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Sun 10 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Indian influences

Ayurveda spa operators should capitalise on current consumer lifestyle trends towards alternative medicines to increase treatment take-up.

Ayurveda spa operators should capitalise on current consumer lifestyle trends towards alternative medicines to increase treatment take-up.

The success of the Softouch Ayurveda spa at Ajman Kempinski and plans for India's Kare Academy -a retreat centred on Ayurveda and Iyengar yoga - to launch in Dubai this year, are testament to the growing popularity of Ayurveda in the Middle East.

A whole new dimension of spa opens up as we learn to touch and communicate with the client.

The 5000-year-old Indian medical system was officially introduced to the UAE in 2001, when Dr V L Shyam, director of Softouch Spa for Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates and a regional director for the Kerala-based Softouch Spa brand, was awarded the first licence to practice Ayurveda in the country by the Ministry of Health (MOH).

Dr Shyam, who trained in western medicine but grew up in Kerala in India surrounded by the principles of Ayurveda, says: "In India, Ayurveda is medicine, plain and simple, and is necessary for the treatment of sick people and as a repository of advice about how to preserve health."

"In the UAE also, Ayurveda is recognised by the Ministry of Health as a traditional complementary and alternative medicine."

"However, in the Middle East Ayurveda is undergoing a process of modernisation and globalisation similar to that which took place earlier with yoga."

"Ayurveda is changing and adapting, as it moves from its pre-modern conservative role to a new position as one part of a portfolio of alternative and complementary therapies offered alongside modern medicine," continues Shyam.

"During the 20th century, the practice of a branch of ‘physical yoga' (stretching and breathing) has become a worldwide phenomenon rather than getting popularity as a whole philosophy."

A similar process of globalisation is currently happening in the Middle East to the tradition of Ayurveda.

It is not the curative aspects or health idea, but the wellness part of Ayurveda like massages, oil treatments and rejuvenation therapies that are gaining attractiveness."

Although more education on Ayurveda is needed, as will be discussed later, the growing awareness of the wellness side of Ayurveda does not have to be seen as negative.

Wellness is a growing trend worldwide, so if consumers are buying into this idea, it makes commercial sense to market Ayurveda alongside it.

Indeed Dr Suni Paul, Ayurvedic consultant at Softouch spa at Kempinski Hotel Ajman, says that public perception of Ayurveda has improved a lot and that spa plays a large role in attracting people in the region to Ayurveda.

"If it's known as purely medical, they would be less likely to experience it," she says.

Softouch at Kempinski Hotel Ajman offers everything from a basic 60-minute Ayurveda massage (Abhyangam), to signature treatments such as Softouch Anti Voyage Fatigue to 14-28 day purification treatments (Panchakarma therapy) and a Spine Care programme, meaning it covers preventative and curative forms of Ayurveda.
Paul, who joined Softouch following roles as chief physician of a specialist Ayurveda hospital in Kerala and as a spa manager and Ayurvedic consultant for Hotel South Park in Trivandum, also in India, says she is unable to practice fully, however.

"The MOH has accepted Ayurveda but limited it in terms of surgical procedures," she explains.

As a result, the spa industry in the region is perfectly placed to offer Ayurveda medicines, as it is unlikely to be offered in a hospital environment.

For example, one of the three key aspects of the preventative medicine of Ayurveda is Rasayana and Vajikarana, which focuses on the rejuvenating and invigorating use of herbs, obviously providing a link with the spa industry, which generally speaking is trying to move towards using more natural and organic products.

In addition, Dr Suresh Kumar, the Ayurvedic doctor at Cleopatra's day spa in Dubai, who has also entered the spa industry from medical roles in Ayurveda hospitals in India, says that Ayurveda can also be complementary to other treatments on the spa menu.

"All you have to do is to understand the ingredients of the treatments and the procedures thoroughly and work for a common goal," he says.

A guest who desires a more firm, toned body would benefit from the effective combination of an Ayurvedic therapy like Elakkizhi (a herbal powder massage) with a Thalsso algae wrap and detoxifying Ionithermie, explains Kumar.

Crucial consultations

With the above in mind, thorough consultations are obviously crucial in Ayurveda spas.

Shyam says: "According to Ayurveda, no two people are alike. Each of us possesses a unique constitution - an individual set of physical, mental, sensory, motor and spiritual characters."

Therefore, every treatment in an Ayurveda spa facility should be unique to the individual.

"A whole new dimension of spa opens up as we learn to touch and communicate with the client in a manner that honours their uniqueness and body type."

"The spa-experience then becomes a context where their true nature can blossom and unfold," asserts Shyam.

As well as informing the doctor, the consultation process is essential in ensuring clients have a better knowledge of Ayurveda.

