Day 2 of Panchakarma – still fasting

Last night, by the time I had supper the gap between meals had been more than six hours. As a perennial grazer that’s a pretty good achievement. Dinner was more runny rice, only this time I managed to eat most of the large bowl Dr A offered me. She explained I’d not been hungry enough at lunchtime because my body was still assimilating the morning’s medicine.

Day 2 of Panchakarma has been more or less a repeat of yesterday. I got it together to cycle over to Dr A’s clinic for 7am where she took my pulses and doled out the medicine. More warmed ghee with herbs but with less of a gag reflux.

While I was slurping the medicine I had a brief chat with the woman nearing the end of her own Panchakarma programme. I asked her what she thought about it all. She explained she was feeling lighter, in all sorts of ways, as well as having chucked out a load of toxicity from her body. Note: This woman is fine of face and figure. She’s got great, symmetrical bone structure. There’s no excess fat. And her skin glows. I realise I won’t ever look as fabulous as she does, but the glowing skin, the lighter feeling, that seems possible and what I’m going for. Slimmer would definitely be wonderful too – you saw that photo of me didn’t you?

Back home today I’ve been experiencing a different type of internal ghost. This one is hanging out in my mouth. Often, along with the morning coffee I have a ragi biscuit (or two!). Ragi, or Finger Millet, is a grain that originates from Africa but is widely used in Southern India. The biscuits are made locally. In the UK the nearest thing we might get to a ragi biscuit in terms of texture is shortbread. There is a similarity with the grittiness – quality and colourwise they are very different (see photo). And it was the grittiness of the ragi biscuit I could feel, and crave, in my mouth. Did I resist? Of course, I resisted! I’ve also had to resist lying down. However, my eyelids are less resistant – even as I type. You’ll have to forgive me if this danf;kdag;kjadg’laj’d happens 😉

Apart from a restricted dietary intake, there are various activities on the currently-forbidden list during this part of the Panchakarma programme. One of those restricted activities is (quoting Dr A) “playing with water” and generally getting wet. (And for anyone with a smutty mind like mine, yes that does mean no slippery sex for now.) On a more prosaic note: if it rains I’m to get an auto-rickshaw so I’m covered; I’m not to do any laundry, which I do by hand and most days; and today I’m also not allowed to shower. Fortunately the weather is cool enough I’m not desperate for a shower the way I would be if we were in summer, nor am I going to be in either polite or impolite company – other than Mr D (no sex anyways) and the doctor of course.

With this being only Day 2 of Panchakarma you wouldn’t be surprised there are no new changes. There bulbous belly is still evident but, given the lack of food, feels less tight. An unexpected development is that I’ve felt the need to brush my teeth more and Mr D mooted last night that my breath smelled different. The headache seems constant, but more as a brain freeze than real ache.

Currently the time is around 3pm and all I’ve had today, Day 2 of Panchakarma, is the medicine and hot water – and the ragi biscuit ghost in my mouth. I’m considering waiting it out until dinner time. Fasting is no bad thing generally and as I’m not yet feeling famished I figure I might as well wait. Let’s see if that turns out to have been a smart strategy or not.

For now, wishing you food joy wherever you are.

Day 1 of Panchakarma

This morning at around 6:45am I cycled over to meet with Dr A for my first day of Panchakarma. Day 1 of Panchakarma is the preparation period that leads up to the main procedures and is basically a detox phase to prepare the body for what’s to come.

After taking my pulses Dr A brought out a regular mug of hot water and a small, glass mug, half full of a yellowish liquid. She handed me the glass mug. I sipped. The liquid was warm and oily and was in fact ghee (clarified butter) with herbs mixed in. I noted a slight after taste. I sipped again. This time not just an after taste, but the first hint of a gag reflex. Uh oh, my gullet was already not liking this. I put my mind elsewhere, finished the concoction and took a slurp of hot water. I continued slurping and managed to keep the concoction down while Dr A advised me about what to do and not for the day. I’m guessing her advice is based on general Pancharkarma principles as well as the individual she’s working with.

Today I am to drink plenty of warm-to-hot water. But, unlike my usual practice, I’m not allowed to cool the water down with cold water, but rather just let it cool naturally to a quaffable temperature. Also not allowed is day-time sleeping. When I told Mr D about that his first response was, “But you don’t sleep in the day.” Obviously, perverse as my nature tends to be, today I really bloody want to!

Around 11am, and because I was feeling too fragile for Indian traffic, Mr D dropped me at Dr A’s clinic for food. First things first, she felt my pulses. She said, “You’re not hungry yet”. Bugger, clearly my pulses do not lie. Shan’t be able to pull a fast one with Dr A then. In truth I agreed with her.

