Day 31 & 32 of Panchakarma – farewells and fresh beginnings

Folks. I’m done in, so this’ll be a brief post. But I’m delighted to say all ended well today. I’m done. Wooohooo!

Fond Farewells
In preparation for a thank you treat for the harem women, on the way home yesterday I popped into the local ladies handicrafts shop to buy cards and ribbon. After this morning’s treatments I picked up a length of strung jasmine outside the ashram where the woman who sells flowers is always smiley. Back home I wrote out cards, enclosed cash, attached ribbon and jasmine, and then pedalled back to the clinic for my last rub-a-dub-dub.

I had planned to dole out gifts after the treatment, but because one of the main harem massage therapists was leaving early I handed them out before we got started. As you can see, I wrote in Tamil the names of each of the three women I was giving cards to. We took photos, me and my Panchakarma Comrade. So now you can see the lovelies who’ve been pummelling, rubbing, tapping and using hot herb balls to do a (not-always so soft) soft shoe shuffle across my skin these last three weeks.

Version 2

Version 2

So that was my first Panchakarma treatment. In the next couple of days or so I’ll wrap things up properly, but as far as tomorrow goes – I intend to rest. It’ll be my first free day in three weeks. Whoop, whoop. Can’t wait!

Thank You
Thank you for keeping up with me. Having people check-in on the Panchakarma progress has been encouraging and much appreciated.

And a big shout out to Mr D who has been patient, caring, intrigued and supportive throughout.

Today, I thought I’d end this post with a poem by Mary Oliver:
– Wild Geese –
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Throughout my posting on the subject of my Panchakarma experience I feel:
– I’ve been telling you of my despair
– like “the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,” that I’ve now returned home to myself for a fresh beginning
– gratitude for your listening and creating a space in this quirky “family of things” out here in Facebook cyberspace

So anytime you need to, find someone to tell of your despair, of what your body loves, and (like the wild geese flying high in the clean blue air across the landscapes of your life), of all the ways in which the world calls to you, however harsh, however exciting.

Wherever you, however you feel, whatever your despair or your loves – travel well.

Day 12 of Panchakarma – now we’re getting serious

I kind of fucked up today. I’d misunderstood Dr A’s instructions around food and had breakfast before I saw her this morning. I didn’t realise I’d made a mistake until after the morning treatments. Here’s how things panned out:

Around 7:45 am this morning Dr A massaged my face for a few minutes with an oil that smelled like the ghee decoction of the first week. Then I sat at the table where a large covered metal pot of hot water was waiting for me. I made like a tent with my head under a couple of towels. Dr A instructed me to slowly and steadily breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth before she slid the lid away from the pot about an inch to release a puff of steam. My Panchakarma comrade had already gone through this a couple of times, so I knew to expect heat. The first part was no sweat, just warm, moist air. Gradually, Dr A exposed more steam as she pulled the lid further back, about an inch at a time, always making sure I was coping.

For anyone who has read my Ayurveda posts from the start, early on I mentioned Luke Coutinho – a nutrition guru. He recommended steaming with turmeric as a simple method for detoxing the lungs. I gave it a go. Because the water cooled quickly, I’d had to reboil it a couple of times to feel like I was getting the full steam effect. This morning, having the pot covered and steam gradually released was an excellent method. I got hot and sweaty. Loved it.

Next up I was up on the massage table on my back. Hands and feet covered. Dr A dropped two drops of medicine into each nostril. That was OK, what was less fun was lying on my back, using the same breathing pattern, while also trying really bloody hard not to swallow. I failed, mostly. After being on my back for about three or four minutes I sat up and spat into a small bucket Dr A handed me. Not a lot came up. I confess, at least half the time I swallowed – that automatic reflex over-rode my attempts to catch the mucous before it drizzled down my throat.

I sat out on the porch, chatting with my Panchakarma comrade while continuing to get the mucous out and into the bucket rather than back down my gullet.

Some 10-15 minutes later what followed was more nasal, or rather mucous, decongestion by way of smoke inhalation. A small light brown stick of something that Dr A burned the tip of to get smoking, was then wrapped in a leaf to create a nozzle of sorts. Gently I had to inhale the smoke into each nostril then exhale through my mouth. The first few times, again, I failed, spluttering and hating the sensation of smoke down the back of my throat. But I kind of got the hang of it.

My last treatment for the morning was a small enema. Dr A asked me very sweetly: “You OK for an enema?” compassion oozing with every word. “Yeah, sure. Why not?” I said. After all, I’m surrendered to the process, right?

She returned with a packet of long, thin tubes. “I show you I use a fresh tube for each patient” she said. She held one in her hand – it looked clean and unused. Good call on her part. Good to see the pink rubber tube in her hand before she inserted it. I nodded my understanding and agreement. Also good to see was the large syringe that looked like a toy for a giant baby. It was half full of sun-gold oil. I’d have squirmed inwardly more if I hadn’t already seen the litre of brown liquid the doctor had moments earlier given to my Panchakarma comrade.

