Vishesh: the ancient detox massage
“Treat Vata like a baby, treat Pitta like a friend, treat Kapha like an enemy.”
This adage never sat well with me. I don’t like the idea that I’d treat a part of myself as a foe, especially since a healthy relationship with my Kapha dosha brings such richness, sweetness and depth to my life. Our culture has a fear of Kapha and what its presence might imply - people envision flabby frames, lazy bodies, unsightly jiggle - and our language around “detoxifying” demonstrates that.
Instead, my intuition tells me to treat Kapha like a dear friend who needs a little nudge, a sweetheart who needs a little rustle and a heartfelt squeeze to get them back on track and moving forward. The Ayurvedic approach of vishesh massage advocates for such a relationship with aspects of our physical bodies that might have grown stagnant or accumulated in excess over time. There’s a sense that the treatment is getting things activated and moving, that obstructed and congested channels are receiving a fresh flood of blood, lymph and nutrients, and that the cold density of Kapha accumulation is being lovingly warmed and coaxed to loosen its protective stability and just flow.
Abhyanga and vishesh have much in common in regards to their profound impact on the subtle body and their mutual capacity to promote balanced flow within the gross, physical channels. What feels to be a distinguishing factor between the two is the intention behind the strokes. Vishesh, while still aimed at being a neurologically and somatically relaxing treatment, employs a certain repertoire of massage techniques that targets the mamsa, medas and asthii dhatus, or the tissues that comprise the musculoskeletal system. As a practitioner, I’m more attuned to leaning into the strokes, allowing the client to receive an experience of deeper pressure, both from my hands and from the support of the table. Likewise, the strokes themselves offer a constant, uninterrupted flow of contact on the recipient’s body. In that way, the massage may feel more briskly paced and therefore more Kaphically-minded, however the rhythm of the treatment remains also rooted in supporting a Vata-balancing experience.
There’s an element of heat involved in Vishesh, as well. Less oil is applied, resulting in the transformation of that characteristic “abhyanga glide” to a stroke that offers more friction, pressure and stimulus of the circulatory vessels. Actual applied heat is also part of regimen - how divine! Hot compresses can be used during sessions to encourage superficial blood vessels to dilate and therefore generate enhanced flow of heated blood from the deep tissue layers to circulate throughout the muscle tissue. For a truly divine and complete experience, however, Vishesh is often combined with Swedana, or steam therapy. Recipients are first oiled, and without needing to move a muscle, are then ensconced in a spacious sweat tent that leaves the head exposed. While warm steam deliciously bathes the body, recipients safely avoid overheating by placing chilled stones over the sternum and pubic bone and cold compresses over the eyes and forehead. The end result is next to perfection - centered, fortified, and ready to take on the day!
Article by Marisa Hall (2020)