Words: Keeta Brennan Images: Getty, 123RF
Rediscover ancient healing, beauty and wellness traditions that invigorate and reawaken the senses.
The people of Myanmar are known to have flawless skin and for many, the secret of their beauty lies in the use of thanaka paste, a traditional skin care remedy dating back over 2,000 years. The paste is made by mixing the bark of the thanaka tree with water and pounding it into a yellowish paste. According to locals, thanaka is a natural sunscreen, whitening and anti-ageing remedy. Unlike standard facial masks, which have to be washed off after 10 to 15 minutes, thanaka is typically applied on the cheeks, nose and forehead, and left on all day for maximum benefits. Children usually wear a thick thanaka facial mask daily as it is believed that protecting the skin from a young age will result in radiant and healthy skin. Although very little research has been conducted into the scientific benefits of thanaka, some studies have found that the paste does indeed have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. myanmar.travel
The Secret to Thanaka
Learn more about the timeless tradition of thanaka.
The bark of the thanaka tree (a perennial that grows in abundance in Myanmar) is the main ingredient in thanaka paste.
The best thanaka comes from trees that are at least 35 years old.
Thanaka has a pleasant cooling effect, and is also used to treat acne-prone skin.
A circular stone slab called the kyauk pyin is used to grind the bark of the thanaka tree into a fine paste.
The largest Asean country is home to various wellness and beauty therapies, and among its most famous is lulur – a traditional body scrub. Historically, lulur was used by ancient Javanese royalty as a beauty treatment to keep skin supple, soft and smooth. The scrub is produced by blending herbs, roots and spices with rice. This recipe results in a creamy yet grainy scrub-like paste, which is massaged over the entire body to exfoliate the skin, and left to dry for several minutes before being gently scrubbed off – a step that polishes the skin and removes dead skin. Finally, any remnants of lulur are washed off. This is usually followed by a milk bath to lock in moisture. The entire treatment is believed to promote skin elasticity and youthfulness, ease tension and stress, and improve blood circulation. indonesia.travel
Glow of Love
The application of lulur is often incorporated into the pre-wedding rituals of Indonesian brides in order to make their skin glow with radiance on their big day.
Worldwide: Tibetan Buddhist Meditation
Originating in Tibet, this form of meditation is prescribed to deal with negative emotions. Practices include developing an understanding of the Four Noble Truths, impermanence and ‘no self’, and focusing on the true nature of reality.
Believed to be one of the country’s oldest healing arts, hilot is a complete healing system that incorporates herbal remedies and incantations, and emphasises the realignment of elements within the body. The system is firmly rooted in faith towards god, or espirito, who nourishes and heals all living things. Today, an aspect of hilot that remains popular throughout Philippines is the hilot massage. The massage is performed by a manghihilot, a muscle manipulation expert, who is able to cure muscle and joint pains including sprains and dislocations. Unlike other types of massage, which are typically used to aid relaxation, a hilot massage can be painful, depending on the kind of ailment it is meant to heal. The manghihilot will work on the specific area of the body that is causing the problem, and sometimes more than one session is needed. Although a hilot massage may be uncomfortable, after the treatment, the patient should feel comfort and relief. tourism.gov.ph
Hot springs, found in abundance in Japan due to its multitude of volcanoes, have become an integral part of Japanese culture, in the form of the onsen. An onsen is a hot spring bathing house, often attached to an inn or resort, and visiting an onsen is a favourite pastime in Japan. Traditional onsen feature outdoor pools of thermal spring water but today, many onsen also feature indoor pools with hot spring water piped into the facility. Before entering an onsen, visitors are required to shower and scrub themselves clean to maintain the hygiene of the pool. It is believed that a clean body also reaps more benefits from the natural minerals found in the water, as soaking in onsen baths helps the skin stay youthful, and can combat conditions such as eczema and rashes. The natural heat of the water and presence of minerals such as calcium and magnesium are also said to help relieve muscle aches and pains associated with arthritis. Aside from its many physical benefits, the onsen is also a place to relax and unwind. jnto.go.jp
There are nine kinds of onsen hot springs in Japan, each offering different properties and health benefits. Among the most popular are sulphur springs, salt springs and aluminium springs.
