Tag Archives: health

Divine Dhara

For the past week I have been staying as an inpatient at an Ayurvedic hospital in Kerala, India. My favourite part of being here, along with being surrounded by beautiful flowers and plants, has been experiencing the twice daily treatments. In the morning I am summoned into the treatment room which is conveniently adjacent my room and bathroom.

My modesty is maintained by a piece of fabric tied around my waist, somewhat unnecessarily as this is later removed anyway. Then I lie face down on the huge dark wood of the treatment table which has been carved from the ‘medicine tree’. At the foot of the table in the centre there is a small whole and it has been designed in such a way that any liquid pours down the table and into the hole and is collected in a bowl situated underneath. It is very simple yet very practical as with much of the Ayurvedic procedures.

First I am given a full body massage with warm oil. The therapist uses invigorating and rhythmical strokes circling my joints and sweeping over my limbs in a flowing motion that I really enjoy. It’s not a deep massage and it doesn’t send me to sleep but it is definitely having an effect my circulatory and lymphatic systems and is working to remove any blockages in the energy points of the body.

I’ve asked what kind of oil it is and I think it is sesame seed oil medicated to produce a herbal infusion that they make themselves here, as with most of the products and medicines used. After the massage treatment I am told to do my exercises. These include single leg raises, bringing my knee to my nose, raising my hips and lifting my arms overhead (not all at once).

Next the therapist returns joined by a colleague to help her carry out the ‘Dhara’ treatment. ‘Dhara’ means flow and this treatment involves warm liquid being poured all over my body (excluding my head) in circular and long connective motions. This is not to be confused with Shirodhara where the oil only flows onto the forehead-I don’t have any images of this to show unfortunately. On the first day the liquid used was medicated oil. Medicated with what I’m not sure – I keep asking but I don’t recognise most of the names. I plan to ask the doctor to write down a bit more information about all the medication and methods used before I go.

For the next five days after that, the same warm herb-infused oil used for my massage was the liquid of choice for the Dhara treatment. Ooh it feels so decadent! This is my favourite part of the day. I love, love, love it! I find it so warming and relaxing and such a treat. When do you ever get to lie like this? I feel so lucky and lazy at the same time. I always find myself thinking how grateful I am-it’s like I’ve won the opportunity to be treated like a princess for a half hour. Maybe not everyone would feel the same; I know some people would feel like they had been treated to the inside of a chip pan, but not I. I lap it up and come away feeling like the best moisturised, oil plumped up person on the planet.

After this, I go through to the bathroom to sit casually on a steel stool while the therapist rubs a green powder over me to get the oil off and then washes me using a jug to pour water from a bucket-there’s no shower-and then finishes by tipping the rest of the bucket over me like a waterfall. A bit like being a child again especially when she also decides to briefly pat you down with the towel. So nice-who’d have thought?!

Today however, the ‘Dhara’ part of my day slipped from number one position to number 3. The fresh coconut moved into first place followed by dinner. Because today instead of thick warm silky oil, it was carried out with a special rice powder milk concoction. All thin, runny and messy. Although it was also warm, my body instantly felt cooler afterwards. It’s poured using a metal vase shaped pot with a hole in the bottom. One therapist re-heats the collected milk and re-fills the pot while the other directs it over me. I just couldn’t help thinking (between feeling a bit chilly and needing the loo) what a mess it was making and wondering how they would clean it all up. Never a good sign during a relaxation treatment.

On the plus point, it did improve when I turned over onto my back – for some reason I felt warmer face up. Also the therapist told me that the aim of the rice milk was to make me strong and prevent pain in the body. Feeling like Cleopatra who had been gunked on Fun House, I gratefully made my way to the bathroom and to the steel stool to have it all rinsed off in the waterfall wash down, again slightly reminiscent of the legendary childhood game show. I looked down at myself and I saw that I had become the Rice Pudding Monster. It’s the stuff of nightmares for anyone with OCD, I imagine…

Amazing Aditya

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.

IMG_1296.JPG
Simple accommodation seems appropriate for ‘cleansing’ your lifestyle

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.

IMG_1295.JPG

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.

IMG_1290.JPG

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.