What had spurred me to return to Dr A for lunchtime food was my behaviour at home, that and the fact I’ve normally had some kind of breakfast by 10am. All morning I seemed to have an internal ghost attempting to go about it’s usual habits of grazing. I felt an energy in my hand, without my hand or arm actually moving, drawn to the biscuit barrel. I passed the fridge and almost reached out to pull the door open. I explained this to Dr A. “Your mind is hungry, but not you.” Ya see – those blasted food habits are not just about the food, but have become a physiological expression. All that reaching out and grabbing the nearest thing, the body swerves towards the kitchen, the mindless munching.

Nevertheless, and despite this only being day 1, I wasn’t ready for food so Dr A and I sat on her porch chatting for a while. Around an hour later we went inside and she gave me lunch. That was a runny, soup-like mixture of white rice, ginger, garlic, turmeric, cumin seeds and some other spice. Something else to slurp, which I dutifully did until I was too full to finish what was left. I’ve come away with a food box of the remaining runny soup in case I get hungry, properly hungry, possibly around 4pm. My next visit is scheduled for 7pm.

In the meantime I’m still fighting off the urge either to crawl on to the sofa in front of the TV or go to bed with a book. I’ve also got a slight headache shifting in and out – a bit like the unpleasant (and unusual) chemical smell occasionally wafting in the direction of my office just now. So I’s off for more hot water and something else to distract me from sleep and chocolate and coffee and…


my favourite biscuit barrel – always full…!


The Start of a New Discovery

 Initiating an Exploration into Ayurvedic Medicine and My Own Body

Yesterday I went in search of an Ayurvedic practitioner and thankfully, I think, found one. I’m hoping the start of a new discovery will lead to a life-enhancing outcome. Perhaps a life-long adventure too.

Why did I go on such a search?

Because I’m feeling like shit. Physically and mentally.

I’ve not been in great shape for a few years. Went through a terrible time with my menses for a while. They were heavier, and lasted longer, than an overactive and destructive volcanic eruption – and as messy and devastating. Think about it. When there’s a heavy and sustained loss of blood for a couple of years, where’s it coming from? From my bone marrow is where. Before I reached the final resolution with a second, small operation – to remove the troublesome intra-uterine fibroids at fault – I needed two mega doses of iron, given intravenously, before they would do the op. That resolving operation was about three and a half years ago. Recovery from all of which has taken time. Too long. In the process of recovering I seem to have slipped into sluggishness and apathy – on all sorts of levels. However, this past year in particular I’ve been experiencing near-constant abdomen discomfort, bloated daily, and a lot of lethargy.

Due to whatever fucked-up reason, this time round I just don’t seem to be able to get it together to do what I know can and will work. The result – I keep feeling shit. Every day. All day. Feeling shitty and fucked-up is NOT good. Ever. Feeling shitty and fucked-up when trying to motor through creative output, to be a fully-involved person in an intimate relationship, to keep kicking-arse is NOT good. Ever. So, what to do? What the hell to do? That is what I have been asking myself. Something has to give.

For a while the key questions running around my head, like growing kittens in search of milky nipples, have been:
– What is it I really need to do?
– How I can do that?

– I need to lose weight and find healthier ways of living. Not just for the aesthetics, but more importantly for my health and wellness.
– I need to be more active too, for the same reasons.
– I need to readjust my dietary intake to support all that.

I’ve been here before, getting help with my health. In this way, what I’m about to start is a new discovery because of the method, rather than the intention.

A short bit of back-peddling/backstory:
In case you didn’t already know, I’m in India. In particular a small town in Tamil Nadu (I’ve written about this elsewhere). I love here. Apart from being with Mr D, there was something about the place when I first visited back in 2007 that grabbed me and held me in a firm embrace of love and compassion and kindness. I happily fall into that embrace every time I return. The natural consequence of my staying in India is that when I consider seeking out help with this persistent problem I want something, someone, local. So naturally that had to be Ayurvedic Medicine. (If you want the low-down on Ayurvedic Medicine there is plenty online.)

During the ruminations about my persistent problems I happened to tune into a TV programme last Sunday during which a celebrated Indian health and lifestyle guru* spoke cogently and emphatically about the need to, sometimes, detox the body. Apparently he’s had excellent success with his detox programmes for cancer patients, as well as helping people with weight loss and improved health generally. From the manner in which he spoke, and the specifics, I believe him. His chat and obvious knowledge on the subject of health convinced me – I need to detox.

