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.

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India Lesson #4: Keep Letting go

Getting to the Ayurvedic Ashram!

After 8 hours of travel, I arrive at the Mangalore airport, hoping there will be a driver waiting for me to take me to the Ayurvedic Ashram. This hope rests on one email exchange in which I sent my itinerary to Dr. Sastry and he wrote back with a cryptic message:

“I’ll send a driver to pick you up.”

I had put down no deposit, there had been no confirmation letter, no agreement signed. Nothing to soothe the anxious Western mind. I was trusting something deeper. Some intuition that THIS was the place, as well as the fact that my teacher had been here before.

As I de-boarded the plane in the sticky hot air, I smelled a hint of fish.  I walked towards the small baggage claim area, my head turning this way and that to see if there was a sign with my name on it. 

Not yet.

I found my black bag, rolled it towards the only exit door, again looked this way and that as I stepped outside, and there It was - the sign:

“Duane Sherman.”

That’s me, Duane!

I nodded to the driver – a young, thin man with a kind smile. He took my bag and guided me towards his white sedan. 

My attempts at conversational banter quickly settled into a comfortable silence, for his English was minimal and my Kanada, non-existent. In truth, I didn’t want to talk after all of the travel. I sat in the front seat on the left side as we drove the windy roads through the lush, tropical national park full of massive palm trees and other tropical fauna.

The roads were as curvy as a tantric Indian sculpture, and with each bend in the curve came a honk from either my driver or someone coming our way. The driver slid by cars in front of us by a hair’s breadth. I had to practice actively relaxing.

Fifteen years he’s been driving and no accidents. Or perhaps he didn’t understand my question about how long he’d been a driver.

We arrived 2 ½ hours later in Hariharipura at the ashram – my stomach queasy and my brain a bit frazzled. Upon arrival, he carried my bag up to my room with a bed, fan and bathroom. Outside the room were other PanchaKarma guests. We all said a hello, and they let me know dinner was being served.


They suggested I wash up and come down when I was ready. I sat next to Melissa that night and she filled me in on what was what. In the morning I’d get a first treatment – probably around 6 or 7 am. It would most likely be abhyanga massage. She helped me with what to do at meal times – that we all set the table, wash our dishes. That we should bring down our big steel jug to fill with the herbal water used for our cleansing.

The guests are the informal information center, because there is no check in, no formal greeting, no “check list.”

I discovered Dr. Ashwin would be out the following day for his new baby’s naming ceremony. So I would meet with him the following day.

I felt like I’d been swept into a current that was going to guide me down the river with no effort if I could simply let go and relax. One of my biggest concerns had been allayed, and that was getting here.

From then on, I planned to swim with the current and go with the flow.