Back in the treatment room we go with me on the massage bench, this time on my side with my lower leg straight, the upper leg bent and my bum exposed. Not quite the ignominious pose required of us ladies who go for cervical smears, but not far off.  And my bum? It’s not my best feature. I consoled myself with the thought that Dr A has seen a lot of backsides during her many years as an Ayurvedic practitioner. The sensation of having the rubber tube inserted, the oil gently pushed through and up, the tube removed and a wad of tissue paper placed against my anus was – how shall we say, all things considered? – genteel. Who’d have thought. But yes, yes indeed, genteel because the experience was not hideous, just functional. Not only that, given how expertly Dr A makes a chapati, she has the same level of confidence with her procedures and treatments that I feel I am, literally, in good hands.

Anyways, shortly after this – including some prancing as an excuse for dancing (I’d been told not to sit, move around) and a visit from a cow – Dr A told me I was free, free to go home and have breakfast.
– “But I’ve already had breakfast, before I came,” I said.
– “What?” she said.
– “I thought I was meant to,” I said.
– “No. No wonder it’s not working this morning,” she said.
Doh! Big fat double Doh!


Egg-white, brown rice & veg – a nutritious breakfast, but at the wrong time of day!

This afternoon I’ve had a two-hour, four-handed, hot-balls-of-herbs massage. Magic. The herbs had been wrapped and tied in tea towels, four of them. The massage began at my feet and shins with a small amount of oil poured onto my skin and rubbed in. The next bit was interesting.

Those herb balls? They were hot. Roasting.

They were heated by an assistant who exchanged a hot herb-ball with one of the masseuse as and when the one they were using cooled. Before using the fresh hot herb-ball, the masseuse tapped it against one of her palms to check the temperature before doing a tapping, shuffling slide across my skin. A new and gorgeous experience. Loads better than Monday’s adventure *wink, wink*. When my back was getting done, the herb-ball heat felt more intense. Hopefully without visibly flinching, my internal comment a few times was “Ah fuck”. Literally. But that heat, the subtle waft of herbs, hands pressing, rubbing, smoothing my flesh and – that heat. Magic. The last part was getting my whole body rubbed down using something that felt like the finest, softest sand. Looked like sand too. After that, all I had to do was rinse and dress. Fab.

For the next 20 days I will be going through more or less the same procedure. The quantity of nose drops each morning will increase: 4 drops in each nostril tomorrow; 6 the day after that: 8 drops thereafter until three days before the treatment completes.

I’m hoping that, if not tomorrow, soon after I’ll have mastered the art of expectorating. If I’ve got to do it, I’d like to appear vaguely elegant. Also those enemas, well let’s see. I may or may not report on those, not closely anyways.

Seeing as there is unlikely to be anything new to share I probably won’t post until the end of the 20 days. If anything comes up that’s relevant and potentially interesting for anyone I’ll give an update. Obviously, my wish is that come the beginning of March when the treatment programme is complete, I’ll be able to report on wonderful changes to my body and mind.

All-in, even though after the first week when I saw some changes there are now no significant new improvements to remark on (bar a small persistent spot at the side of my nose that has vanished and a probable ganglion on the inside of my left wrist has softened and reduced), this Ayurvedic treatment lark feels as though it is unfolding as a significant life affirmation. For example, frequently we’re told to wake up and greet the day with gratitude for being alive and all that. Fair-play. I endorse such a thing. Me though? Not so much. But that’s another story. However, this morning while I was eating my mistake breakfast, the rising sun glimmered through the trees and whispered across my skin – and I was grateful for that. Grateful that the sun continues to rise on all of us, wherever we are and whoever we are. 

So for now, wherever you are, whoever you’re with, however you are doing whatever you’re up to
– Keep it real
– Keep sharing the love
I’ll see you on the other side (of the treatment of course).

Day 10 of Panchakarma – new insights and tasty new recipes

Day 10 of Panchakarma was also a day of rest, at least from any Ayurvedic treatments, but otherwise has been a full day.

The main items of note from Day 10 of Panchakarma are 1) how I’ve had a chance to notice my ingrained, habitual responses to food and hunger, 2) achieving success trying out a new chapati recipe and 3) shopping for a rolling pin

1. My responses to food and apparent hunger
When it comes to food, I tend to graze. The reason I have had the habit of grabbing quick bites for most of each day is because I am usually attempting to do a lot at any one time. Today was exactly that – full of activity of one sort of another. So when lunchtime swung past and I’d not stopped for food, the sight of biscuit packets produced another of those inner ghostly grabs, the grazing habit trying to assert itself away from my busyness. Of course I resisted. Scoping out my food shelves and the fridge I confirmed there was nothing quick and easy to throw together for lunch. This is the habit. Waiting too long before considering what I need for sustenance and then just grabbing the most convenient thing – and convenient food is rarely good food. No fruit allowed at the moment (too cooling for the body while it’s healing) and no raw food either that ruled out even munching on a carrot or two. I resorted to making the pudding Dr A had given me on Day 6 of Panchakarma, which filled the hole of hunger that was expanding like a quickening cyclone.

