By Sharon Stathis
Published Australia 2005
Upon arrival in India, the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of this populous nation assail one’s senses. If there is one word to define India, it is ‘diversity’. It is displayed in a huge melting pot of dialects, customs and religious beliefs. It is also a land of contrasts. India exhibits enormous affluence and also abject poverty, cleanliness and filth, ugly slums and beautiful countryside. Yet it hooks you in. Once visited, a return trip is eagerly anticipated by those who have experienced its wonders.
‘Exciting’ is another word commonly used by foreigners who have travelled the over-crowded streets of India’s big cities. They are dirty, noisy, heavily polluted and personally challenging. I remember my first dose of India’s intoxication. I observed with excitement and awe the colours and customs that are so different from ours in the West. I remember feeling overwhelmed as I tried to assimilate all that was going on around me. Yet when I first arrived in Mumbai, the culture shock was less than I had anticipated. In fact, in a strange way it felt almost ‘comfortable’.
I became interested in Ayurveda (the folk medicine of India) many years ago. My curiosity had been aroused when I saw a diagram of the marma points for the feet. Marma points are vital energy centres located throughout the body. They facilitate the flow of vital energy (Prana) via energetic pathways (nadis) to all the body organs, structures and tissues. It is of interest to reflexologists that the marmas located on the limbs are very important for treatment purposes.
At the time of my initial discovery, I was preoccupied with raising my children, running my college and teaching reflexology. Several years passed before I had an opportunity to expand my knowledge of Ayurveda. However, the Australian based training that I received was limited, and I longed to learn from an authority living in India.
Over the years I had purchased many books on Ayurveda. One of these intrigued me. It was titled “Ayurveda and Marma Therapy” by Frawley, Lele and Ranade. I remember my excitement when I received this book that specialised in Marma Therapy. I contacted one of the authors, Prof. Dr. Avinash Lele, and explained my need for further tuition. He generously invited me to visit him in Pune, and so my Indian epic began.
There were several reasons for my travel to India. Firstly, I was seeking a suitable Ayurvedic teacher. Secondly, I wanted to experience the culture first-hand, and most significantly, as a reflexologist fascinated with feet, I sought to research the traditional Ayurvedic footwork called Padabhyanga.
My destination was Pune, a four hour train journey from Mumbai. Indian railway stations are an unforgettable experience! The journey proved uneventful, and our arrival in Pune introduced us to the intricacies of motorized rickshaws and their colourful drivers. By colourful I refer to their personalities. Some were helpful, honest and good drivers and others were psychopaths in the midst of chaotic traffic. As there are no taxis in Pune, the only forms of available public transport are rickshaws and buses. The local buses were definitely not an option.
Dr. Lele’s clinic was on the opposite side of Pune to where we were staying. So my husband and I quickly became seasoned rickshaw travellers. I can’t say that I enjoyed many of our rickshaw journeys. The toxic black smoke belching from the battered buses, and the numerous near misses are remembered as unhealthy and anxious Indian city ecology.
During my first visit with Dr. Lele, I gave him my Ayurvedic Reflexology course notes and Ayurvedic Reflexology instructional DVD. As we left from that interview, I wondered what he would think of the Ayurvedic Reflexology that I was teaching.
Dr. Lele is from a lineage of Ayurvedic doctors and he is a world authority on Marma Therapy. I wanted my work to receive a favourable review. With a little trepidation I returned the next day. My fears were allayed as I received his praise for my notes and DVD. I gratefully and humbly accepted his offer to help me with my quest for further knowledge.
Dr. Lele teaches various aspects of Ayurvedic Medicine to Westerners at the International Academy of Ayurved, Pune where he holds the position of Vice Chair. He also teaches Ayurveda as he travels extensively in Western countries during six months of the year. He still continues to patiently answer my questions by e-mail from various locations around the planet. I feel deeply honoured to receive continued instruction from such an eminent professional.
In order to further my knowledge of Ayurveda, I made a booking with Dr. Lele for a personal consultation at his clinic. I filled out the mandatory client questionnaire prior to the consultation and duly arrived the next day for my first session. There were to be five in total.
