Sinead Corcoran finds out if Ayurvedic massage is helpful for anxiety
Sinead Corcoran road-tests Ayurvedic massage on her quest to heal her anxiety, and it leaves her utterly 'zenned out'.
My friend Anna and I often go for couples massages at those high street places.
You know the ones, they cost around $80 for an hour and are a real mixed bag in terms of your experience. For example, I once got one where the masseuse told me I had an amazing body, which was a very kind lie.
Anna once had one where the masseuse clapped her butt cheeks together and laughed, and at our last couples massage, my masseuse left halfway through to go to the bathroom and didn't come back. High street massages are a dice roll for sure.
Up until my 2021 mental breakdown I had never dabbled in the woo-woo, but I am now so desperate to be cured of anxiety that I'm exploring alternative therapies alongside my medication.
I've discovered Eastern medicine, Ayurvedic massage, which I experienced recently when I went to see Sarita Solvig Blankenburg at Ayurveda New Zealand.
The theory behind Ayurvedic medicine is based on the idea that the world is made up of five elements: aakash (space), jala (water), prithvi (earth), teja (fire), and vayu (air). A combination of each element results in three doshas, known as vata, kapha, and pitta. These doshas are believed to be responsible for a person's physiological, mental, and emotional health. Ayurvedic medicine says everyone has a unique ratio of each dosha, usually with one standing out more than the others.
Pre-massage I had a consultation with Sarita where she established that I am big-time kapha. While kapha people are described as strong, thick-boned (ouch) and caring, they're also prone to weight gain, slow metabolism, breathing issues and mental health problems. As a chubby, snoring, anxiety-riddled person I pretty much fit the bill.
She prescribed me Sattva Botanicals ayurvedic formula for mental health, which tastes like feet but apparently helps with anxiety, some massage oil and a copper tongue scraper.
I then had a custom-designed abhyanga massage with herbal-infused medicated oil to tackle my kapha, and it was the best massage I've ever had.
Instead of the kind of massage where the masseuse climbs all over you and your life flashes before your eyes, this was done in long, gentle strokes.
The second-best part was that "all treatments are conducted in silence to facilitate an inwards journey of bliss", so I didn't have to listen to any chatter about the weekend.
The very best part though was when Sarita gently massaged my stomach. I've put on 20kg since going on anxiety medication a year ago, and it kills me because what was once a flat stomach is now a real mum tum – so I avoid looking at it at all costs, let alone touching it. So, when she gently stroked my belly, I teared up because it's been a long time since I've shown my tum any care whatsoever.
After the massage, Sarita performed shirodhara (from Sanskrit, meaning "head" and "flow") on me, which is where you lie under a copper pot which drips warm oil in the centre of the forehead (apparently the location of the third eye) in a rhythmic, steady stream.
This is said to rejuvenate the pineal gland and as a result, increases the efficiency of the brain, improves sleep disorders, stress, headaches, depression and anxiety.
While the oil dripped, Sarita gave me a traditional Indian head massage to sensitise the nerve endings on the skull.
It felt absolutely divine and I was utterly zenned out afterwards. For relaxation, I give this top marks. I'm now an Ayurvedic convert.