2. Motivation to try new recipes
As mentioned in the previous post, today I wanted to find a good (as in simple) recipe for rice-flour rotis (also known as chapatis or paratha – although with slight variations between the three). I did discover a recipe that looks straightforward and I’m looking forward to trying that out soon. However, I found a recipe for beetroot chapatis using regular wholewheat flour. Happily, dee-liciously, I can report that not only did I have a go at making them but they turned out great. Even Mr D was impressed (which followed hot after his cool doubt when he saw me making them). Given today was only my third time making chapatis I’m well pleased with myself. The beetroot gave colour, texture and taste to the unleavened bread. Much recommended.

Here’s the way I made beetroot chapatis tonight:
* Grated a medium-sized beetroot into a bowl
* Added salt, cumin powder, cayenne pepper, fenugreek powder
* Bit-by-bit blended wholewheat flour into the beetroot to make a dough
* Drizzled some ghee in and kneaded the mixture
* Left the dough to settle while I cooked the rest of my meal (yep, rice and veg)
* When ready, divided up the dough into balls
* Floured a chopping board
* Rolled out each dough ball into a flat circle using a newly-bought rolling pin*
* Put the uncooked chapati to one side and rolled out the next ball 
* Heated a flat griddle pan (a tawa, or tava – which is great for making dosa as well as chocolate drop scones, if you please)
* Dropped ghee onto the hot pan
* Flipped a chapati onto the pan and cooked until I figured it was ready
And serve! My tastebuds are imagining beetroot chapatis combined with the tang of a raita – fab combo I reckon.

3. That rolling pin
* I’ve never owned a rolling pin before. I’ve never needed to own one until now. I was too pleased to find a lovely wooden one at a local supermarket this afternoon – just in time to try out the beetroot chapati recipe. Happy days.

4. On a final note
A long day is coming to a close. I’m ready for more rest in my sweet bed.

However your day has turned out – as hoped for, unplanned, frustrating, joyful – rest well when you reach your bed.

Day 8 of Panchakarma – the stream of goo, a change in diet, and more improvements (followed by rest)

Remember that caveat from my previous post? The one about the glee bridge and stream of goo? Weellll – I never thought my fall from the bridge would be the next day, nor so sudden a drop. Day 8 of Panchakarma saw me face down in the goo.

Monday was Day 8 of Panchakarma. Full of gratitude for feeling better, I cycled over to the clinic for 7:30am where Dr A handed me a glass of water and four pills. “Four!” was my immediate response to the dark-brown pills. I grimaced then, being the good patient, took ‘em.

I’m sure many people have, at least once in their life, taken shit pills (or some other form of laxative), me too. But I ain’t never taken four of these type of pills before. A couple of weeks back, before I found and signed up with Dr A, I’d taken one of the Ayurvedic shit pills I have on standby – they look similar to the ones Dr A gave me. The one pill I took then got things moving over the course of a morning. Admittedly, the effects were unremarkable and temporary. So when I saw four pills, I figured I was in for a rough loo ride.

Following those four pills, Dr A doled out glass after glass of water to me as if I were a camel caravan she was readying for a long desert trek. Not sure how much water I drank, but litres of the stuff passed through my gullet that day. Along with everything else in there. At least I’m hoping everything else because that’s what it felt like.

The first part of the morning was peaceful until a tsunami of nausea attacked me around 9am, at which point I paced across Dr A’s front yard taking short, sharp breaths trying to not throw up. She told me it was my internal acid reacting with the pills. As I paced I cursed myself. I’d been awake since 4am. Around 5am I’d indulged in what I thought might be my last coffee for a while. Probably a big, fat mistake. Coffee apparently has a high acid level (different from flavour acidity).

While I was still pacing, Dr A sat me down and massaged my head. The nausea passed and I was able to relax a bit. Not long after, in her less-than-lovely bathroom, I made a pooh patty a bullock would have been proud of. I shan’t go into much detail except to say that I remained close to the loo and at one point, with my backside perched on the not-so-clean loo seat and more crap leaving my body, I thought to myself – this, this is what surrender looks like.

That said, up until around lunchtime the day was relatively benign: sitting on the porch with the sunlight and a breeze, jabbering with Dr A about various topics – including questions from her (in an effort to distract me) such as “What do you like?” My response – “Huh?! In what way what do I like?” Around 2pm I felt done and my pulses were good. The experience of four shit pills had been OK. I could go home.

