Final Panchakarma Update – and on to other things…

Bugger! Damn! That coffee thing? A big fat no-no. Noooooooo!!! 😱 😞

As you know, at times through the #Panchakarma programme aspects of it were a bit fraught, the most significant of which was the whole diet/what-the-hell-to-eat thing. I had hoped for (in truth expected) clear, unambiguous dietary guidance from the professional, in this case Dr A. Despite our attempts to gain that guidance, both me and my #Panchakarma Comrade never got the clarity we wanted.

That said, for various reasons I’m glad I did my treatment with Dr A, but she was not my first choice. My first choice was another female doctor (I’ll call her Dr M-Taj). Back in 2013 (when I foolishly thought I could train-up for a 100km charity walk) I’d had a couple of leg massages from her. She’d been calm, thorough and communicative and I’d liked her, so it was she I was searching for this January. Although I didn’t find her, but Dr A instead, such is the magic of things I shan’t knock that outcome.

Nevertheless, a few weeks ago, just after having a rare opportunity for a one-to-one chat with #Panchakarma Comrade over a fresh carrot juice each (which we later discovered are not allowed during a panchakarma programme – grrrr!) I happened to see a sign for Dr M-Taj’s clinic and her local Ayurvedic retreat centre. WTF! Not only had I discovered her hoarding, worse still that sign was on a short and narrow lane I go up and down at least once a week. Bugger! Blast! Fiddlesticks!!

(In my defence – of being blind to her sign up until that point – there’s a lot going on along that street; Kashmiri-run shops selling jewellery, silk scarves, signing bowls, rugs, knick-knacks and various other trinkets, with tunics, dresses and trousers fluttering from awnings and roadside clothes rails; on entering the lane on the right is one of my regular grocery stops – so that’s a wave and a “hello” as I pass; on the left is the milking station with a gathering of cows each afternoon; there are also a couple of restaurants and a small temple off to the right with a large billboard out front. All in, I tend to let the scenery wash over me as I pass up and down. Also, a lot of folk along that lane are eager for business and as I don’t want to give false hope I tend not to make much eye-contact but rather just plough straight ahead on my bicycle or the back of Mr D’s motorbike. And yet another thing in my defence – coz, you know, I’m kind of feeling shamefaced at not noticing earlier – Dr M-Taj’s sign is not at eye-level and is tucked in next to one of those awnings strewn with tunics and tops of various colours. Which just goes to show, don’t it, that even in such a pedestrian location there can be all sorts of new things to notice – if you go slow enough of course. OK, my protestations for being a numbskull over.)

So because I was, and still am, keen to get a handle on the diet aspect of my health I figured a consultation with Dr M-Taj would be a good idea. After a bit of faffing with timings and whatnot, finally on a baking hot 7 March Mr D and I motored over to her retreat – a few kilometres west of town. The Ashok Tree is a lovely ashram setting that serves as both an Ayurvedic treatment centre (residential or non-residential) and a retreat centre. On site there are two, three-storeyed guest houses, a large yoga/meditation hall, a dining area serving scrumptious food, and a building housing the doctor’s clinical area. Also on the ashram land is a small nursery school run as a charity for the local community. A wonderful serene atmosphere and probably a great place to undergo a residential #Panchakarma programme. Maybe next time!

In the meantime, however, I had a nutritional consultation with Dr M-Taj and got the low-down on the kind of approach to take on a new and improved regular diet. As Dr M-Taj pointed out, maintaining a good diet post-treatment is vital to ensure the detox benefits keep on rolling. Which is the point, no? Make sure I don’t lapse back into bad habits – like that bloody coffee thing.

Here’s a bit of what she told me:
Coffee – big fat no. Toxic. Poisons the plasma. Bungs up the joints. Crap! Double crap. I still love my coffee…..!!! 😱
White flour and anything made with it – another big fat no. Basically our intestines get bunged up with the stuff and the build up gets harder and harder to shift (or is that shit?!).
Garlic and onions – not recommended because they create extreme reactions in the body (I’m going to investigate that a bit further – it’s tough eating out and avoiding them).
Mushrooms – avoid. Can be toxic in the body. Quite frankly, again, fuck! I eat a lot of mushrooms. Especially here in India where the limited variety of veg can be frustrating. And I always thought mushrooms were a good source of vegetable protein. Bang goes that idea then 😞
– Other than that, stick to the usual criteria – fresh, whole, unprocessed, or rather lightly-processed foods.
– She also mentioned the macro & micro aspects of diet: macro is the carbs, protein and fat that are essential for survival – wholegrains, pulses & lentils (non-veg can be chicken or fish), good oils; micro is the good but less essential requirements of vegetables and fruit.
– Generally aim for a tridoshic balance with food – that means incorporating food combinations and cooking styles to satisfy all three dosha. For example, bananas apparently are mucous-forming. To balance that out eat with salt and pepper. Sounds disgusting no? Actually it’s not a bad combo with an added dash of lemon juice and sprinkle of cinnamon. And no mucous to boot!
– Dr M-Taj also recommended a Vitamin C fruit-and-juice fast one day a week (which I’ve not tried yet as I’ve been crazy busy since I saw her.)
– A new thing on the menu and which I’ve only tried once is kitchari. I’d already discovered that kitchari is not the same as kedgeree – which in the UK is a dish of rice, peas and smoked kippers but which I think comes from the original kitchari of rice, dal, veg and various health-boosting spices with lots of water all cooked in the one pot. Apparently kitchari is a good all-round Ayurvedic dish because it hits all the dosha requirements whilst also being easy to digest and, rightly so, is classed as comfort food. Mmmmmm.

#Panchakarma Comrade also went to visit Dr M-Taj for the very same reason. We’ve since had a chance to compare notes – and commiserate!