Thailand: Thai Traditional Medicine
Thai traditional medicine, handed down from generation to generation, is a combination of alternative herbal remedies, spiritual healing and exercise rituals. The practices adopted within this system are supposed to have originated from various ancient indigenous communities, mixed with other Eastern healing systems and beliefs. In Thai traditional medicine, the body is made up of four elements – earth, wind, fire and water. For a harmonious body and mind, the elements must be balanced, and this can be achieved through a number of rituals. One of the most popular is Thai massage, a dry massage style that utilises stretching and acupressure as part of the treatment, and is meant to realign the elements and revive the body’s natural force. Historically, massage therapists would precede a therapy session with prayer and make offerings at an altar. Another essential component of Thai traditional medicine is living in harmony with nature, and forgoing unhealthy food and lifestyle choices, to ensure optimal health and longevity. tourismthailand.org
India is home to one of the world’s oldest civilisations, so it’s no wonder that Ayurveda, one of the world’s most ancient alternative medicine systems, also originates here. Believed to be over five millennia, Ayurveda promotes a harmonious balance between the environment, body, mind and spirit to achieve overall health and well-being. Stemming from the Sanskrit words ayur, meaning ‘life’, and veda, meaning ‘science’ or ‘knowledge’, the practice identifies three dosha, or biological energies that are prevalent in every person: vata (wind), pitta (fire) and kapha (earth). Each dosha represents certain physical, emotional and mental characteristics. Although each person has a combination of all three dosha, the ratio of the energies within each person is different, depending on one’s natural constitution. This constitution, or prakruti, is believed to influence a person’s mental, emotional and physical states, and determine a person’s character and the ailments they may be vulnerable to. For balanced energy and a healthy life, Ayurveda observers follow special diets and engage in meditation and yoga that work best based on their dosha makeup. incredibleindia.org
This tradition involves the blending of various herbs, roots and natural ingredients to create holistic medicine and supplements that are believed to have healing and restorative powers. Ramuan is also said to promote beauty and youthfulness. tourism.gov.my
This type of alternative medicine is practised by inserting fine needles into specific parts of the body, mainly as a form of pain relief from ailments like migraines and arthritis. Acupuncture is also believed to help in treating insomnia, depression and various allergies. cnto.org
A therapy that is said to relieve stress and promote relaxation, reiki works by restoring energy and balance to an individual’s ki (life force energy). Reiki practitioners place their hands on the different parts of a patient’s body to realign and unblock the ki. jnto.go.jp
The country’s melting pot of Eastern and Western cultures is aptly represented by the hammam – a public bathhouse that combines traditions of the Ottoman Empire with Roman bathing rituals. Historically, the hammam not only relaxed and revitalised its visitors but promoted social interaction as well, as it was here that the old and young used to mingle and catch up on the latest news, with separate areas for men and women. In terms of health benefits, the hammam’s steam hydrotherapy treatment is known to relieve stress, improve blood circulation, deep-cleanse the skin, and stimulate the sweat glands. Today, the hammam is popular in both the East and West, and is recognised as one of the world’s oldest surviving bathing rituals. A day at the hammam usually begins with a steam bath to open up pores, followed by a warm bath, a full body scrub to remove dead skin cells, and a body massage. This is then followed by a shower or a dip in cold water to reinvigorate the skin and lock in moisture. goturkeytourism.com
Up Close and Personal
In olden times, a hammam was where mothers would seek out suitable wives for their sons.
A component of traditional Chinese medicine, this alternative healing practice is over 3,000 years old. Although cupping is believed to have originated in Egypt, Chinese medicine has long adopted it as a method to relax muscles, improve blood and lymphatic circulation, and detoxify the body. The process usually involves placing heated glass cups or jars on a person’s back, neck or shoulders for a few minutes, creating a vacuum that draws congested blood, energy or other humours to the surface of the skin to pull toxins from the body, and break up stagnation that causes pain. Cupping is believed to improve the flow of qi, or life force energy, and as a treatment for muscle aches, strains and other ailments. In Chinese medicine, cupping and acupuncture treatments are often administered together, as both focus on the lines of the meridians – specific points on the body that need to be treated to allow a person’s qi to flow freely. Although considered a pseudo-science by the medical world, many people swear by the effectiveness of cupping to ease maladies. cnto.org
Did You Know?
Body massage is considered the world’s oldest form of medical care; it is even depicted in ancient Egyptian tomb paintings and decorations.