Monday, April 14, 2008

Ayurvedic massage in Bratislava's Old Town

With my relocation to Australia looming, I took the opportunity to have one last quick weekend in Europe.

I chose to go to Bratislava, Slovakia's capital, simply because I hadn't been there, and had read that it's Old Town was picturesque.

True to it's word, it was indeed quaint and pretty. It was also fairly small, so by the end of my second day I thought I'd just about discovered as many new things in the old town as I was likely to. By chance, however, I took a different route through the cobbled streets back to my hotel, and stumbled across a large sign that said Ayurvedic Massage Centre.

Ayurvedic massage is something I'd read about, but had not yet tried. All I knew was that it originated in India and was more than just massage - it was an entire way of life that included massage, healthy eating and fitness.

So in I went, curious to find out more about how this Ayervedic Massage Centre called Darsana had found its way into Bratislava's Old Town.

The owner, Mark, was helpful and happy to explain how he'd come to set up the centre. He said he saw an opportunity to bring a different form of massage to Slovakia. Having looked around the city myself, I'd only seen Thai massage advertised. So - competition seemed pretty limited and he felt that with the increasing standard of living in Bratislava, people would be ready to pay for more exotic forms of pampering.

He explained that he'd been to India some ten years ago and liked the ayurvedic style, and had in fact, just returned from India earlier in the week. He had brought in massage therapists from the Indian state of Kerala, where ayurveda originated.

The centre itself was lovely - granite floor everywhere, neutral tones, and dimly lit. He explained that the building was originally from the 14th Century, and he'd had a hard time doing the re-fit because there were so many heritage-related regulations. He'd done a fantastic job though - it was calm, quiet and felt like a million miles away from the narrow little streets of Bratislava.

He was kind enough to show me around the therapy rooms, explaining that the wooden massage tables were authentic ayurveda style. They looked enormous, and had a two-step wooden box for the therapists to stand on while they were massaging.

Mark explained that Abhyangam is a popular ayurvedic massage that focuses on the body's seven different energy centres - called marma. I gathered that these must have been synonymous with chakras, which I was familar with, but will have to investigate further.

He then unveiled a curtain to reveal another treatment room. It looked like a huge metal pressure cooker, which he explained, pumped out steam infused with herbal oils. Called Swedanam, it was like a mini-sauna for one. He demonstrated how the client would sit on the chair, with their head poking through a hole in the top of the box, and showed where the steam was pumped out. I had visions of claustrophobia or getting stuck in there, but he assured me it was a common procedure in India and ayurvedic therapy.

Having now heard quite a bit about ayurvedic massage, I decided I needed to try it, and booked in the following day for a 45 minute Abhyangam massage, a 20 minute Shiro abhyangam (or Indian head massage), a 20-minute facial massage and a 15 minute session in the pressure cooker.

When I arrived the next day, I was shown into the change room and then into one of the therapy rooms. And so began the full body massage.

The massage therapist used a lot more oil in this form of massage than what I was used to in Swedish massage. And the focus seemed to be far more on long flowing strokes up and down the body rather than pressure work in specific areas.

The oils were scented - infused with herbs, the therapist explained, and they sought to work on re-balancing the three energies known as Doshas – Vatha, Pitta and Kapha. Vatha governs the principle of movement, the Pitta dosha is the process of transformation and Kapha is responsible for growth and adding structure.

In any case, I felt that my Dosha's were getting the right royal treatment as I pondered how amazing it is that there are so many forms of massage, all originating from different parts of the world, yet all so beneficial to one's wellbeing.

By the time I was flipped over, I felt oiler than a McDonald's french fry, but I knew that the oils and herbs were doing wonderful things to relax my body and mind.

Onto the facial, and the therapist used the most delicate strokes around my face. It felt as light as rain drops, but was incredibly relaxing. I could have snored half way through, or perhaps I was just dreaming that I did. It was drool-worthy, in any case. Then it was time to slide off the table (and I mean SLIDE), into a chair for the head massage.

Indian Head Massage - which I had tried before - is typically done on a seated client. You can elect to have it with oil or without. I went with the oil version, and the therapist began a series of rather more vigourous strokes around my head, layering in oil to the point where my hair was a mega greaseball.

Look at pretty much any Indian's hair and you'll see its typically shiny and strong - head massage is apparently a really important part of their lives. Massage of the scalp promotes hair growth and hair quality, and can help to reduce tension in the scalp, neck and shoulders.

Twenty minutes of head massage passed dreamily by and I was then shown into the pressure cooker room for my 15-minutes of Swedanam steamin'. The therapist explained that the temperature in the pressure cooker would increase, and that I could stay in there for up to 15 minutes.

She stayed in the room for pretty much the whole time, checking in on the temperature, and basically making sure I didn't faint. I felt fine, but I could see how some people may be prone to fainting in that environment. The oils simmered away - heat and steam helping my skin to absorb the oils and further promote relaxation. It was lovely! 15 minutes was about enough.

I was then led into the chillout room. I really like clinics and salons that provide a chill room. It can be fairly daunting leaving a relaxing massage and heading straight back out into the busy world. This one was warm and comfy and I was given tea and a huge fluffy blanket to sit under for a while. This process helped the oils to absorb even more.

Another client was sitting there, alo chilling out. She looked suitably happy and relaxed. We discussed our treatments and how wonderful they were, and also our surprise at finding this ayurvedica centre in Bratislava of all places!

When I left Darsana more than two hours after I'd arrived, I felt very relaxed and clear-headed. My niggling lower back ache was gone and I was smiling. Massage definitely switches on the smiley button for me.

I walked out into the warm Slovakian sun and had a light lunch in the bustling courtyard just under Michael's Gate.

It was a perfect way to spend my last morning in Bratislava. The combined cost of the four treatments equated to about £60.


Anonymous said...

I suffer from neck and back pains a lot and wandered if an indian head massage would be the most effective for this type of symptom, rather than just an holistic one.

Or maybe there is an even more appropriate massage to help relieve neck and back pain!?

Venti said...

Hi Ross,

Indian head massage can be really effective - I'm not qualified in this technique though so I haven't had first hand experience in working with clients over any length of time. The few Indian Head Massages I've had over the years have been very relaxing.

Regular swedish/holistic massages should help to relieve neck and back pains. I'd try a series of once a week for a month and see how you feel at the end of it. I practice seated massage as well and it gives the therapist really good access to the client's neck and back, from a different angle than if you were on a massage table.

Another less-than-obvious treatment that could help, is reflexology. Our reflexology teacher gave us a range of examples where she had been able to help people with chronic pain.

Where are you based? If you can let me know via email to, I can possibly recommend a therapist.

Best regards,

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply. After looking into it I tried a good local one and I have to agree, a seated massage seems a lot more appropriate for a neck and back massage. It really does get those knots out!

Venti said...

Great! Glad you found something that worked for you.

Best regards,