After reading my form and asking the appropriate questions, Dr. Lele proceeded with the examination. He felt my radial pulse to help ascertain the state of the energy balance within my body. He then palpated some of my marma points and made a comment that there is always a lot going on in my head! I had to agree. After the physical examination, he agreed with my self-diagnosis regarding the energy imbalance that I was experiencing. He then ordered the appropriate treatments to help correct the problem.
Within the Ayurvedic tradition, the correct balance of the bioenergetic principles (Doshas) is the overriding factor in maintaining health. The maintenance of this energy balance relies heavily on healthy living practices which include regular internal detoxification procedures called Panchakarma.
I experienced my five sessions of Ayurvedic treatments over six days. My first three visits involved blissful full body massage followed by the application of steam via an enormous steam tent placed over the massage table. I literally cooked and cooked and cooked. I was congratulated on my prolific outpouring of sweat during the procedure. Apparently I had done well.
The final two sessions were a little different and definitely not as enjoyable. Enemas were now on the menu. How wonderful. This is where my nursing background kicked in. I wanted to know what tubes would be used. How were they cleaned and sterilised etc.? Of course my fears were allayed, and I proceeded to receive the herbalised oils to lubricate my undernourished system!
I also experienced a different form of heat application. My body was patted with herbalised rice poultices called Pinda Sweda. These hot poultices increase the capillary circulation in the skin, which in turn facilitates the absorption of the herbs. I was also given some little hand rolled pills and dubious looking sachets of powder to swallow. I remember thinking at the time that the Customs department in Australia could be very interested in these on my return!
At the completion of these intensive treatment sessions, I felt absolutely wonderful. My body felt lighter and my mind felt much clearer. I was sad to finish my Ayurvedic treatments, and I look forward with eager anticipation to further clinic visits at another time.
Dr. Avinash Lele is an Ayurvedic Surgeon. His wife Dr. Bharati Lele is an Ayurvedic Obstetrician and Gynaecologist. Their home and teaching school is located in a quieter, outer suburb. They made us very welcome in their home and Dr. Bharati prepared a beautiful traditional Ayurvedic meal for us. I was under careful instruction and the watchful eye of Dr. Avinash as I ate the delicious food. To my relief, my newly acquired eating skills were highly praised. At the end of the meal I felt like a little child who had just earned a gold star!
The Leles sang beautiful chants for us, and we were invited to sing for them in return. We sang Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender”, a song that was familiar to us as we had sung it at our wedding. It was probably not in the same spiritual realm as their traditional Indian chants, but nevertheless, it was sung with reverence and good intent, and was well received. On our arrival back in Australia, we sent Dr. Bharati a gift of my favourite CD, “Sacred Chants of Shiva” which she had enjoyed during our visit. We thought it would be an appropriate gift for a very special person.
My Indian quest was proving fruitful. I had found my Ayurvedic teacher and I was lapping up the culture that surrounded me. Now it was time to discover some traditional Padabhyanga. I asked Dr. Bharati Lele for direction. Her answer surprised and disappointed me. “Oh, not many people do it anymore” she said. To a reflexologist who had come all the way from Australia, this was devastating news.
Unconvinced, I visited a likely looking clinic on the other side of town. Surely I will find Padabhyanga here, alive and well I thought. The clinic advertised Reflexology on its billboard (see photo). Inside I met a delightful young Indian gentleman who proudly explained to me how he does foot Reflexology. “But what about Padabhyanga?” I asked. “No, I do only Reflexology” he replied. “What about the Marma points?” I asked hopefully. “No, I do Reflexology” was his proud and repeated reply. How sad, I thought, if an ancient and valued tradition like Padabhyanga is lost.
Maybe all is not lost. Perhaps Ayurvedic Reflexology is providing us with the best of both worlds, as it successfully integrates the Eastern energetic principles with the knowledge of our contemporary Reflexology. As an addition, Ayurvedic Reflexology incorporates work on the hands. This inclusion of Ayurvedic wisdom into our current reflexology regimes, provides us with a new, valuable methodology that facilitates healing in a truly holistic and dynamic way.
I will continue to share this knowledge as it evolves. I still intend to seek out the elusive Padabhyanga during future visits to India. We will be returning for the wedding of Nandan Lele (son) later this year. We also look forward to exploring other parts of the country during our next Indian adventure. I wonder what that journey will reveal?