Speaking of #Panchakarma Comrade. Just before our respective visits to Dr M-Taj she came to my house for a visit. The first non-Indian visitor for Mr D and me. We had afternoon tea that was in fact good coffee (made by yours truly) and a couple of chapati. Yep, those chapatis are definitely a firm feature of my food intake these days. It was great fun giving #Panchakarma Comrade a tour of my Indian home and letting her sample my chapatis. And of course, as all good guests do, she was gracious with her comments on all she saw and tasted 😉

Living Room

The Bijou Pad – Tiruvannamalai, India

Because #Panchakarma Comrade had been finding the increasing heat of Tiru too much she decided to head north. As I write she is ensconced in a sweet-looking hotel room, with very necessary heater, wrapped in all her clothes and enjoying tea at its source. She’s in Darjeeling! Definitely a contrast with here. Anyways, as she was starting out her journey north by taking a taxi to Chennai I hitched a lift.

The Monday night just gone #Panchakarma Comrade and I had fun in Chennai shopping and eating. The following day, after breakfast and before I got to the reason for being in Chennai – a flying visit to see a friend – I walked from the hotel to the beach. Just wanted a glimpse and sniff of ocean air. After a twenty-five minute trot fending off several offers from auto-rickshaw drivers (and not just for the fare, two wanted to chat as they puttered alongside my pavement-pounding), I got beachside. Right next to a striding Gandhi replete with a crow on his crown.

Gandhi & Crow

Gandhi, replete with crow on crown – Marina Beach, Chennai, India

Marina Beach in Chennai is not only one of the longest beaches in the world, it’s also wide. I had to do that slushy, swivelling, mushy excuse for a walk across sand littered with debris and bits of broken glass to get to the ocean’s edge, but it was worth it. I sniffed salty air, my tootsies got an ocean soaking, and I got to view the familiar location of many a Tamil movie scene.

Ocean-Soaked Feet

Ocean-soaked feet – Bay of Bengal, Chennai, India

 

2017.03.20 - Marina Beach boats

Marina Beach, Chennai, India – oft-used setting for Tamil Movies

On the walk back I felt buoyed by all those ocean ions and also got the chance to make a quick stop at the local Waitrose. Yes! A Waitrose in Chennai!! Who’d have thought? (Unfortunately it was a banal and sad excuse for our UK version.)

Chennai Waitrose

Waitrose Supermarket, Mylapore, Chennai, India

Then at noon I met with the lovely woman who runs the Chennai Writers’ Circle and hosts a year-long short-story writing challenge which I did last year (anyone interested, let me know and I’ll pass on her details – highly recommend doing it if you’re into writing short stories). I’ve been wanting to meet up with her since last April! Bonkers!! Finally made it. We mooched around a bookshop together where she gave me great recommendations and then we had lunch. I saw a new part of Chennai and also got to meet her mum. Following a full day it was time for my return to Tiru on one of the least reassuring types of vehicles – a state-run bus. Last year we passed a bus that looked as though it had nose-dived into the road from the overhead bridge – the front axle must have snapped because the front wheels were behind the bus and looking like a pair of lost sheep wondering where the rest of the herd was. I have never, ever, not in all the years I’ve been travelling to and visiting India, seen a state-run bus that was anything other than a mess – dirty, dusty, rusty (really fucking rusty), cranky, noisy. God knows when they last put any new buses on the road. That said, mission to see my mate? Accomplished. Woohoo!! 🎉 🎉

Now back in Tiru I’m mildly depressed at the thought I’ve only three weeks left before I return to Chennai for a flight back to Britain. And that means I’ve got shit-loads to do, one of which is to do a spot of job-hunting. There is other news too, but I won’t be sharing that publicly just yet.

With just over two weeks since the #Panchakarma programme finished, what can I usefully report?
😞  The hair-fall is still a concerning issue.
😞  My flesh is not as firm as it was during the early part of the programme.
😞  For the first 10 days after the end of the programme I was constipated, but I’m not surprised. After 21 consecutive enemas acting like a hand snaking up my arse and grabbing a handful, I’m guessing my body needed time to readjust. Along with the lack of enemas is the fact the temperature has gone up which probably means my skin is doing the bulk of the waste elimination now (and yes, I am drinking bucket-loads of water…!). In the end it took up until I got back from Chennai this week for my daily motions to return to normal!!
😍  But – and this is the important bit – the awful, daily, energy-robbing, life-draining, dull-but-definite discomfort in my lower abdomen has gone. And that’s crucial. That’s what I needed. That was what was killing me – incredibly slowly, but very definitely squeezing the life out of my life. Every aspect of me was affected and afflicted. I feel freer in my body and in my mind, in my emotions and even in my personality.

So after all the labours of undergoing a #Panchakarma programme I endorse the process. Even though there were elements that needed to be handled more professionally and with better communication, I’ve come out the other side with the key health issue addressed. And I’m really fucking grateful. If I hadn’t taken the course, me and my life would have continued to be fucked. I’d have been dragging myself through endless days of failure upon failure, grudge upon drudge, disappointment upon dismay. The failure is still there, but at least I’ve got some energy to face and deal with what comes. As the slogan on one of my T-shirts says, “I’ve worked too hard to quit now.” You’ll have gathered by now I enjoy a proper bit of profanity, so I shall rephrase that to “I’ve worked too goddamn fucking hard to quit!”

Got #Panchakarma questions? Fire away. I’ll give answers from a novice perspective, answers that can help you ask a professional the better questions. Otherwise, knock yourself out – detox, clean out, find something that works for you, make it healthy.

White Flower Burst

And so it goes. And so goes love.
Health and Peace out beautiful people, wherever you are 😍  💚 😍

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Post-Panchakarma – business as usual, mostly…

Mmmmm, coffee. Morning coffee. Mmmmm. No worries, before I indulged I still started my day with hot lemon water, fresh watermelon and a small portion of masala yoghurt*.

And the watermelon tasted all the sweeter for being a gift from one of Dr A’s harem. She’d brought it from her village and was happy for anyone to have it. Being as it was my last day that meant I was the only one allowed fruit. Lucky me. Dr A also gave me the remainder of my smoking medicine – that’s it next to the watermelon. I’ll be honest, I’ve not yet used it on my own – I hated doing that smoke decongesting part each morning (Dr A forgot one time and the hope that she’d forget again lived on, despite that never happening) – but I’ll have a go soon. Also on my last day I got another special treat.