Clearly I could just do this at home. The guru chap already gave a few pointers. Simple stuff. But I’ve never been great at detoxing. Let’s face it, retoxing is always way more fun and easier. Given my brain fog and entrenched lethargy, how the hell was I going to get a start on detoxing? I figured it was time to get help.

While out and about a few days ago I took a detour and saw an advertising hoarding outside a suburban house: Ayurvedic treatments for all kinds of illnesses and health issues. Yesterday I met the owner of that hoarding, Dr A. I liked her from the off. Female (preferable given my complaints), direct, forthright, approachable. I told her I needed an outside agency, someone other than me, to help me shift my shit.

What I actually told her was I feel stuck. My whole body feels stuck. I feel stagnant, almost on hold. Definitely not girl interrupted – that passed by a long while back – more like woman halted. Even though I’ve been feeling this way for a few years, more recently the sense that this stagnation is not just physical but affecting all of me has grown.
Here’s a list of my physical issues:

  • Bloated belly – almost constantly
  • Aching joints
  • Sluggish colon activity – too often constipated
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss and thinning
  • Painful joints
  • Overweight with – because of the bloated belly – a girth-to-hip ratio tipping me towards diabetes, heart problems and the like

My other issues include:

  • Brain fog
  • Erratic energies, but mostly lethargy
  • Unfocused in my activities

With a smidgeon of info about Ayurvedic medicine I already knew that one of the treatments might be an enema. I told her I was not keen on having one. She wanted to know more. I explained I’d already had colonic irrigation, twice some years back. While the irrigation itself was mildly unpleasant – warm water gushing past my anus and up my rectum was an odd experience – the fact of the cost with no obvious positive outcome (coupled with a lackadaisical practitioner of that fine art!) meant I was not enthusiastic about going through something similar.

Dr A sent me away with the agreement that I would return the next morning, before breakfast, when she would make a diagnosis by taking my pulses. After the pulse diagnosis she would make her recommendations.

That diagnosis took place this morning. In Dr A’s consulting room she sat me down, placed her fingers on my left wrist and took my pulse.
“Fire,” she muttered after only a few moments.
Given all I know about my body and personality type, that one-word assessment was not a surprise. But I was surprised when she gave her diagnosis – all of my key elements (doshas or humours) are out of balance. That ain’t good. No wonder I feel so crappy. Her diagnosis confirms what I thought – I am fucked-up. She reckons she can reverse my shittiness.

Following her pulse assessment she went on to explain the proposed programme. Now that was not just a surprise but a bloody shock.

Panchakarma is a detoxification procedure that involves a variety of processes and lasts for between 30-45 days. Thirty days! Holy shit. And, less holy but more shit – enemas too. Crappolla.

We chatted some more. Dr A. gave an overview of the procedures involved in panchakarma, said she’d prepare a full outline when I start. At that point I hadn’t yet agreed I would start  – but I was aware that something in me felt drawn to doing her detox. She left me for a while to go and attend to another client who was coming to the last few days of her own panchakarma programme. I mulled over what Dr A had just told me.

Although we hadn’t yet discussed it, cost was definitely going to be a consideration. Could I afford to undergo such an intensive programme? Could I afford not to, whatever the cost? Clearly doing a panchakarma in India was going to be cheaper than if I did something similar in London. That was a worthy factor. Also a factor is that I have the time to do this. No need to try and fit the programme around a full time job. No need to worry about how to juggle work, commuting, and other commitments. But could I afford it?

She told me the cost. Higher than I expected. But understandably so given the procedures and herbal medicines involved, the – gulp – enemas and food too. She made me a coffee and we chatted some more.

When I left her some 50 minutes later I had a small batch of tablets and she had my agreement that I would undergo the programme. The start of a new discovery has begun.

I’ve also decided using my blog to document my experiences during the process might be fun as well as interesting for anyone thinking about taking Ayurvedic treatments, or undergoing panchakarma in particular. I’ll try to post daily.

Today, as one means of assessment, I have taken a few body measurements. No weight recorded as I’ve no weighing scales. I’ll take these same measurements at the end of the programme. Here’s the awful truth:
Bust 102 cm/40 inches
Waist 93 cm/36.5 inches
Hips 103 cm/40.5 inches
Right Upper arm – 33.5 cm/13 inches
Left Upper arm – 35 cm/13.5 inches
Right Thigh – 64 cm/25 inches
Left Thigh – 62.5 cm/24.5 inches
Right Knee – 43.5 cm/17 inches
Left Knee – 42.5 cm/16.5 inches
At a height of 156 cm/5 feet 1 inch all of those measurements mean I’s fat! Clearly I’m hoping there’ll be a reduction in all these figures, including my own, along with all the other intended improvements.