IMG_1303.JPG
Small pleasures-our afternoon fruit snack

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!

Day 5: Feeling Alive

Today I feel really positive.  I am over my temporary downer from the previous day and slight insanity and I have feeling in full flow of the week’s juice cleanse.  I think I’m in the routine of it now and I don’t feel hungry or tempted to eat.  Bacon smells seem to waft everywhere I go, following me around but I have decided that I will try to be veggie after this so I am happy for the people tucking into their bacon sarnies but I won’t be joining them.

So far the juicing has not turbo charged my life – I am no stealth ninja acrobat – but it has helped to curb my night owl bad habit and I’m generally feeling calmer and more content as if I’ve just had a camomile tea every minute. I’m not as cold either these past two days and although I can’t say I have amazing clarity of mind, I have moments when I feel the fog has lifted.  I love feeling lighter inside but not hungry.  The sky is blue and it’s a lovely morning.

Image

So I jump out of bed for my morning’s juice scavenge.  Well more just driving across town to pick it up.  Oooh juice lovely juice. I am not fed up with it yet and I enjoy my first of the day in the car.  Another benefit I have noticed is that my skin feels great and unless I am thinking wishfully, my forehead seems smoother and almost ‘younger’ looking.  This could be the combined effect of feeling more relaxed and possibly better quality of sleep although now I regret not monitoring this throughout with one of those sleep apps.

Image

Afterwards I head for a swim, jacuzzi and steam at the gym.  Ironically and probably like most people, now that I have quit my gym membership and have only a couple of weeks left of it, I have started to actually use it.  Feeling refreshed, I then have a lovely 2 hour Slavic massage treatment planned.  I think steams, saunas and massages are fab ways to complement a detox and I’m excited about this massage as I’ve never had it before.

This was a therapy fuelled day for me both in receiving and giving treatments.  As a therapist, I am lucky from time to time to do swaps with other therapists and this is one of those times.  Slavic massage is a long flowing massage which is extremely relaxing – probably one of the most de-stressing treatments I have ever had.  You don’t wear anything while on the massage couch but you are draped from the waist down with a sheet. I start by lying on my front and the therapist dripped warm oil over me – this is a first for me and after a while I get over thoughts like ‘this feels a bit messy’ and ‘ I hope it’s not spilling and dripping everywhere’ to thinking ‘this feels really therapeutic’.

Flowing and rhythmical strokes are used from the top of one arm stretched over head, down to the bottom of my foot. Two hours is the perfect length for a massage as you get a balanced full body treatment and massage to the tummy is included which is often missed out in shorter treatments. I really don’t know how I’m going to get up at the end, I could just lie there and drift away.

However, after that it is my turn to do the treatments and I fuel up on some more juice before I give 4 clients massage treatments that afternoon.  I am all prepared with a sneaky juice jar and a straw ready for in between clients. I have learnt that going longer than an hour without some juice is not fun.

Finally after a lovely clinic, it’s home time.  I take my final jar of juice, a green one, to bed and work my way through it.  It’s quite late but I feel like drinking it all. Tonight though I am freezing again – so frustrating as I thought I had acclimatised to the arctic conditions of juicing.  I go to bed with 3 tops, one jumper, a dressing gown, a scarf, a hot water bottle, a duvet and a blanket and still feel chilly.  Maybe drinking cold juice before bed is a bad idea.  Turning over I am ready to sleep though and really happy to have made it through 5 days!

So far juicing has taught me that getting up in the mornings isn’t so bad and also to be a bit more organised with what I eat. Oh and that I would like another Slavic massage!

Day 4: Green Drinking Grumpy Chops

At school I used to be very grumpy.  I’m not a ‘morning person’ and I would be prickly with anyone who tried to talk to me before midday.  Come lunchtime, I would perk up considerably a become friends with me friends again – lucky that they were lovely enough to stay my friends! Anyways this terrible moodiness returned to me today and followed my feelings of being a lost teenager from the previous evening.

Anyways it’s a bit like groundhog day on a juice cleanse if like me your day revolves around getting and drinking.  I had a similiar night’s sleep as the one before – weirdly waking at 1am, then 4am then before my alarm.  I can always get back to sleep again but I don’t normally have such disturbed sleep especially when it’s just randomly waking up.  I start the day still feeling very angry and emotional about the day before.  