Dr A’s clinic premises are much in need of some house repairs and maintenance. She’s only been in the building the past three months, so clearly the lack of love is down to the current owners. That said, they’ve finally got on with the job of doing some work on the place (but only because Dr A is footing most if not all of the bill). The areas needing urgent work are the toilets/wetrooms. As mentioned in an earlier post, when I was doing that purge thing, the toilet was a lot less than lovely. So my treat yesterday happened post-enema when I got to inaugurate Dr A’s newest toilet bowl! Now that’s a first for me – an enema excretion leading to a toilet inauguration.

Anyways, back to that coffee, the one poison I’ve not given up, and other foods. Thankfully, one small cup of the hot brown stuff is enough now. I no longer need a whole pot. What I was more concerned about was the other crap I’d been shoving down my gullet in the name of nutrition. Namely low-value carbohydrates in the form of white flour products – bread, biscuits, tortilla wraps, parotta – as well as cheese and paneer. Being almost exclusively vegetarian in India means I’ve tended to add more dairy to my diet. Hence those bastard fat bubbles. Anyhoo, Dr A’s dietary recommendations are simple enough – no white flour, no nightshade vegetables** and drastically reduce the quantity of cheese, paneer and butter (yoghurt and ghee are OK). Does that mean I won’t ever eat any of those foods again? No! Will I pass up the opportunity to have a nibble on a small slice of full-fat gorgonzola, or sweet brie? Again No! Will I shun a dip into a bag of chips  (that’s fat french fries to my North American friends) from my favourite local fish n’ chip shop in south London? Abso-bloomin’-lutely not!

So maybe you’re wondering what the heck I got up to on my first day post-Panchakarma. Did I laze around? Did I get extra cuddle time in bed with Mr D? Or did I bounce out of bed with excitement and enthusiasm for a new day that came with knowing I’d regained some fresh freedom?

Yes – I luxuriated in getting up later than normal, then crawling back to bed with a book.
Yes – I grabbed my extra morning cuddles.
Yes – I enthusiastically set about starting on a spring clean of my house (the bathroom is now the cleanest its been in weeks).
No – I did not bounce out of bed, but I was thrilled, excited and gratified to have my days and my time back.

As I write, the day is well-started even though its not yet 8am and despite the greyness of the sky this morning. It’s a Saturday. The kids are off school and hanging out nearby, their voices raised in play and games – I think I hear the thud of ball on cricket bat. And although I’m not missing rushing out the house for my early Panchakarma start, I’m kind of missing the cycle ride along our neighbourhood lane when daylight has been but a dirty smudge across the lower part of the sky. At one end of the lane is a milking spot. Cows are led there each morning and evening for milking. A milk broker sits nearby. He collects milk from the cow owners and doles it out, for payment, from those without their own cows, each person walking away with a small, metal, lidded milk pail swinging from their hands. For a city chick like me, simple morning sights like that fill my heart with a soft peace and a quiet bliss.

And so, away from enemas and powerful rub-a-dub-dubs, life goes on – the chores, chucking things off the To Do lists, the cuddles and laughter, and the integration of all I’ve been through this past month.

I’ll be back with a few more updates as and when they happen – possibly a photo too (which’ll probably be disappointing in its banality, but I’ll have a go anyway).

For now wishing you, in amongst the regular maelstrom of life, your own moments of soft peace, quiet bliss and a bundle of fun too.

* yoghurt (curd) masala – basically yoghurt mixed with any combination of flavourings you like; mine was with salt, turmeric, freshly-ground black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, ground jaggery (palm sugar), and a drop of water; goes well with a chapati 😉

** nightshade vegetables include potatoes, aubergine (eggplant), tomatoes, regular peppers/capsicum & chilli peppers (the following links give more detailed information, but it seems the delicious potato, when green and sprouty, is potentially the most lethal)

http://www.diagnosisdiet.com/nightshades/ (the author seems to have tried to back-up the information with scientific research)
http://paleomagazine.com/list-of-nightshades-foods (a fairly full list of nightshade-inclusive foods)
http://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-eats/nutrition/4-myths-about-nightshade-vegetables/ (a counter-argument for those who like a balanced view on things)

 

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 29 & 30 of Panchakarma – acts of love and kindness

These early starts are proving a bit of a killer. I’m cream crackered mid-morning. I won’t be surprised come Friday morning when I just stay in bed, enjoy a wonderful lie in, laze around and snuggle up to Mr D. That’s the kind of colour and form coming into view now I’m only two days away from completion. Two days until freedom! Sweet.

Food and Love
However, the weariness is not just from clinic attendances, but also that darn pre-menstrual thing. Got the tell-tale spots too. So on Monday night when I was at that stage of feeling too tired to eat I nearly caved when Mr D suggested he’d head out and go forage for his supper. Not happy with that idea given he’s also in need of good food, I said I’d cook a simple supper for him. I said, “It’s an act of love and kindness. It’ll be my pleasure.” I made a quick but delicious dinner of nothing I could eat. But guess what? I did. That’s how come I know it was delicious. Food prepared and cooked with love – makes all the difference no?

Then yesterday while lying on the massage table I started imagining what I’d do for that night’s supper. When Mr D came to collect me he asked Dr A if I was allowed biscuits. She said no problem. Confession – I had a ragi biscuit yesterday! Then I though that was what he was on about, but when I got back home I discovered that all my cogitations about what to cook where cancelled out. On the stove was not one but two pots of beautifully cooked veg. To put that into context – in the eight years Mr D and I have been together (during which he has obviously performed many acts of love and kindness) he has never cooked us a meal. Ever! To come home to freshly cooked food on a day when I was feeling knackered – an awesome act of kindness that went straight to my heart.

