Monday, March 15, 2010


Quiet morning.

I race to our veranda (armed with mosquito coils and long sleeves) to cherish the first most special moments of the day. Love this routine. It’s still dark and the wind…calm. A few birds begin to awake and then go back to sleep. I meditate on love and the gift I give my body by being here. Happy birthday, self.

The wind picks up speed…about the same time each morning, bringing with it that fresh mountain air that I just can‘t get enough of. More please! The breeze carries a slow lone chant from the temple. I join in with my own hushed OM. The faint scent of jasmine comes and goes. I beg for it’s fragrant return. A goat’s cry in the near distance moves me - something so sad about it - such a gentle creature. If only humans could recognize the strength, wisdom and freedom in being as gentle. Lokah Samasta Sukino Bhavantu.

One of the first movements before each dawn (besides medicine-delivery man) is a graceful woman with her long braid (nearly all the women here have long braids) in her green sari uniform carrying a cardboard box full of brightly colored chalk powder. I watch her go from cottage to cottage dropping, instead of drawing, beautiful designs with the powder on each stoop and doorway of the compound.

The sky begins to turn gray and then blooms into pink. I take in the natural rhythm of the day. The birds, now fully awake, flutter about full of fresh energy, circling the compound. Their nearly deafening chatter begins to bring life, consciousness and movement to the day. Patients stumble out of their cottages to breathe in the morning with a stroll through the gardens. I wonder what this day will bring. I wonder what these eyes will see and what this body will feel today.

Friday, March 12, 2010


The pharmacy of this hospital is the gardens themselves.
Most unusual is this beautiful dominating tree bearing these bright green pods, which are larger than plantains.
Sanskrit name: Moca, Salami
Tamil name: Illavu
English name: Red Silk Cotton Tree
Important uses: healing blood impurities and wounds

My body is feeling like jelly this week as I am going through the "intensive treatment" segment of my stay here. I feel high on endorphins from the Dhara and Pizichil treatment.

The Dhara is a procedure where cool medicated oil from a pot above the head is poured in a steady lullaby-like stream onto the forehead for an hour by 2 therapists. The oil absorbing into my head and the gentle rocking motion activate the nervous system. The doctors say the results are permanent in conjunction with all the other lifestyle changes we make here daily.

Simultaneously, the Pizichil treatment involves 4 therapists squeezing warm medicated oil from cotton cloths onto the entire body from a certain height and then rubbing it off.  This is done with 3 liters (yes) of medicinal oil that has been formulated for my ailments. I'm basically swimming in the oil. The oil is continually warmed, squeezed and rubbed in for one hour. It's not really a massage - it's more of an oil application. The nature of the oil is to penetrate through the skin and through all the bodily tissues and eventually into the bones and blood. The effect detoxifies and thus temporarily weakens the immune system so the impurities can come out.

Yes, do the math - that means 6 women are working on me in my little loin cloth at the same time - a bit awkward at first, but then I just surrender to it all.

After my treatments, I feel euphoric as prana flows, unblocked, through my body. Very powerful. After my first day of the treatment, I sat on the veranda and stared at a tree for about an hour completely relaxed. Present yet wonderfully "zoned-out".

During this intensive treatment (7-10 days for us), we are restricted to our cottage and veranda as our bodies become very weak and we could catch illnesses very easily. This uhhh...."quarantine" is fine by me because I've morphed into an incredibly tired zombie in a blissful trance. So tired, weak and relaxed. Stairs are difficult, even for someone as active as me who's used to jogging and doing yoga daily. The weakness is temporary during this part of our treatment. I'm drinking in all these changes in my body and the toxins freely come out. Let's hope the stay out. Besides, at least hubby's enjoying the entertainment of watching me in my stupor-like state stumbling around the cottage and running into walls.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Ayurveda: Part Two

......................................A scene from the gardens near the hospital temple: the sacred cow.