Yesterday involved selling my share of my business after a very difficult process and a less than satisfactory outcome and then an argument with my husband who is currently across the other side of the world.  This morning I have bags left over from tears the night before and an inadequate sleep. Other people in the juice cleanse group are talking about energy boosts.  This I long for but have not experienced. 

Image

I decide to go for a green juice for breakfast to get it out the way first as it’s my least favourite colour.  Let’s just say although they are all delicious, the green one tastes the most ‘healthy and clean’. I think this one has courgette in and here’s where you can find some of the health benefits.  I may be mistaken but my skin feels better – it’s not as dry and the skin tone is more even.  Possibly the purple cabbage?

I park my car and see that I have a missed Skype call from my other half so I give him a ring back and for some reason I end up crying – nothing to do with him, I am just angry from the business meeting the day before and struggling to make peace with it.  I can’t remember the last time I cried or was this emotionally wobbly but I assume it has nothing to do with the juice cleanse. The book I read focussed on the benefits and the physical side of things, although I didn’t read it page for page.

I get into work and give in to the urge to send out prickly ‘keep you’re distance’ vibes.  A bit like Lucy Liu’s character in Ally McBeal who used to growl at her.  Now, up until now no one at work has asked any questions about my containers in the fridge or my newly acquired juice habit.  But today 3 different colleagues ask ‘what on earth is that?!’.  

‘A vat of juice!’ I reply from gritted teeth.  I am really not feeling myself today and I am being outwardly unfriendly. This is followed by a ridiculously immature fall out with my husband via Whatsapp about something that really shouldn’t be an issue for me. I must just be grumpy and needing support due to the business situation, I try to convince myself.  But an email from a yoga teacher who coaches people through ‘Juice Feasts’ and who for the past 7 years has only eaten a raw food diet, Susan Reynolds, told me that it is often the emotional reactions to juice feasts that surprise most people the most rather than the physical side.  As I said, it’s not the biggest physical challenge ever. Susan offers health consultations as well as juicing support and says that it is the emotional stuff that she coaches people through the most.  It is with Susan that I will be taking part in a week long yoga retreat in Costa Rica.

This is a comfort and once I can see that I really had no argument, no real issue and was just grumpy, I say sorry to those who I was grumpy at and feel a lot better, perhaps the 2 are linked and I’m not losing it…I really feel that some yoga will be very beneficial as well especially as yesterday I didn’t do any exercise.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t exercise daily by any means but I think you need a bit of an endorphin boost to replace the warm and fuzzy feeling that a latte or a warm meal would give you.  I think that as I’m not tempted to stray from the juice path and don’t seem to have any cravings or withdrawals so to speak of, that it is convincing me that I could continue this.  I wonder if I could go a bit longer myself. Or even just replace a meal with a juice for the next week or so.

I don’t need caffeine.  If I really fancy a latte after this I could have one but I could also easily not.

I don’t need that bacon.  I am seriously considering being a vegetarian after this.

I do need to eat healthy and try to continue juicing.  I am going to try to incorporate 3 day cleanses into my life each month.  

Day 4 and I’m warming up again, running to the loo less emphatically and feeling in the swing of it.  I think that it has taken 3 days for any kind of cleanse to take place and now it’s a case of my body balancing back out.

I have decided to take this week easy as I ease into post Christmas exercise, so I have signed up to a beginner’s class to revisit the basics and make sure I have got the foundations on a good level as a good starting point to really focussing on ashtanga yoga this year. The aim of this class is to get you to a confident enough stage so that you can take part in Mysore self-practice classes.  I’ve been to a couple of these but I’m not very confident with the sequence of asanas yet.  As it happens this teacher is starting this course slowly going right back to basics which is fine but I don’t do much of a work out.  I am feeling a lot calmer though and am grateful for the practice.