Kolam Kindness
With regards my Panchakarma Comrade – she’s back on form, her splodge of difficulty not exactly passed, but more manageable. She’s also been keen on having Dr A have a kolam outside her clinic. A kolam (also known as a rangoli) is a design of powder created fresh each morning at the entrance to a person’s home or business. Frequently just white powder is used, sometimes a ruddy-brown powder is added as well, then other times they’re a fab splash of colour. Traditionally the powder was rice flour, but now most people use rock powder. Kolams are good-luck and welcoming symbols and the designs vary from simple dots and interlinking lines to all sorts of fancy stuff. With Panchakarma Comrade in refreshed and ebullient spirits, a couple of days ago she insisted Dr A have one outside the clinic. Dr A duly instructed one of the harem to set about doing that very thing. First up was the ritualistic prepping of the intended kolam area by sweeping and washing the space down, then it was out with a bowl of rice flour (no rock powder available) and on with making the kolam. As you can see from on of the photos, my Panchakarma Comrade was happy with the outcome.

2017-03-01-kolam-making

2017-03-01-kolam-complete

Monkey Care
Not long after leaving the clinic yesterday with Mr D we passed some monkeys perched on the top of a concrete wall. Because it’s a fairly narrow and pot-holed lane we were going slow enough for Mr D to spot that one of the monkeys had just given birth. We stopped. Signs of fresh birth matted the hair of the mother’s backside. Her new-born baby clung to her chest. The monkeys beside them were tending to the mother with so much care and kindness. Although I hated to intrude – as well as being worried we might get attacked for being so close – seeing the exhausted mother, the tiny baby monkey and their attendants like that, right next to the road in full view, felt like an amazing gift of natural kindness.

2017-03-01-fresh-monkey-birth-1

2017-03-01-fresh-monkey-birth-2

Gratitude
So despite not much to report on the Panchakarma front – bar the rising excitement that it’ll be over very, very, very soon – there’s been magic and beauty and kindness a plenty. I’m also taking the image of that new life as a symbol of fresh life flowing in me too. And no matter what else I say, no matter how tired or moaning I get, because of that fresh flow I continue to be really bloody grateful.

To all you lovelies everywhere – wishing you your own magic, beauty and acts of love and kindness.

Day 28 of Panchakarma – only four days until freedom, what’s next, and the ‘M’ word

The end is coming into view. There’s not just light at the end of my Panchakarma tunnel but now also colour and form. Feels great. And because the end of the programme is now so close I’ve started considering what’s next.

This morning I got confirmation from Dr A that when we complete on Thursday 2 March there is no need for much follow-up. She’s recommended a herb supplement for the next six months to a year that will help keep my tension and stress levels in check. I reckon that’s no bad thing. Part of the reason for ending up in the toxic mess I was in when I started the programme is down to stress and a tense body I was literally painfully aware of.

One thing I want to do next is get my house in order. Here in Tamil Nadu we’re also going through Spring, but in a few weeks it’s going to start feeling like summer. So now would be a good time to do a Spring Clean – a detox on the house to compliment the one I’ve just been through.

The other thing I’m keen to do next is some other body work. Namely exercise (other than my twice-daily cycle rides). Given I’m in India I reckon having another go at yoga is the thing. To that end I want to do a couple of private sessions and I’m in the process of making enquiries.

In the meantime, back with that book on Ayurveda.

Although the book is just an introductory text, skimming over all that makes up Ayurvedic principles and practice, the author has managed to include a lot in a short word count. There are even diagrams and photos. I’m currently reading the chapter on Longevity.

I’m not much bothered about the duration of my life (I used to be convinced my end would come under the wheels of a red London double-decker bus), but like any sane person the concern is more with the quality of whatever life I do live. In the Longevity chapter the author has included breathing, meditation and, no surprise, yoga as the recommended form of exercise.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, everything a person does should be modified according to the dominant dosha. My dominant dosha is Kapha. When it comes to the yoga poses for Kapha body types, some are not suitable. Example the ‘Hidden Lotus’ (puts too much pressure on the adrenal glands apparently). I’ve done a couple of yoga courses over the years but never heard of this pose. When I saw the photo I can see why: lying face down on a mat but resting your face on your chin, chest flat to the mat, hands behind your back and, get this!, your legs in some kind of cross-legged lotus pose. No friggin’ way. How the hell do you even get into that pose? Hidden lotus indeed; so hidden it looks as though the yogini in the photo is trying to do deep-sea diving in her search for the thing. In which case the author can rest easy – I ain’t never going to attempt that pose, never mind (as he suggests) not holding it for too long. Not only not long mate, no time at all.

2017-02-27-hidden-lotus

On the other hand, one of the poses suggested for my dosha I’m totally happy with. The ‘Palm Tree’. Stand, clasp hands and raise arms above the head. Simples. Love it.

2017-02-27-palm-tree-pose

Like I say, the book is a basic introduction. There’s no instruction about the poses. I’ll let you know how I get on with classes, if I find a suitable tutor. If not here then when I’m back in London.

The M Word
Now, on yet another note, I wanted to mention the M word. The M word being Menopause.

Last night I spoke with a friend on the subject. She happens to be a nurse. Our conversation about menopause was not our first given our relative ages. She reiterated her belief that the reason the menopausal phase of a woman’s life is not well-managed is because so few of us, including the medical profession, knows much about it, but with no one group at fault. Her belief is that part of the lack of knowledge is down to the vagueness of the symptoms that starting showing up during a woman’s 40s. Given what I’ve been through during my 40s I think she’s spot on.

We both bandied around the concept of systemic dis-ease during a woman’s progression towards a more definable set of menopausal symptoms. But before those definable symptoms come into play – the hormonal changes that can upset a whole host of physical, mental and emotional functions – there are gradual, subtle changes taking place. Changes that seem to creep into a woman’s life like a barely discernible siren call that grows stronger and wilder and which we are helpless to resist until, crash! we’re dashed against the rock face of those menopausal symptoms we had no idea would be so debilitating.

