Posted by: Rhett Hatfield | April 14, 2009

How to Give a Shirodhara Part #4: Preparation of Medicines

How to Give a Shirodhara Part #4
Types of Shirodhara and The Traditional Preparation of Medicines

We teach the basics of “How to Give a Shirodhara” in the Body Wisdom Best of Asia Spa Course.

Introduction to the Preparation of Medicines and Liquids for Shirodhara:
One of the most unique aspects of Shirodhara is the wide variety of liquids that can be used to treat the various conditions of the patient.  I refer to patient here rather than client or guest because in the traditional sense there neither was nor is the aspect of Shirodhara as a relaxing “spa-like” treatment.  In ancient India right up to today Shirodhara is prescribed by an Ayurvedic physician as a series of treatments for a specific illness or imbalance in the patient. On the other hand of all of the Ayurvedic treatments the spa industry as adopted Shirodhara is the one most in use and enjoyed by thousands of spa-goers world wide.

The purpose of this series of articles is to take a look at the pure traditional process to see how and where we can retain the spirit of the original while adapting this amazing treatment to the restrictions and demands of today’s global spa market and that of individual practitioners.

Types of Shirodhara and Preparations of Medicines

Dharadravam (the liquid for Dhara)
Traditionally the liquid for Dhara was prepared with the utmost care and concern for both the quality of ingredients along with strict methodology for preparation. It is held that the effectiveness of the Dhara depends upon the type and the quality of the liquids selected.

Snehadhara or Talia Dhara (Dhara with oil also called unguents)
The most popular types of unctuous liquids used are oils, ghees, fats and marrows.  These can be used singly or mixed and per the dosha conditions of the patient. The liquids can be used raw or most commonly in India they are medicated.  Medication can be added though boiling with herbs (see how to make an Ayurvedic oil) or by adding medicines in powder or liquid form. If though boiling extreme care mist be taken to ascertain that absolutely no water will remain in the oil which is thought to severely disturb the process. The doctors that I have studied with in India would often heat the oil along with some camphor to remove any remaining water before use.

Most modern spas today choose only one kind of oil to use for all clients like sesame or olive oil.  This would certainly be considered incorrect in the traditional sense as some oils are good for a particular dosha imbalance while others will actually aggravate the imbalance.  The work around is to use a tri-dosha oil that works for all Ayurvedic constitutions.  In general for a Vata constitution which tends to be dry the use of sesame oil will be agreeable.  For a Pitta constitution which is “hot” sunflower or coconut oils are considered to be cooling.  For Kapha constitution which is oily, olive oil or ghee is considered to be better. A good tri-dosha oil combines the benefits of sesame with the lightness of sunflower.  All the different medicines that can be combined to treat the various dosha imbalances are outside the scope of this article and frankly require the attention of an Ayurvedic physician.

Takradhara (Dhara with buttermilk)
This is not simply Shirodhara with raw butter milk as the name might imply but rather butter milk that is mixed with a decoction of Amalaka or other liquid. A bundle of the roots of Musta with the outer skin removed is put in the raw buttermilk with 4X the amount of water (or decoction of Amalaka).  All the water is removed by boiling over a medium heat while being stirred repeatedly though out the process.  As mentioned above if any water remains it is thought to be the cause of many problems so this step is very important.  The bundle of medicines put in the butter milk earlier is squeezed well and removed after the boiling process is over.  In addition to Musta (Cyperus rotundus) other medicinal herbs like Sandal wood, Liquorice and Hribera (Coleus vettiveroides, aka Vetiver) are also put in the milk while boiling as directed by the Ayurvedic physician. In general, Musta alone is thought to be sufficient for most imbalances and diseases.  The whole process is a rather lengthily one when done properly. The reason I mention the traditional process here is to differentiate it from those who would promote the use of buttermilk alone as the original.

Ksheeradhara (Dhara with milk)
For Ksheeradhara warm milk fresh from the cow is used in India. This is very practical since you are never far from a cow in India.  The raw milk can be used alone or prepared with medicines of cold potency like Sandalwood, Vetiver and sometimes Musta.  Sometimes medicines are ground and mixed in with the most common being Borneo Camphor.  Additional herbs may be selected from ginger, aloes, and Marma gulika.  Sometimes according to the Dosha’s buffalo milk is also used.

Other Dhara Liquids
Other Dhara liquids used include tender coconut water, Aranala decoctions and pure water among others.  Since water is plentiful fresh water is added to the put to refill it instead of recycling it as with other Dhara liquids.

The above is a very broad over view. and practices and even preparations can vary from Ayurvedic family to family, village to village and the different geographical locations around India.  Although I do have exact recipes for the mixing of ingredients and preparation of liquids I feel that these are the intellectual property of the indigenous healers of India and not suitable for wide distribution over the internet.

General Benefits (non medical)
Neck and Shoulder Complaints
Stiff Neck
Improves Mental Clarity
Improves Memory
Lower Anxiety
Aids in Meditation and Concentration

Contraindications (not complete, consult your physician)
Pregnancy (any stage)
Low Blood Pressure
Rash, Cuts, Skin Problems
Acute Stage Head or Neck Injury
Head Tremors
Drugs or Alcohol Intoxication

Below are some pics from one of the Ayurvedic Doctors I have studied with in the South of Kerala.

Preparing Raw Herbs to Put in the Milk

Preparing Raw Herbs to Put in the Milk

In the picture above Dr Jalaja Suresh is teaching me how to prepare Takradhara or Dhara with buttermilk.  She has a small Ayurvedic practice where she specialzes in doing everything very close to the old traditional way which takes a lot of extra time to prepare for her treatments.  Luckily she has a small devoted staff to help with patients and attend to prepare the herbal remedies many of which she makes herself to her exact specifications.  Even in India it is hard to find this level of personal attention to the details of Ayurvedic practice in today’s fast paced world.

Pouring in the Decoction of Amalaka

Pouring in the Decoction of Amalaka

In the pic above Dr Jalaja and her husband pour the Amalaka decoction that was prepared previously into the raw buttermilk at a ratio of 4 parts to 1 part buttermilk.  They are cooking over a small gas stove as do almost all small Ayurvedic clinics in India.  Proper preparation of medicines and herbal oils traditionally would have been done over a wood fire and often take many days to make a larger batch.

In Part #5 of this series I will describe the final preparations just before treatment Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #5 “Final Preparations for Treatment”

Since I will be referring to Ayurvedic constitution in future posts you may want to discover your Ayurvedic constitution by visiting this site and taking their ‘dosha test”.

Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #1: “Intro.”
Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #2:
“The Droni (table)”
Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #3 “Shirodhara Pot and Stand”
Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #4 “Preparations of Medicines”
Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #5 “Final Preparations for Treatment”
Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #6 “Traditional Shirodhara Technique”

Please let me know what you are thinking by commenting on this post


Rhett Hatfield, Owner/Director of Education Body Wisdom School
“750-1600 Massage Therapist Certification Programs, 5 Different Career Tracks.” Create your “custom massage certification program” of anywhere from 750-1600 hours of World Class Massage and Bodywork Education.  CEU Programs available

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  1. […] (table)” Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #3 “Shirodhara Pot and Stand” Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #4 “Preparations of […]

  2. […] Original post: How to Give a Shirodhara Part #4: Preparation of Medicines […]

  3. […] #2: “The Droni (table)” Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #3 “Shirodhara Pot and Stand” Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #4 “Preparations of […]

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