael Versagi, L.M.T., N.C.T.M.B., is a journalist, a lymphedema therapist who also sees cancer patients, and a science instructor in a massage-therapy program at The Carnegie Institute in Troy, Michigan.

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