Another aspect of the menopause that she has been spot on about is the ‘hot flushes’ women often experience. She asserts that the naming of the symptom down-plays the intense, distressing, all-encompassing experience that comes with vasomotor instability. Thankfully that’s one aspect of the menopause I’ve not had to deal with – the friends who have say those ‘hot flushes’ are hideous.

I’m also bloody grateful for having gone through this Panchakarma treatment now when I’m about to crash into my own menopausal rock face. Life before the treatment was descending into an unmanageable, unbearable beast of a thing. The daily distress with my body and myself was exacerbating and feeding into the tension I was feeling at all levels of my experience. To what dark and dastardly depths would I have plummeted with the addition of more hormonal/menopausal symptoms? Clearly those symptoms may still come, but at least after this intense detox I should be able to navigate a more sane route around those rocky shores. Here’s hoping anyways.

For now – and with a happy heart that my detox programme is almost complete, my sanity returned, and a body that feels like a body rather than a bloated barrel constricted by dense metal rings – I shall away to practice that ‘Palm Tree’ pose…

However you do it, and whatever you do – stay healthy!

Days 26 & 27 of Panchakarma – less of the ‘Tango’ effect, and other changes

With only five days left to go (woohoo!) I’m hanging in there. And with a change in schedule, hanging in is going to be a smidgeon easier.

Sadly my Panchakarma Comrade (who has been a joy to have as my companion through all this) is going through a difficult time and will be quitting her programme early. The knock-on effect for me was that my normal schedule shifted both yesterday and today. Although my treatments started later yesterday, the morning section flowed into a short breakfast break before going straight into the massage. And during the last part of the massage, instead of a red earth rub-a-dub-dub I got a gritty one. Ouch! on the sore skin parts. But I was relieved when I got out of the clinic around 1:30pm. Re-sult!

Unfortunately, because I’d been up so darn early (that 3:30pm/4:00am thing) I was feeling kinda knackered and headed straight home where, after a couple of mouthfuls of food and plenty of water, I showered and climbed onto my bed with my Ayurveda book. That was around 3pm. I fell asleep about an hour later. From there on in, bar a short break at 7:30pm for about thirty minutes, I stayed in bed until 4:30am the next morning. Almost 12 hours sleeping. I think that counts as being truly tired.

When I left the clinic yesterday, I got an assurance from Dr A that we could start today’s morning treatments early – 6:30am early. I made sure I got to the clinic on time. But wouldn’t ya know it, she had some guy there already. Bugger! I thought I could get an undistracted doctor to myself for a change. So much for that expectation. Fortunately, he wasn’t another new patient but some marketing chap. Phewie! But then Dr A wanted to chat. I said, with conviction, “I’d like to start the treatment now.” Her response? “Oh, no time pass. OK.” No. No friggin’ time pass. What I’d liked to have said (but am holding the comment in abeyance) is “I ain’t paying for time pass lady, I’s paying for treatments, innit?” So instead of starting my morning session around 8am I was done by 8:15am. That felt so goooood!

Cycling away from the clinic this morning I felt liberated knowing I had time to do stuff – leisurely grocery shopping, a bit of laundry, unhurried eating & digesting, and what-not. Truly fab. Even now, as I write, I breathe easier from the sense of space in both my life and my head the extra time gave me. The massage session today also started and ended earlier. Bliss. Hopefully, all being well, the next five days will be similar and I’ll feel less harassed about the endless waiting and quick turn-around between sessions. But it’s been a fight to get to this point and possibly would never have happened but for yesterday’s changed schedule (and possibly my previous complaints 😉).

Also during today’s massage rub-a-dub-dub the grit and the red earth powder were replaced by yet another medicine. Not as soft as the first fine sand, but not as rough as the grit. Seems there have been other medicine changes during the last week or so: the hot herb balls – which remain bloody hot – have different herbs; the enema gunk has been at different times reddish-brown or sewer-brown; even the nasal drops have changed, but are still deeply unpleasant.

I realise this is a bit early to do, but I’m going to do it anyway. A wee checks-and-balances thing.

The not-so-good:
Flappy bat wings? Check 😞
Pot belly? Check 😞
Cellulite? Check 😞
Hair fall? Check 😞
Wonky left knee? Check 😞

The okay-ish:
Orange glow? Uncheck! 😀
Scraggy neck? Uncheck-ish! 😀
Dark eye circles? Uncheck-ish! 😀

The fantastic:
Brighter eyes? Check 😍
Clearer brain? Check 😍
Reduced shoulder pains? Check 😍
Weight loss? Check 😍
More fluid spine & body? Check 😍

Come next Friday I’ll also be doing that body measurement thing – gulp! And then…. And then indeed. But for now, with extra space in my day, I’m feeling more inclined toward equanimity than a state of bonkersness. Although maybe, possibly, I already am bonkers (which could explain a few things…).

And if you’re feeling kinda bonkers yourself, for whatever reason (internally- or externally-driven) – you could try

  • kicking the crap out of a punch bag
  • sitting down with a good book
  • going to bed early (😉)
  • taking a scented bath in candle-light
  • meditating
  • doing nothing at all

Right now, I’m going to my own bed – got that early start in the morning. Yippee!

Days 23 to 25 of Panchakarma – orange is my favourite colour, but …

I’m turning orange. Or rather my skin is. And no, I’ve not been ‘Tangoed’ – but it’s starting to feel that way.

Since my last post I haven’t felt inclined to sit and tap away at a keyboard. Some days are just like that. Also, I’ve been well tired (waking around 3:30am can do that to a person) as well as a feeling a bit battle weary – but I’ll come to that in a moment. First, that orange thing.

A few days ago the sand rub down that comes as the last section of the massage changed. Where before it was a darkish sand colour, now the rub is with a similar kind of powder but much darker. The texture is almost the same but the colour reminds me of red earth. Also this stuff has an aroma to it. Since the change of medicine for the powder rub-down, I now also get sluiced with warm water by the harem while I’m still on the massage table, after which I tread carefully to the shower. I’m still kind of orange even after that.

As for feeling a tad battle weary. That’s a delicate issue to be airing publicly, but I will because I’ve already written honestly about the potentially funnier side of things.

