Ashram Life is Like an Ayurvedic Powder Massage

Hello from India!


The Ayurvedic Powder Massage, known as Udvartana, is a treatment used to remove toxins and excess fat and provides strength to the body. If you have never experienced one, you might think this sounds exotic and perhaps blissful. Upon first thought, life on an ashram in India may also seem this way. 

Taking a deeper look, these two have similar qualities, but I wouldn’t say blissful, at least, not at the beginning. 

I was drawn to both, believing in their benefits for me. Living on an ashram was a chance to have structured learning and to experience something totally different than anywhere else in the world. The word ashram translates to “work” - and I wanted to do the work, the self-work, our life’s work.

Udvartana is the application of powder made up of the herbs triphala, ginger and a few other anti-inflammatory spices which are rubbed dry into the skin of the entire body in an upward rigorous motion. Your first powder massage is anything but blissful as not one, but two therapists really work this powder into areas that are not used to being handled so fiercely, like your stomach and inner thighs. 

During my first powder massage I was kicking and screaming. I heard the kitchen staff call up to Lakshmi, my “therapist.” She translated, “They want to know why you are screaming.” I said, “Because you are torturing me!”

My first 48 hours living on an ashram was the same: tormented. I needed my stay to end, imminently. It was all pain: from restless sleep in a hot and dirty room with roaming mosquitoes to the language barrier that kept me isolated to a panic attack lasting hours on end. It was like the massaging of powder on my sensitive dry skin, I couldn’t take the rub. 

Maybe I’ll keep the excess fat beneath my skin, I love my Jew girl curves, thanks so much. 

Somehow I kept going, with both. 

After the first 48 hours on the ashram, I found a groove. I found a way to tap into what was there for me to learn. I found peace in the strict discipline of our daily schedule from 5 am to 7pm every day. 

Likewise, by my third powder massage I asked Lakshmi if she was being easy on me. As it turns out, she wasn’t: I had started to acclimate to the rub. By day 5 I actually enjoyed the rub (and the ashram). 

When we’re not used to something, when we’re faced with 180, it can feel harsh and seems senseless. When we persevere, when we can get beyond the initial pain, there is ample reward and perhaps some bliss. 

Maybe all the yoga and meditation is getting to my head (I hope so), but I do believe there is less fat under my skin today than there was a few weeks ago. 

And this Jew girl doesn’t mind that at all.