India is the country with the largest blind population in the world. Of the nearly 40 million blind individuals across the globe, 15 million of them are Indians. How is this possible? India has a severe shortage of optometrists and ophthalmologists, and it also suffers from a lack of donated eyes with which to treat corneal blindness. The truly sad part is that with the majority of cases in India, blindness could have been avoidable if proper care were received.
As with many disabilities, there is a stigma associated with blindness in India; one that prevents the blind from being fully accepted in society, and allowing them to live full and productive lives. The truth is, blind individuals are an incredible resource of untapped potential and one field in which they are being trained is that related to the spa. India is the birthplace of Ayurveda – a comprehensive system of holistic medicine designed to facilitate optimal physical, mental and spiritual well being – and it remains the premier destination in the world for such treatments. An integral part of Ayurveda is massage and many blind individuals are proving to be gifted in this art and science.
One of the many interesting facts researchers know about the blind is that in many cases, their brains reroute sensory inputs to other parts of the brain in order to compensate for their blindness. This results in a kind of extra-sensory-perception, often in the areas of smell, taste and touch. As anyone who has ever had a professional massage knows, it’s all about touch, and the symbiotic relationship formed between the masseuse and patient. Given the opportunity to learn and gain experience in the field of massage, India’s blind have the potential to develop a true purpose and excel; fantastic massage careers are already underway for many of them.
In a winding alley in downtown Kerala, a young blind masseuse named Vikram enjoys a loyal clientele at a small Ayurvedic treatment facility. Customers flock to receive his services and his schedule is always booked. One older female customer says, “His hands understand my body. He knows just the right pressure to use, massaging my lower back, or squeezing my thighs.” The potential for blind individuals is so promising that one of India’s hottest movie stars, Shriya Saran, is planning to start a spa, exclusively run by blind employees, in Mumbai. She believes that they have long been stigmatized and this is the perfect opportunity for them to gain self-confidence and independence.
It seems the trend of blind spa employees is gaining traction not only in India, but also in other parts of the world. This is certainly among the best, and most meaningful trends to come along in spa and massage therapy in a very long time.
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