Let’s start this way: A couple of days ago I tallied up the days I’d done and the exact end date of the treatment. When this is over I’ve got shit loads to do before I return to London, including visits out of town. I need to make arrangements. I need to know the date I’m free to get on with my life again. When I asked Dr A for confirmation I had to repeat my request, that I wanted to know she had the same date as me. I did not, do not, want any surprise additions. As it was, she seemed to be under the impression I would be doing an extra week. Fuck me but – NO!

I’ve also taken to arriving at the clinic later than the time specified by Dr A – by about 30 minutes – because otherwise I am just left sitting for about half an hour waiting for my treatment to begin. Even arriving late I can still be waiting. Pre- and post-treatment time the doctor always seems keen for me to sit and eat or drink with her. Again, no thanks. The little time I have outside attending the clinic is precious to me, as it would be to anyone with a life – which means everyone I know or can think of.

Another stress point is the pocket of time after the morning treatments where I dash home to cook, eat and digest breakfast before trotting back for the afternoon massage. Perhaps if during the many waiting times I was learning something relevant to the treatment process, or what to expect afterwards for example, then that time would be well-used. As things currently stand that’s not how it’s playing out.

Adding to my frustrations and weariness is the whole diet thing. Or to be more precise, the  lack of clear guidance.

Because I’m not residential in an Ayurvedic health resort the responsibility for my dietary intake rests with me. Ordinarily that would mean (having been on various healing diets over the years) I would have been given clear guidelines about what foods I can eat and therefore what to buy and how to cook it. The guidelines from Dr A have all been verbally given and even then on a drip-drip basis. She prefers to ask after the fact about what I have eaten only to find a way to tell me I’ve eaten the wrong thing or didn’t prepare it the correct way. So the other day, when there were no other distractions for her (of which there have been several this past week or more) I tried to pin her down over a few things and ask for clear guidelines. Her immediate response, and the one she repeated by interrupting me even as I was explaining what I needed, was “Don’t worry. You can come and ask me anytime.” Despite my asking her several times to listen and understand from my perspective I did not get what I wanted. I don’t want to have to seek her out every time I want a fucking meal. I don’t want to go begging her for information about what to shop for every time I go to the grocery store.

All of which means I’m feeling battle weary because communications with the doctor are like that – a lack of true listening, with the knock-on effect, of course and yet again in these situations, there is no win-win just loss-loss. I lose out on being heard or getting any kind of satisfactory outcome. My interlocutor (currently the doctor, but this is a recurring theme ain’t it folks) loses my respect and willingness. I become less compliant and less accommodating. We all lose. That actually makes me sad and, frankly, exhausted. I’m an introvert. I’m easily over-stimulated by interactions at the best of times, but when the people I’m interacting with are overbearing, domineering, pompous, know-it-alls who need to be right rather than happy, I retreat. I pull up bridges and deepen moats around the fortress in the forest I withdraw to.

As I write I am at the start of my last seven days. I’ve had doubts about continuing. I still have those doubts. How much more can be achieved in these next seven days when for the past few I’ve not noticed any significant changes? OK, significant may not be the thing. Other subtle changes might be going on. But still. Each day almost a duplicate of the last. Also, my skin is looking and feeling sore and overstimulated by the daily massages. I guess I thought my skin would be glowing and happy by now – it ain’t.

But the truth is that I’m probably going to see this through to the end. And here’s why:
– My spine feels looser and more straight
– The sharp pains I used to get at the top of my right shoulder have reduced
– Yesterday I started expectorating proper gunge instead of just mouth foam – seems it takes around 8-9 days for that to happen, I took longer
– The weight is staying off
– I guess I’m getting to practise the encouragement from Brecht “…you’ll go down if you don’t stand up for yourself.”
– I usually see things through to the end

To close today’s catch-up post, I thought I’d leave you with some images I captured the last couple of days.
– Black-faced monkeys visiting a neighbour, who doled out bananas
– Peacocks at the main ashram
– A lovely bunch of coconuts Mr D is enjoying

2017-02-23-black-faced-monkey-3

2017-02-23-black-faced-monkey-2

2017-02-23-black-faced-monkey-4

2017-02-24-ashram-peackcok-white

lovely-bunch-of-coconuts

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing – stand tall, stay strong, be brave, find the beauty. Peace out.

Day 21 & 22 of Panchakarma – a tale of bloated microbes

Eleven days of the core Panchakarma treatment are done. That means only ten more to go! Woohoo. Only ten more days – I can almost taste freedom.

The last couple of days have been quiet on the treatment front, more of the same as before. So in lieu of anything Panchakarma-entertaining, I thought I’d re-post an edited version of something I wrote last year about the microbes playing havoc inside our guts:

“Mindful Microbes – What’s your gut telling you?

A while ago I read an article in New Scientist magazine, Gut Thinking: There are strange forces at work behind our food desires. The author of the piece, Chloe Lambert, reported on new findings concerning food desires. The article was well-written, the key information presented cogently, and new directions for research identified. Unfortunately, having read the article I’m not really the wiser about what I can do to mitigate my own food cravings.

Despite the lack of anything more than a damp branch of hope to grasp in the tumbling river that is weight gain, loss, gain, unhealthy food cravings and exercise struggles, I think there is value in sharing some of the key information contained in the article. Namely, what’s going on in our guts is potentially wreaking havoc on our weight management efforts.

But first, and at the risk of sounding like an ad campaign for a new diet (faddy or otherwise), a few questions:
Q1: Are you overweight?
Q2: Have you ever been overweight?
Q3: Have you ever been on a diet?
Q4: Did it ever work?
Q5: Do you continue to struggle with keeping your weight down, with reducing your food intake, with making different and better food choices?

I can answer those questions in the blink of lizard’s eye….
A1: Yes, again
A2: Repeatedly
A3: Of course!
A4: Not for long (see answer to Q1)
A5: Yes (please refer to previous answer), yes – always, Oh god yesssssss.

