India Lesson #6: Settling into "Being"

Typical Day during PanchaKarma

It's 10 am, it must already be at least 90 degrees out and I’ve been up for 5 hours. I can feel the mounting oppressive heat of the day which zaps any motivation to “do” anything. 

Good thing I’m here to relax and rejuvenate!

My typical PanchaKarma day starts at 5 am for me. Not because I’m on any one else’s schedule, but because I naturally wake up then and it’s cool. It's still dark out, so I light my ghee lamp, a small brass  cup, that holds ghee and a cotton wick stuffed down through a contraption in the center.

With my room lit by the yellow flame, I roll out my yoga mat and begin my day with a practice. It feels good to get the body moving, because most of the day I’m laying around reading or resting. By 6 am it's time for a treatment.

Treatments for me have varied, but let's just say they all involve either medicated oil poured all over the body, medicated ghee taken internally, medicated water or milk drizzled over the body, or steam. The treatments have lasted anywhere from 5 minutes (taking the ghee) to an hour (the abhyangas and drizzles). However, it’s their effect that has taken up the bulk of time here.

By 9 am most treatments are done and we have our first meal of the day – breakfast – for which I am usually ravenous. Whoever gets to the dining hall first lays out the stainless steel tin plates and cups with a spoon and we wait for Papa G (Dr. Sastry’s father)  who doles out our meals cooked by his wife Uma.

This morning’s breakfast consists of Dosa (like a very thin crepe) and a creamy coconut chutney, with a dollop of cut up spiced bananas. Papa G makes the rounds giving each of us portions of food, fills our steel jugs with herbal water that helps with the cleansing and gives us kashaya tea – an herbal blend made for the cleansing process, which feels like a big treat.

When done with breakfast we have the whole day ahead of us to fill in restful ways. Some days the only thing I’ve been able to do is go directly to my bed and lie down after the morning meal. The major rest days have been during the detox – about 9 days – consisting of ghee consumption, steam treatments (to loosen the toxins) and then a purge day and a rest day.  

Given that my intention for this PanchaKarma (PK) was to rejuvenate, I give myself “permission” to do nothing. For me, doing nothing looks like lying on a bench on the porch and looking at the Palm trees sway. Or at dawn and dusk, lying in that same spot and listening to the symphony of birds. We are situated on the edge of a jungle.

I notice that as each day passes, the ability to “be” comes more easily and I am discovering the value of doing nothing. Of pure rest. I feel calm. I feel relaxed. I feel a sense of awe and wonder, and creative ideas are starting to present themselves to me without me “having to do” anything. Part of my intention was also to get clarity on my next steps in my life both personally and professionally.

In my more energetic moments, I have been writing, reading and drawing. All activities I love. I’ve gone for walks around town with my new PK friends, or alone. I have a deep sense of ease and inner peace that is filling me from the inside.

Now, on day 17, in the rejuvenation period, I am noticing I’m calmer, more centered. My skin feels really silky. I am more flexible in my yoga practice. I am much more present with everything  I do – washing dishes, walking, sitting. I am actually experiencing the moment without the cloud of anxiety rushing me to get up and “do” something. My mind feels more clear and I am happy. I have a renewed sense of purpose and direction, and I know that everything will work out in the end. Whatever I decide to do from this point forward. All I have to do is show up as fully as possible for every part of the journey, and let go of worrying about the outcome.


India Lesson #5: Continue to Relax into What's Happening


First Abhyanga Treatment

I am not a terribly modest person by nature. Coming from California I’m used to de-robing and stepping into a hot tub with friends and new acquaintances. But here in India, my usual uninhibited self feels modest and almost shy about showing any skin.

Revealing any shoulder or leg skin is frowned upon in general, and especially in Muslim  areas. It’s simply not done by the multitudes of Indian women I’ve seen. It seems the mid-drift is the only area on the body that is ok to reveal – at least within Hindu culture.

You can imagine my surprise when I was called to my first Abhyanga massage, given by Dr. Sastry, a 30-something year old man, and handed a long piece of stiff white clothe with two strings attached to one end. He held it up and I looked at him with a question in the tilt of my head. 

“Loin clothe.” He said with a kind look on his face.

“I see,” I thought. I’m supposed to wrap this little piece of clothe between my legs, tie it from behind and come out practically naked. 

“Ok.” I said.

I put on the requisite article of clothing to cover my privates. When I emerged from the bathroom, he gestured with his arm for me to lie on the pink fiberglass table.