So tomorrow morning at 7am is my start on a new discovery, but just a start. I know that these next 30+ days are only a beginning. After the panchakarma is complete I’ll need to keep on implementing better lifestyle choices. Here’s to my starting a new discovery that supports all the health improvements I’m aiming for – because right now I need them more than ever.

If you have any questions as I go through this process, please throw them my way.

For now, let me leave you with this quote (taken from Dr A’s panchakarma info sheet):
The doshas, the dhatus, digestive fire and excretion, when balanced (along with) a happy soul, senses and mind, then the person is called healthy. —— Vaghbhata ——
(Sama dosha sama dhatu samaagni malakriyah. Prasanna atmendriyamanah swastah ityabhideeyate.)

And this (gruesome) image:


I hope I look better than this come March…

* see Luke Coutinho website for details

Writers and Politics – Why Do We Bother?

I recently submitted a response to one of Jason Howell‘s questions. Apparently he was  inundated with good responses so he sweetly rejected my offering – I’m choosing to post my (edited) response myself.

Here are his questions:
Q1: What role do you feel fiction writers are called to play in terms of affecting the political weather, this moment? (including poets, essayists, in general or yourself in particular)
Q2: Does writing seem politically pointless?
Q3: Or do you feel called to action?
Q4: Is there an urge to write in service of amplifying a particular voice or agenda?
Q5: Is there an urge to write to try and diagnose the confusion overall—respecting even the “villains”?

Here’s my response:
First off – can writers truly affect the political weather? Well, yes they can, but, more crucially, do they? I feel Jason’s questions almost suggest the effect writers have on the political weather is slight, something akin to a flock of birds taking off from a lake – the water is disturbed, but only momentarily. However, what’s necessary to note is that during political discourse when we voters get to hear, literally, the politicians spouting on about what they will deliver when they are in power, behind these politicians are writers. Which means, in effect, writers are affecting the political weather, they are the workers who craft the words the politicians read and we hear.

That said, as a diverse group writers are generally interested in rational and open discourse about what constitutes good governance. For example, prior to the UK’s recent EU referendum, many writers added their voices to the Remain group. Their cogent and creative pleas were drowned out by the populist rhetoric of post-truth politics. I should imagine the situation was replicated in the USA. Likewise in India, where  Modi and his many cronies seem intent on increasing their despotic tendencies, any dissenting voices are lambasted as unpatriotic and, similar to anti-Trump campaigners in the USA, targeted with death threats. Seemingly there is a growing reliance on lies to drown out rational discourse whether from writers or the many others across all the interested parties.

Perhaps as the increase in post-truth and fake news politics ascends, the need for rational-thinking writers to write about the truth behind the lies becomes greater, more urgent, more necessary. Perhaps. Because no matter how savvy you are with words no amount of writing will budge an unwilling person from their prejudices and bigotry – those attitudes are massive ego trips and require a very different tack to break them down to something more compassionate.

Nevertheless the urge to write – whether poet, essayist, reporter – is an endless call to action where the output can be many and varied and, depending on the writer’s perspective, borderless and without restriction. Therefore why not attempt to amplify a particular viewpoint? Why not try to unravel the confusion of political game-playing? Why not discover what villainy really is and who is being the villain?

For centuries writers have done just that and many been persecuted because of it, whether voicing a simple opinion or pointing to harsh truths. Writers, in all their various guises, have frequently been vilified as villains precisely because they have used words in response to atrocities, human rights abuses, vile and hateful regimes and political activities. Today’s writers are no less called upon to express their thoughts about these things, and we should do so because eventually when enough voices keep expressing the same truths the noise from the villains just might be revealed for what they are – divisive and destructive.

Now, as ever, adding words with the aim of expressing the truths that define our humanity and raise our individual and collective consciousness and kindness (rather than any kind of villainy) continues to be important. The urge to write about our current political situations will always remain. Thankfully good writers can expertly express the thoughts and feelings, the perspectives and real truths we all need to be reminded of during these times of fake news and post-truths because they can write about what must be said, what can be said and what others wish they could say. After all truth, rather than lies, even in fiction, is at the heart of good writing.

P.S. My header image is of the Gandhi statue on the beachfront at Puducherry, India – I have a notion that Gandhi was not only a politician, or a cotton spinner, but also a writer.