In the article Ms Lambert gives a couple of interesting quotes an endocrinologist at Imperial College London (Tony Goldstone), one of which was used to highlight the futility of telling overweight people to change their eating habits, i.e. “We don’t just tell asthmatic people to breathe more.” Exactly! Telling overweight and obese people simply to eat less is equally pointless, meaningless and downright offensive. Obviously if you’re overweight and give a crap about your body you’ll have tried that very thing – to eat less – and probably failed repeatedly.

A Little Bit of Science:
In case you didn’t already know this, and in fewer words than should be allowed for such a complex physical function, here’s how the whole hunger-eating-satisfaction cycle apparently works:
• hormones in the gut assess what’s been eaten and when
• the hormones then send notifications of hunger to the brain to tell us we need to eat
• we go foraging, hunting down a meal or snack – from the kitchen larder, the fridge, the canteen at work, or the nearest vending machine

Unfortunately the brain, with reward pathways hard-wired when food was scarce, gets a stronger hit from foods that would ordinarily be off the weight-management list. Yep those scrummy fatty and sugary ones of course. So those vending machines and convenience stores, with their easy to grab goodies we can immediately stuff down our gullets, are frequently what we reach for.

But Here’s the Interesting Bit:
Recent research has discovered that it’s not just hormones and brain chemistry involved in our food desires and cravings, but also some rather clever microbes deep inside our guts. Our gut microbes and bits of bacteria hanging out in our bellies outweigh the brain. And our brains are apparently the heaviest organ in the body – not anymore it isn’t.

That explains my bloated belly then.

And – get this – our microbes might even be clever enough to control the kinds of foods we crave with the sole purpose of selfishly feasting. Essentially, our gut is full of gluttonous, self-serving microbes having a wild time partying on all the fatty, sugary foods we keep consuming.

It’s Not My Fault!
This then means the mass of microbes lurking in my gut are probably the bastards that have caused all my years of shame about my weight and erratic eating habits. At last, I have something other than my non-existent willpower to blame. At last, I can begin to understand why the power of some foods seems to overcome any rational thinking or judicial assessment or even the gainfully-acquired food and health knowledge I’ve taken time to investigate over the years. It’s not my fault! It’s the microbes. Being able to say it’s not my fault feels a bit like saying the cat peed all over my homework – but a lot less smelly – and backed up by science! Wow.

Willpower No More
Fortunately, Ms Lambert states in her excellent article, “…expecting people to rely purely on willpower…is misguided.” And in the end, that’s what all diets suggest you use – willpower. I’m taking solace in her words.

If willpower is out of the equation what else can we do? Here’s what Ms Lambert’s article pointed to that might help chubby folk:
1. Surgery – specifically gastric bypass surgery. If you’ve been tussling with the idea of either a gastric band or gastric bypass surgery (and who hasn’t wondered what it would be like to have the help of some outside agency in the battle for a better body?) – go for the bypass. Gastric bypass surgery will affect those all-important gut hormones in a way that a gastric band won’t ever.
2. Wait for hormone or genetic therapies to mitigate the gut’s hormones and microbes – in the meantime keep letting your gut do the talking.
3. Add fibre to your diet. Ms Lambert reported on a study that had shown some success with adding fibre to familiar and popular foods. But again, this finding is new and undergoing further research. For example, what kind of fibre are we talking about, and in what quantities, etc?
4. Include probiotics in your diet. Probiotics can potentially produce a better balance of hormones and microbes. Once more, further research is ongoing into how this is applicable in the real world.”

As you can see, no mention of deep, month-long health treatments. But I think the Panchakarma approach is a goodie if you suspect microbes are interfering with either your weight management or health.

As a side note – I did try high-density probiotics for a while, which seemed to help calm the microbes down a bit, but not enough. Although undergoing a rigorous Panchakarma programme is not for everyone, I felt I had no other meaningful alternatives to getting my health back on track. I’m glad I took on the programme. That said, only ten more days to go. Dee-lighted!

So if you suspect microbe mania or other internal mayhem are giving you and your body gip – you might want to consider some kind of gut cleanse. Just a thought.

In the meantime, how about this – clear the diary, clear the dishes, and give yourself a whole day without any commitments. Apparently that’s also a great way to detox.

But whatever you do or don’t do, remember – keeping things real and keeping it loving can be a good way to go to it.

Day 20 of Panchakarma – more non-European flavours & a miracle!

First off – apologies to all the vegetarians, vegans and anyone who loves healthy food. My last post included an offending image for some. But stotties (and other carb-laden foods) remind me of my childhood in the North East of England. The years when, I’m sure, my penchant for all things stodgy began.

Right, back to India and this Panchakarma lark. Attending the clinic twice a day for hours on end eats into a lot of time each day. There’s not much of the day left to crack on with other projects – some of which have deadlines. So for the past two days I’ve been eating breakfast at a new restaurant where I can do work rather than cycle home and cook my own breakfast. My Panchakarma Comrade mentioned the restaurant to me because they have an Ayurvedic-friendly menu. Sure enough they cooked my food in ghee and kept things simple. The first day I had a rather delicious kitcheree and paratha. Yesterday I went for a smaller meal – the ragi roti as pictured. When it arrived it looked like a delicious dark chocolate pancake of some sort. Sadly not (although munching on that much chocolate would have felt a lot less delicious by the end). I don’t use ragi, but after yesterday’s roti I have a new-found appreciation for the grain. (In case you missed my mention of ragi in an earlier post – ragi is a whole grain/cereal and a type of millet that originates from Africa). May have to add that to my slim culinary repertoire.

I’ve no doubt my telling you that ‘Panchakarma’ is a Sanskrit word will not come as a surprise. ‘Pancha’ means five and ‘karma’ means action, so a Panchakarma treatment consists of five core treatments. However, my earlier understanding of the word karma was the law of cause and effect, which can mean all the affects occurring in our lives in all sorts of ways. So, fancifully perhaps, I had linked that understanding of karma with the recent experience that I’m not just having a physical cleanse but also a karmic one. Seriously, I feel there is a depth of healing taking place that is hard to imagine given I’ve only been on the overall treatment programme three weeks, the core Panchakarma treatment a mere nine days.

