skip to Main Content

Hailing from India–Holistic Spa Therapies

The ancient healing arts of yoga and Ayurveda have been widely embraced by spas and incorporated into modern meditative healing therapies.

Ayurveda is a form of medicine that developed more than 5,000 years ago in India. The word Ayurveda is derived from the Sanskrit word for “life knowledge,” and it emphasizes a balanced approach to life. By balancing one’s unique elements or doshas, the mind, body and spirit are able to exist in harmony. For thousands of years, Ayurvedic medicine has been used as a holistic approach to combatting disease and restoring health. Traditional ingredients include mud, coconut oil, spices and herbs. Traditional lifestyle practices include yoga and massage, therapies long known to calm, heal and renew.

For thousands of years holistic centers in India have offered restorative therapies rooted in Ayurvedic medicine that included herbal preparations, lifestyle changes and dietary recommendations. Over the years, these Ayurvedic therapies have been refined and adapted to the needs of a modern society. For instance, recognizing the unique needs of each individual, the Indian city of Mumbai has opened its first 24-hour spa with therapies ranging from the reflexology treatment known as padabhyanga, which focuses on marma, the energy points of the feet and calves, to fusion inspired treatments such as coconut body wraps. Signature treatments, which can extend as long as 3 hours, include body scrubs, massage, shirodhara, and private bathing rituals. In the last few decades, American and European spas have created similar therapies rooted in Ayurveda. Expect to find the following therapies at spas worldwide.


Although there are many branches of yoga that exist, including hot yoga and power yoga, most spas offer classes in Hatha Yoga, a form that emphasizes a constant sequence of meditative movements. Some spas specialize in yoga and offer yoga retreats and classes that combine yoga with other forms of exercise such as Pilates.

The urban, environmentally conscious, mind body spa chain, Exhale Spa, with locations in California, Texas, Massachusetts, New York, Florida, Georgia and the Caribbean is regarded as one of the best yoga centers. With its emphasis on breath work, Exhale’s philosophy maintains that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that both must be addressed to achieve wellbeing.


Massage in the Indian tradition, is an invigorating therapy occasionally performed by two or more massage therapists. Depending on the needs of the individual, massage may include herbal pouches, gemstones, heated oils or flower essences. Njavarakizhi is a synchronized form of massage in which warm, medicated oil is drizzled over the body. Other variations include shirodhara and takradhara. In Shirodhara, during the massage a warm dosha-specific liquid such as sesame oil or coconut water is drizzled over the forehead, which is reported to improve memory as well as sleep patters. In takradhara, a similar procedure that improves the skin, medicated buttermilk is drizzled over the forehead.

Abhyanga is a form of full-body massage in which two therapists work together to perform a four-handed massage. This procedure is used to balance the doshas, liquefy and remove toxins, reduce joint pain and relieve sore muscles. In Pinda sweda, clients are massaged with an herbal pouch containing specialized herbs that have bee fried in medicated oils and strained through muslim. Pina sweda is especially effective for relieving symptoms of arthritis, low back pain and inflammatory conditions. Tan lepa is a similar massage therapy that includes a medicated herbal oil massage followed by a body mask using dosha-specific ingredients. This therapy is used to detoxify, heal, refresh and calm the body.

Scrubs, Baths, and Body Wraps

Ayurvedic scrubs include a range of ingredients intended to balance doshas and aid in detoxification. Ingredients include ginger, flower essences, pomegranate, and sugar. Bath therapies are used for relaxation and are included in many signature treatments. Pizhichil is a royal oil bath also called the “King’s Treatment,” because of its luxuriating qualities. Pizhichil is an indulgent therapy that includes therapists slowly pouring a stream of warm herbal oils on the body. The light pressure of the oils penetrating the skin is reported to improve immune system function, improve stiff joints and improve range of movement and flexibility. Body wraps are used to detoxify and calm the body and to nourish the internal organs. Common ingredients include coconut, honey, ginger and plant extracts.