Image

 I have had my spoonful of honey in my herbal tea for the past couple of nights.  Honey’s medicinal so it can’t affect things too much I think and it’s just so lovely to have a different texture on my tongue.  Also every night I get home and look forward to an early night in bed.  This doesn’t really happen but instead I am going to sleep at a more normal time than I did before which would be anything from 12am-2am.  Now I’m usually in bed by 11pm and feeling ready and content to sleep.  This is a nice change as before I would become awake again at night and try to fit in as much as I could before bed.  Maybe juicing will help me beat this bad habit and turn me from being a night owl zombie to a normal person at bedtime and in the mornings which would be great.

Lesson Learnt today: Doing a Juice Cleanse can be an emotional detox too!

Juice Cleanse: Day 1

So I have survived Day 1 of my 7 day Juice Cleanse (or Feast) and I am here to tell the tale.   Day 1 coincided with the first day back at work after the festive break and I have to say that getting out of bed wasn’t as hard as it usually is, probably because getting out of bed was necessary to pick up my first freshly made batch of juice.

I’m undertaking this with my hand being firmly held by my yoga school who organised this ‘community event’ and are taking care of all the juicing logistics.  I get to collect about 5 litres a day and there are usually 4 or 5 different types of juice to choose from.  Today was a bit like  traffic light juice.  The photo is from Day 2 but you get the pic!

Juice x 3

Here’s a list of the juice flavours that were on offer today:

PURPLE #1
– beetroot, celeriac, apple ginger, lemon

PURPLE #2
– cabbage (red and white), pear, lemon

GREEN #1
– romaine lettuce, kale, courgette, cucumber, celery

GREEN #2
– celery, spinach, kale, cucumber, courgette, apple, ginger, lemon, rocket

ORANGE
– carrot, apple, ginger, lemon

As my containers were filled for me today I’m not entirely sure which ones I had but I think I had purple #1, green #1 and orange.  First one down the hatch was the carrot one.  Delish in a healthy way. I took that to be breakfast.

I decide to ease into the week by taking it easy at work – the first day back isn’t meant to be uber productive, is it? Really.

I’m trying to preempt and therefore prevent hunger pangs so I savoured the next juice over a 2 hour lunch period.  It’s not my fave I have to admit, the green one tastes ok but does have a slight ‘medicinal’ feel to it and the smell of warming soup that everyone is torturing me with at their desks makes me a tiny bit jealous.  However these are my tips to stop me losing my mind, courtesy of Jason Vale and a few other sources:

  • Well Jason does quite rightly identify that this isn’t the biggest challenge of one’s life.  It’s just drinking juiced fruit and veg along with herbal teas and you’re allowed a spoonful of honey every now and then if you need it.  Putting this in perspective, it is highly unlikely that I will go stir crazy.
  • This is my choice.  I could eat whatever I want, but I am choosing to drink delicious and nutri-licious juice this week instead.
  • This is temporary and my body, mind and soul will thank me for it.

I have added motivation.  This was never about weight loss but I have now tried on the bridesmaid dress I shall be wearing in April and I can’t get the side zip up.  Not good. Also there’s quite a long time from the end of the juice cleanse until the wedding so I may need to do another one of these ‘feasts’ again the week before but in someone else’s house.  In New Zealand. With no hand holding. Hmm.

Anyway now I have just one container left in the work fridge (I’m sure people have been eyeing them suspiciously but so far no one has asked any questions). They are labelled with my name, but I’m desperate not to attract attention about this.

So far feeling, I feel bright and positive, if quite cold.  This is strange for me as I usually err on the side of being too warm most of the time.  I now make a big mistake and save this last container for quite late in the afternoon and have to almost down it before leaving work to head to my yoga class.   It’s almost hard to drink this much liquid which is being boosted by herbal tea in an attempt to get warmth into my body (Pukka’s Lemon and Ginger).  The trick, I have learnt, is sipping it constantly throughout the day so your body feels like it’s always being fed.

And then I bounce off to my yoga class and I feel ok.  I get home, have my final juice fest of the day – the purple beetroot one and, Oh My God it tastes to good you could have been mistaken for thinking I was licking clean the bowl of chocolate cake mix.  There were ‘bits’ too that I could chew on. Properly yummy!  Bedtime herbal tea is Yogi Tea’s Choco Chilli to help warm me up and is kinda like dessert.

Choco Chilli

End of Day Summary: Slept well.  No Hunger.  No detox symptoms.

Just COLD!