Travel: Kerala - Where the drip, drip, drip on your forehead is far from torture...

AYURVEDA is the centuries-old Vedic herbal medical approach used in many parts of India. Kerala is its home, and the famous Aryavaidya Sala college and hospital is in the town of Kottakal.

The approach is holistic and bent on overcoming imbalances in body and spirit. It is based on diagnosing the "humours" of the body (wind, mucus, gall and, sometimes, blood) to achieve a balance. It makes use of 107 extremely sensitive areas (marma) of the body. Ayurveda has classified substances and chemical compounds based on panchabutas, the theory of five key elements. The trick, as anywhere, is to find genuinely capable doctors and hygienic clinics.

Treatments are available for many medical disorders and for toning and rejuvenating the body. Courses of sustained treatment are offered for periods of up to and sometimes more than a month involving massages with herbal oils and powders, administering of internal medicines, special diets, steam baths, yoga, and dripping of oils onto the forehead. Below is an Ayurvedic doctor's description of some of the available treatments.

In Pizhichil, lukewarm herbal oils are applied all over the body by two or four trained masseurs in a rhythmic way for 60 to 90 minutes daily for a period of seven to 21 days. Pizhichil is very useful for rheumatic diseases like arthritis, paralysis, sexual and nervous weakness and nervous disorders.

In Kizhi, herbal leaves and other herbs or herbal powders are applied to the whole body in boluses with hot medicated oils for 45 minutes daily for seven to 14 days. This treatment is for osteo-arthritis, sports injuries and spondylosis.

Navarakizhi is a process by which the whole body (or a specific part of it) is made to perspire by the application of medicinal rice puddings externally in the form of boluses tied up in a muslin bag. This is applied by two to four masseurs for about 60 to 90 minutes per day for a period of 14 days. This treatment is for all types of rheumatism, pain in the joints, emaciation of limbs, blood pressure, cholesterol and some skin diseases.

Dhara involves herbal oils, medicated milk and buttermilk being poured on the forehead using a special method for 45 minutes a day for seven to 21 days. It is mainly for insomnia, mental tension and certain skin diseases.

In Vasthi, certain herbal oils and extracts are applied through the rectum daily for five to 21 days. Vasthi is for arthritis, paralysis, numbness, gastric complaints, rheumatism and constipation.

Nasyam applies herbal juices and medicated oils through the nose for seven to 14 days. It is highly effective for certain kinds of headache, mental disorders, paralysis and some skin diseases.

Shnehapanam administers medicated ghee internally in a gradually increased quantity for seven to 14 days and is to combat osteo-arthritis, leukaemia, etc, and Rasayana is a special Ayurvedic vegetarian diet.

Normally, a course involves a combination of treatments. For example, Kayakalpa Chikilsa is offered as a 28-day body immunisation/longevity programme including Pizhichil, Nasyam, Shnehapanam, Rasayana, body massage, medicated steam bath, yoga, and several other treatments.