Initially I thought I was getting rid of crappy build up from the past few years. But as the treatment progresses I get the sense that the cleanse is so deep, layers of gunk from decades ago are getting hauled out for examination and release. I feel as though I have Ayurveda elves sifting through my body machinations – like one of those factory conveyor belts and as bits of me pass under the hands of the Ayurvedic elves all the unhealthy, unnecessary deadweight is being chucked off the conveyor belt and out of my body, out of existence almost.

So apart from the visible signs both good (weight loss, muscles and flesh firming), not so great (dry, flaky skin), and that uncomfortable pain in my lower abdomen now mostly gone, last night’s discovery was, ta dah, a miracle!

I was lounging around on the sofa when I happened to point my toes (I know, who the fuck goes around pointing toes? but if you’ve ever done a lot of dance or some such it’s not so strange) and had another one of those “Oh my god, it doesn’t hurt” moments.

Under the ball of my right foot I’ve had what I assumed was a bony growth, a hard lump at the base of one toe. It’s been there for about 15 years and can give me problems when I’m standing or walking for too long (see, I told you I was speeding towards decrepitude faster than Humpty- Dumpty fell of his wall). Because of the location of the hard lump, it also restricts movement in my foot, giving me a cramp-like sensation when I point the toes, rotate that foot or ankle, or even, on those rare occasions I bother, to massage my foot. I figured I was stuck with the bony growth and it would eventually get worse to the point of surgery. But no! Woohoo – Miracle! My toes, my foot pointed and no pain. No cramping. Nothing in fact. That my friends, that is a bloody miracle. I’m flabbigasted (OK, not enough to not write about it, but still – AMAZING!).

I’ll be honest, I’ve been griping about my days being consumed by treatment time, but when small miracles like disappearing lumps happen, a rapid regain of flexibility  and an overall reduction in pain are showing up – I reckon I best shut up and put up.

I wish you a day where your miracles appear too – they are out there…..!

Day 19 of Panchakarma – a drool-worthy stottie & more improvements

I saw the photo on Facebook. I drooled. All the kinds of food I’m not allowed to eat just now – not that anything like that is available here in India of course. But still. A mouthful of quality, thick-cut ham, peas pudding and a soft and tasty stottie (North East England bread) would be smashing…

Today’s post is a brief update – mostly about improvements:

Yesterday morning when I was clambering out of bed I stopped mid-clamber because I was suddenly aware something was different. The different was that my left knee didn’t immediately click. I’ve had a clicky left knee for about 30 years. Sometimes that knee gives me trouble, trouble that can also affect the left hip. Occasionally I hobble rather than stride, but overall the trouble is mild. One activity my left knee hates is lying face down on a massage table. Always after a massage I hobble. I can mitigate against that by using a rolled up towel to support the knee joint. Since my first massage with Dr A’s harem that’s what I’ve been doing, along with them starting on my back rather than doing my front first. That way my knee has a chance to recover from lying face down on it. Nevertheless, the massages seem to be easing out the underlying orthopaedic problem. Likewise my dodgy shoulders and cervical spine. For about 10 years, I’ve gradually felt more and more crippled by the lack of movement due to muscle tension and joint pain around there. At times the pain on movement has been sharp and excruciating. That’s also easing off. Thank fuck quite frankly.

Sadly my skin is feeling less lovely. I’m hoping that will improve as more toxins get shoved out of my body, obviously through my skin as well as those other regular methods.

Speaking of which, the last couple of days I’ve been evacuating my enema medicine a bit quickly. I’m now spending less time walking around and more time staying put on the massage bench, bum in the air, while I let that dark-brown, oily liquid do its thing.

Another strange thing is my periods. I seem to be having a perpetual, but not quite proper period. Dr A says I’m going through menopausal changes. Given my periods having been changing of late that could be true. What might also be true is that I have a Mirena coil fitted – that went in the same time the troublesome fibroid was removed back in 2013 – and that might also be the cause. I’m not worried about that, but it’ll be interesting to see what unfolds gynaecologically over the coming months.

Also yesterday I had a bit of a run-in with Dr A. As already mentioned, I have a flabby belly. Clearly I’d like it to be more trim. Some exercise would surely help. But I don’t got a lot of time just now – I spend a lot of hours at the clinic while also trying to fit the rest of my life in around those treatment times. Consequently exercise is one of those things that is down the priority list. Not uncommon. Anyways, Dr A was thinking of me when she bought an exercise gadget. I hate exercise gadgets. On the whole they are useless and a waste of money, especially when they are cheap versions. This was a cheap version of a pulley system. Despite my telling Dr A that I think such gizmos are crap, I played along for a while, a short while. The gizmo was attached to the window grille, a yoga mat placed on the floor, Dr A instructed me to lie on my belly while she tried to figure out how to get the thing on me. All the while I’m complaining while she’s faffing with the thing. I get up and tell her to demonstrate first. She gets on her back, not her front as she’d asked me to do. At that point I walked away. Kindly but firmly and said, “No. I hate these things. I will not use it.” She acquiesced.

I see this interaction as an improvement too. I have been far too pliable to the will of others, especially those who appear to have some authority over me – such as a doctor-patient, boss-employee relationship. What a pathetic fuckwit I’ve been. Why do I do it? Mostly because I’m a kind, considerate person; like to give people the benefit of the doubt. But the benefit people get from me frequently ends up with me being the loser. That is not a win-win situation. But not this time. I feel proud of myself for being firm without being unkind, and certainly without being unkind to me. Was it a win-win? Maybe not, but at least the loss was not just in my direction this time.

On that note, I’ll leave you with this I recently lifted from a Tweet:
“… you’ll go down if you don’t stand up for yourself.
Surely you see that.”
(excerpt taken from ‘And I Always Thought’ – Bertolt Brecht Poems 1913-1956)