“Face up.”

“OK.” I scrambled to reconcile the plethora of feelings running through me in a moment’s time. I felt the twinge of shyness, the teenage embarrassment that this strange man was not only going to see me half-naked, but was going to be massaging me with oil all over my body. I took a few deep breaths to relax into the moment, reminding myself that he’s a doctor and we all have bodies.  But the twinges of discomfort poured into the nooks and crannies of my psyche mainly because I couldn’t quite reconcile the intense modesty in India with the openness of the Ayurvedic treatment.

I lay myself down on the hard table, face up while he lit a candle, turned on some chanting music and then began the treatment. He gently placed one hand on the crown of my head, his other hand on my inner thigh to ground the top and bottom of the chakras while softly chanting a mantra, invoking a higher power.

As I lay there, I, too, said a little prayer, setting my own intention that they whole PanchaKarma treatment would bring about clarity, greater healthy, rejuvenation, and joy.

He began pouring the warm medicated oil in circles around my navel, then around each breast, up and down each arm and then down each leg. Slowly he worked the oil into my body with circular emotions around the belly and breasts, and with long strokes up and down the arms and legs. I felt myself relaxing into the experience. When he was done with the front side, he tapped me lightly on the arm to have me flip over.

Easier said than done when covered with oil. I was like a slippery fish. The warm oil felt luxurious as he poured it over the backside of my body.

Twenty five minutes later I was done with the oil portion. He told me to wait 5 minutes for the following treatment, which was a medicated warm water drizzle to be poured all over the front and back of the body in specific motions. 

I found myself dropping into an almost trance like state as Papa G (Dr. Sastry’s father) drizzled the water on me. The two treatments took about an hour, and to be honest they felt fairly benign. Once done, Sumitra, one of the assistants, guided me to the bathroom where two hot buckets of water awaited me for a shower.

Breakfast followed, and after breakfast I lay down for a short nap. 

I didn’t get up until lunch. As I napped I felt a buzzing energy moving through my body and at the same time, felt like I’d been infused with melatonin and couldn’t move any of my limbs. I had a deep sleep.

This was all on day one. I was curious to see how the three week treatment would unfold.


India: Lesson # 2 - It all seems to work out!

In my very efficient, check-it-off-the-list, American way, I email Dr. Sastry at the Ayurvedic Ashram in Hariharipura, India telling him I want to find out about doing PanchaKarma with him in March. I want to find out the basic details, you know, like how much, how long, when there might be space  and what kinds of treatments I might be in for.

After some short email exchanges in which he is somewhat vague about everything, he tells me I can come on the 18th of March and to arrange it so I stay for 3 weeks.

He mentions no deposit, makes barely any reference to money or treatments. The tone is welcoming, but short and sweet.  Since I am going to have to make plane reservations, forking out a chunk of money to get to some place in India I can’t even pronounce, I notice that I want to make a deposit.

I email him again. “Are you sure I don’t need to make a deposit to reserve my spot?”

“No, no,” he writes back. “You are a friend of Dr. Scott’s. That is enough.” I imagine him saying this with an Indian accent, bobbing his head left and right.

When I read the email, my belly tightens with the first hint of fear I will have to let go of if I am to venture on this journey. This is simply the prelude.

I take a deep breath and let out a little sigh with a peep. “Well, ok then.” I say to myself. “Here we go. Welcome to your journey.”

I dial my travel agent “Debbie, I’m going to India in 2 months, can you hook me up with tickets?” Not only does she hook me up, it feels like another sign from the Universe – my tickets, with domestic travel within India, come to just over $1,000. 

So, fast forward – I am sitting in the Mumbai Airport, waiting to catch the last leg of my trip to Mangalore where I will be picked up by a driver to head to the Ashram. I still can’t pronounce the name of the place and there are so many things I don’t understand about India. I’ve been here a week, and what I have observed is that in the end,  everything actually does seem to work out.  The more I let go and relax, the happier I am and the more magical it all feels.

As I sit, waiting, I cap down the urge to reconfirm that there WILL be a driver picking me up when I land.

 Why worry? It’s just me and my suitcase. The worst that can happen is he won’t be there. And then I’ll figure out the next step!

As I walked out of the Mangalore Airport into 95 a weather, I scan the signs, hoping one of them has my name on it. And there it is: Duane Sherman. I smile and have an inner chuckle.

Off we go for the 2 1/2 hour drive on a windy road through the jungle to the Ashram.