As children, we would be stripped down to our underclothes for a weekly oil massage every weekend. This would be followed by a thorough scrubbing down until we were squeaky clean. This elaborate weekly clean-up died a slow death as we kids grew up. By the time I was a pre-teen, oil was not cool.
A few years later, I was reintroduced to the indulgence of the enne snaana as part of the daily routine post childbirth. There is a word for this stage of new motherhood in Kannada, baananthi. I was lucky to have Amma who knew the old ways to ensure I got loving, indulgent care. Once the baby grew a little bigger, work and other things happened and that leisurely time was soon a faded memory. It came back again for a short while with the birth of my second child but the pace of life had increased dramatically by then for an extended break.
In the last couple of years, I rediscovered the comfort of an oil massage. It is very calming especially when I get overwhelmed with juggling many things. ‘Enne snaana‘ literally translated means oil bath and refers to an oil massage followed by a hot bath. It can be a simple activity or a long drawn indulgent one.
During my baananti days, it was almost a ritualistic process. There was an old massage lady (maalishwali) who came home everyday to give me an oil massage and bath. After a vigorous kneading with warm oil, she would give me a bath with hot (almost scalding) water and a paste of chickpea flour and turmeric. This would be followed by standing over a smoking basket to heal the wounds of childbirth. The basket was used to cover a mix of sambrani (a resin) and ajwain (carom seeds) that would be sprinkled over burning coal embers. The smoke had medicinal value and left a lingering fragrance. She would then bind my belly with an old sari. My new baby girl got a similar treatment after which I would nurse her and we both would fall off to sleep. The room would be mildly warm and it felt like being enveloped in a cocoon. As I type, I can remember the smells and sensations of that time. It was like being in a temple, sacred.
These days, the old routine has been pared down to a self massage and hot bath, usually, on days when I have class. Besides preparing the mind to be in student mode, it helps ease some of the stiffness of body. It makes my body more supple and makes my asanas better. A byproduct of this habit is nourished and healthy skin that smiles with the pampering.
It reconnects me to my body and creates a sense of reverence for this embodiment. How can I not care for the garden I have been given after spending time tending to it?
As the Bible says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit…” The same thought is mirrored in Guruji’s oft repeated body as a temple reference. All roads lead to yog.