I rang Mr D to come collect me. For whatever reason, he took longer than normal to reach the clinic. By the time he arrived, some 40 minutes later, I’d had a glass of buttermilk by way of lunch. Not long after I was back in the loo getting rid of it.

And that’s when, on only Day 8 of Panchakarma, I came face to face with the stream of goo.

Lots of cramping and, something I find really challenging to cope with, huge dizziness and basically feeling like shit. When Mr D arrived and saw the state I was in, as well as the setting, he was less than impressed. He also knew the effects of just one shit pill. I’d messaged him in the morning to let him know I’d taken four and would be at the doctor’s all day. I knew he’d understand. Due to his anxiety and concern for me he challenged the doctor; a minor squall of confrontation had me step in as the pacifier priestess. I did that automatically even when, after non-stop dizziness and faintness, all I wanted to do was leave the bog, lie on the cool tiles of the treatment room and rest. Rest. I craved rest.

Nevertheless because I knew feeling crap was part of the process I was able to do that reassuring thing with Mr D and thus Dr A was reassured about him – although I suspect his reaction was not new to her. When Dr A told me that the tumblers full of regular-temperature water I’d been drinking all day were part of the medicine, had worked with the pills to clear me out, and that a change in temperature would stop the process quickly I accepted Dr A’s offer of hot water. I was done with the dizziness. I was done with hanging out in the loo. After persevering through the nausea and mostly liquid loss for a couple of hours I grabbed the chance for relief. Two cups of the hot stuff worked within about 10 minutes.

When the dizziness subsided to something more manageable I clambered onto the massage bench Dr A had prepared for me. I was able to lie down, in more comfort than the floor, and rest. Bliss. I curled up on my side and slept for a while.

Due to Mr D’s concern, and my suggestion I get an auto-rickshaw home (the thought of my bum on top of his bike made me wince) he’d left me to rest and when I was ready he returned in his brother’s car – woohoo. Not only was Dr A impressed (only a few people own cars here), me and my bum were dee-lighted and relieved.

Dr A sent me home with a jar of buttermilk rice for my supper, if I wanted some. Honestly, the thought of buttermilk anything was gag-producing, but later when I was hungry, I ate more than the two spoonfuls she suggested I start with. I was grateful the flavour was bland, and I figured the food would help me have a restful, rather than hungry, sleep.

That was all on Monday. Yesterday was Day 9 of Panchakarma and I was free to rest. Thankfully. Rest. Such a beautiful thing and something else I surrendered into. Since Day 8 of Panchakarma I’ve made sure to eat according to Dr A’s instructions. My diet these next three to four weeks will be based on rice and vegetables.

Dietary Info

For anyone interested, here’s an overview of the restricted diet terms:
* No white flour
* No fruit
* No ready-mixed spices or sauces
* No paneer
* No oils or fats – other than ghee and not raw
* No deadly-nightshade veg (potatoes, aubergine in particular)
* No re-heating food – cook from scratch for each meal
* No egg yolks – only egg whites
* No raw food

Essentially my food intake is rice (brown or white), whole grains and veg. I’m to make the food taste good but only using simple, unprocessed herbs and spices. Fortunately I mostly cook that way anyway. I’m going to miss paneer. I usually have that once a week. I’m going to miss pasta for variety. However, since the weekend I’ve made chapatis. Not great ones, but edible and they liven up the meals of white rice and veg. That said, last night I made a delicious mushroom risotto. I’ve given myself the mission to find out how to correctly make simple wholewheat and rice-flour roti/chapati, paratha and dosa.

Also on Day 8 of Panchakarma a new improvement showed up. My eyes. They look brighter. As if a film of vaseline I hadn’t noticed has been removed from them. I may not be bushy-tailed yet, but I’m rocking the bright-eyed look. Day 9 of Panchakarma and the bright eyes persist.

Another improvement is my body. Whereas before I resembled a square blob (even Spongebob Squarepants has more shape than me) my body is beginning to look more human-like.

Day 9 of Panchakarma was mostly restful. Around lunchtime I cycled to the clinic and checked in with Dr A. She was just finishing up with my Panchakarma comrade who was on the first day of her 30-day treatment – she too has surrendered to her unfamiliar treatment processes.

So despite having dropped into the goo stream, I’m still feeling “Hooray for Ayurvedic medicine” (and possibly even, gulp, the shit pills).

For now, whatever you’re doing, and however you’re doing it, remember – sometimes powerful, forced, encouraged movement has benefits, if you get my drift…

P.S. The featured imaged is one I took when I joined some Indian friends on a day’s pilgrimage to a temple at the top of a steep hill (Tirupati). At various places the number of steps taken was chiselled into the stone steps.