Amazing Ayurveda, I find it so fascinating!
My first two blogs about my time here at this Ayurvedic hospital in Kerala were quite jokey and perhaps a bit flippant. I was still settling in and making sense of why I was here. I really felt as though someone else had planned this for me and that I had shown up 5 evenings ago feeling a bit out of place and as if I had crashed a wellbeing party.
In actual fact a friend had spent some time here about eight years ago and recommended this place to me after I asked her for some advice on places and things she rated in India. The India part I had come up with on my own but looking back, the outline of the rest of this trip was born out of her suggestions. It’s funny to think that another email and my first experience of making a payment using Western Union later and I was booked in to spend 10 or so days here taking part in some kind of Ayurvedic health treatment plan.
I have to say that this treatment plan has not become any more clear to me since being here. I feel very much in the dark, as I am at the moment, deliberately ruining my hopes of an early night by enjoying typing away on my wee iPad as the fan churns noisily overhead. As an aside, I hate fans-they are so noisy and this one makes the tune of Beyonce’s ‘Run the World’ which I now have going round and round in my head with every 360 of the propellers above me.
Anyway back to the hospital – it is more of a home stay run by a lovely family and a great team of caring and friendly staff. The doctor, Dr Sathya, is from a long line of Ayurvedic specialists and he and his wife run this treatment centre along with a clinic in the local town. They are both kind and sweet people who are clearly busy but never show it outwardly, instead they always have time to see how you’re getting on and if you need anything. This is a quiet place which is exactly what you need, I imagine, for healing and what people coming here seek-an escape from anything that stimulates stress or ill-ease.
Here the only provocation of stress for some is the internet playing up, but in an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to use wifi whilst receiving treatments. The holistic and traditional nature of this health system fits perfectly with the pre-technological age and you can imagine that in order for it to flourish and be of most benefit to the patient, the patient needs to also put in the work by not spending time on devices like I’m using now, but instead by appreciating the frogs jumping off the lily pads into the pond and the beautiful sounds coming from the nearby temple.
The whole settling contributes to the effectiveness of the treatments, every single element plays a part and what we’re given here, which I’m really grateful for, is somewhere you are best placed to feel well or to feel better. Ayurveda as I’ve understood it has always been aimed at preventing illness or at maintaining good health. That’s mainly because I work with the massage therapy strand of this eastern medicine and so do not administer anything ‘medicinal’ other than oils onto skin. But here the doctor receives patients from all over the world with a wide variety of conditions; many of them are in the very late stages. I’ve already spoken to two fellow patients here who have come to receive treatment with their last remaining hope that they may be able to avoid surgery for long-standing and painful injuries. Although tempted, I have resisted the nosy urge to ask anyone their reason for being here so I only know what has been offered up to me.
The first morning after breakfast I go into the doctor’s office and fill in the consultation form.
“Goodness no!” I declare in ridiculous shock at the question asking if I’ve ever injected street drugs. That was the wording of it and I think that’s what caused such an embarrassing reaction. I mean ‘street drugs’!? Any how I did have a few ticks here and there namely back and neck pain (my knee also hurts but I forgot to tell him that darnit) and PMT. I tell him I want to feel rested and energised ahead of my month long stay at an ashram where I’ll be undertaking what promises to be an intense and rigid schedule. I have nervously been leading up to this ashram experience by preparing myself through not reading the books on the recommended reading list or actually finding out what Sivananda means and what style of yoga I’ll be learning to teach, but instead by having as nice a time as possible before my life becomes a living hell consisting of yoga prison. Don’t get me wrong I chose to do it and I would consider myself to be an open-minded person, but wake up time is as 05.20 and we only seem to get fed twice a day! To say I’m already feeling hungry at the thought is an understatement. I have got protein bars, 3 chocolate bars and 2 packets of cookies for some sustenance when times get hard but I’ve already dipped into the coconut cookies and the choccy won’t last long once I’m out of here.
Sitting beside the doctor with my mouth wide open (like they make you do at the doctors when you’re a child but without me having to say ‘aaahhhh’) he then does what seems like the quickest check of my tongue and eyes ever by a doctor followed by a pulse diagnosis. I like his manner. He’s not smug or condescending and he seems a lot more humble and less theatrical than a lot of the western doctors I’ve encountered. He tells me I have a slight Vata imbalance probably due to all the travelling I’ve been doing along with a Pitta imbalance – neither of which comes as news. I am very much a Pitta dosha dominated person who is in a warm country eating spicy food and occasionally sunbathing. I knew my Vata was on the up because of my back pain.
However what I didn’t know exactly-and still don’t-is what to expect from my time here.
I am told that not having long enough to do the full panchakarma treatment, (unfortunately as I had been hoping to experience it) means I bypass the daily consumption of ghee and go straight to daily treatments and a general diet of healthy vegetarian and non-spicy meals. We are given medicine four times a day which I still have no idea what it is although it tastes disgusting. The focus will be on rejuvenation treatments the doctor tells me and I’ll have one or two treatments a day, the first being a massage followed by Dhara (which literally means flowing) of medicated water.
“What will I do for the rest of the day ?” I ask unimaginatively and if I’m honest a bit panicked. How will I make the time pass here?! I had thought there’d be this whole schedule. I now see that people coming here probably need routine but not a ‘schedule’. Here they get granted the space, time and fresh air to do nothing should they wish and to try to let go and unwind. The doctor tells me I could read a book, take a stroll or talk to the other patients. Hmm, the panic is not reduced by this response. I undertake to fill my time as much as possible with yoga, the act of ‘journalling’ (a word I still can’t really fully condone-is it actually a verb? I’ve only ever heard Americans use it so I’m not sure it exists in British) and reading.
Now it’s the end of my fifth full day and it’s all starting to finally sink in. We have to trust this place; the sacred surroundings, the doctor’s intuition, the age old and time tested methods that have been proven, and importantly ourselves, in order to bring about whatever changes or effects we’re hoping for. We have to let go of our past habits, stop running to our phones or the office for wifi and try not to wish we were anywhere else but here. To surrender to the simplistic facilities, the mozzies, the thunderstorms that keep you awake and cut the power and to just feel it all. The oil pouring all over you that soaks into your skin and leaves you feeling swollen and slick, but also nourished. We have to be at one with all the various treatments and powders and the oils-so important in Ayurveda-and just (I hate to say it but I can’t help it!) go with the flow!