Although experts believe consumers in the Middle East are becoming more aware of Ayurveda, its doctors say educating them as to the lifestyle elements associated with it is a major challenge.

"All the treatments performed in a clinic or Ayurveda hospital can be performed in an Ayurvedic hotel spa too," says Shyam.
The issue comes when there are diet controls in certain Ayurveda treatments - it is far more difficult to maintain a diet chart in a hotel or resort environment.

"There is no point in going for a detox treatment when the client consumes junk food and fizzy drinks," continues Shyam.

Therefore, customer education, personalised treatment, follow-up treatments and lifestyle modifications are important in practising Ayurveda in a spa facility.

Kumar echoes Shyam's views, explaining the approach taken at Cleopatra's: "We have a special 30-minute format for consultation."

"Consultation is based on the famous Thridosha theory of Ayurveda, meaning we include features of the physical body, mind and inner soul in our consultation questionnaire."

"Although the consultation is based on Ayurveda, we correlate with modern medicine so that clients can relate their problems to this and to any sessions with doctor, and understand about their body constitution based on Tridosha theory," says Kumar.

"Finally, there should be the guidance or suggestions from the Ayurveda doctor regarding diet, body procedures in the form of massages, baths and herbal pastes , exercise regimens, yoga practices and lifestyle advice," he advises.

Ayurveda awareness

Consultations will help to boost consumer awareness of Ayurveda in the Middle East, which is already on the rise with more Ayurvedic herb suppliers and spa operators entering the market.

For example, a new Ayurveda spa resort fusing the benefits of Ayurveda and Iyengar yoga is set to open in Dubai this year.

Kare is the creation of Dr Prakish Kalmadi, a doctor of western medicine who turned to Ayurveda to cure a range of ongoing medical problems he was suffering from such as hypertension and high cholesterol.

After realising its benefits he studied Ayurveda in Pune and Kerala and then set up Kare, an Ayurvedic Center in Pune.

Kalmadi has since expanded the business with two more sites in India, one in Phuket in Thailand and one planned for Dubai - an indication of the openness of the culture here to Ayurveda.

Indeed Kumar believes that there is the potential for Ayurveda to be as popular and respected in the Middle East as it is in India.

"A science and a healing system wherever it is practised in its true sense will have users and followers, irrespective of the place."

"Whether it is in India or Middle East, the science doesn't change," he says.

"I feel that to increase the awareness of Ayurveda we must accept it in its original sense. "
Due to the lack of awareness and hearing of ‘half truths' of the subject there is a general feeling that Ayurveda consists of only massage procedures and is not a fully scientific medical system.

Shyam is confident that current lifestyle trends will help to increase interest in the healing system of Ayurveda.

He says: "Over the past few years, we have witnessed a growth in people with transformative life experiences; a compressed sense of time; a frustration with conventional healthcare; and an ageing population."

"This drives the trend towards a natural and wellness consciousness."

"Consumers in the natural products arena pursue Ayurveda as an antidote to the stress and accelerated pace of today's society.

In the UAE, two off days in a week will lead to more focus on finding and making time for ‘what really matters'," says Shyam.

He concludes: "An increased focus on prevention will continue in 2008."

"As our culture continues to identify more toxins - such as dietary no-nos, stress and environmental pollution - more people will turn to spas for a range of detox solutions, relaxation, all-organic diets and the purging of emotional baggage through one-on-one or group therapy work."

These are all trends that Ayurveda spa operators should consider and act upon.

By using this knowledge to market their facilities appropriately and educate the consumer as to Ayurveda's benefits for day-to-day modern life, the popularity of this ancient system is surely set to continue - if not rise.

About Ayurveda

Literally translated as the science of life, Ayurveda teaches how to maintain and protect health, the secret being in preserving the harmony of the body, mind and inner soul with nature.

It is both a preventative medicine, in that it works to maintain health in a healthy person, and a curative medicine, curing disease in the diseased.

Ayurveda is said to be the only system that separates the ailment from the root cause, with purification at the essence of treatments.

One of the most well known programmes is Panchakarma, which involves five elimination procedures to rid the body of toxins.

Though the system has only really emerged in the Middle East this decade following its recognition by the MOH, Shyam says that in India, 65% of the population in rural areas use Ayurveda and medicinal plants to help meet their primary healthcare needs.

The Central Council of Indian Medicine governs and recommends policies for the research and development of Ayurveda, and there are 361,881 registered Ayurveda practitioners, 14,252 dispensaries and 2189 Ayurveda hospitals in the government sector, plus those in the private sector," he adds.

Degree courses in Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery span five-and-a-half years, with one of the most presitigous colleges - where both Dr Suni Paul and Dr Suresh Kumar studied - being the Government Ayurveda College Trivandrum in Kerala, India.

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