So as a continuation of my last post, here's the latter half of a typical day here at the Ayurvedic clinic we're staying at for the next month.

12:30pm: Lunch was chapatti thali meal (as I said earlier meals are vegetarian). One bowl was very bitter (a black spiky gourd in a balancing sour buttermilk sauce), and I so enjoyed it. Being American and having grown up with a very Western palate, I was not used to certain rasas (tastes)...that is, until I met Mahesh and was exposed to a whole new world (on many levels). Some may feel the food served here at the hospital is bland, but I feel it’s good and pure (emphasizing the Ayurvedic balance of tastes) and though simple, it has enough flavour in my opinion.

3:00pm: Another kashayam (bitter liquid herbal medicine). Cheers!

My first Abhyagam treatment: We have our own private treatment room in the back room of our cottage. Imagine a super hard wooden table that is slightly curved down the center. There's a rope hanging from the ceiling, which will be used next week during intensive treatment to hang a pot of oil for the Dhara. A variety of very "experienced" pots and pans and stools of different sizes are strewn about.

So there I my little loin cloth and my lady therapist in her simple blue sari uniform. I began by sitting on the edge of the table. She started by saying a humble pooja and blessing the prescribed and personalized oil. Then she applied it to me my head and hair. I then laid on my back. She applied LOTS of oil and rubbed it in and all over. This treatment is more of an oil application and not a massage. Soaked with the medicated oil, my body was sliding all over the place. Oil was warmed up quite a bit and sticky and a bit smelly (but not in a bad way, just very natural), and was bright red! So much oil.

It was nice once I just surrendered to the fact that I was just going to be very oily and slippery for the next hour. I tell my body to absorb the oil and imagine it penetrating through the skin, tissues, muscles, organs and even my bones and circulating through my blood to every corner of my internal body...cleansing and purifying and stimulating prana.

After about 45 minutes of application and rubbing the oil on me, my therapist gave me a bath in the bathroom adjoining our treatment room, which basically consisted of her using a pitcher and pouring warm water all over me while I stood and sat. Then she used gram powder (which is basically ground moong dal) to remove the oils. My skin felt soft and smooth after. I was relaxed and felt rejuvenated by this very new experience.

5:30pm: Dr. K visited. Feel pulse - check. Inspect tongue - check. Examine the fingernails - check. Observe the eyeballs - check. It may seem simple, but a very experienced doctor (in most traditional and holistic branches of medicine) is able to tell volumes by this simple examination.

6:00pm: Kashayams again. Bottoms up. Aaaaack!

6:30pm: Soup man arrives.

6:40pm: Mosquito Man with smoking coals came and smoked our cottage. Bless him!

There's such a beautiful rhythm around here and we're loving the routine.

6:45pm: Took a walk through the street of the small village streets. A couple of women with their pails stood near the communal water pump. Each block or so has one or two pumps. A tiny little toddler in a black and red dress watches us with her big eye-linered eyes and flashes us the biggest smile. A child's smile always moves me to no end. She gets so excited that she falls down and looks towards the women sitting on the curb nearby and then begins to cry. Her gold anklets and bracelets sing as she ran to mommy's open arms.

This place is very raw, wild and authentic...well off the tourist path. The people seem gentle and genuinely spiritual. The dress is traditional and extremely modest. Coverage right down to the ankles has been difficult for a Pitta like me, but I compensate by drinking fresh coconut water daily. Nearly everyone is Hindu and a vegetarian.

7:30pm: Dinner was dosa (like a big, non-sweet rice pancake), served with sambar and chutneys for dipping.

8:00pm: Our bedtime medicines arrives. Mine was a lehyam (a dark black paste). The texture was like rich fudge brownie batter, but oh, the taste was far from chocolate and was a bit difficult to swallow, but it's growing on me day by day. It's redeeming qualities are the flavours of cinnamon and cloves.

11:00pm: Dr. R. visited. We waited all day for him. He is the famed medical director of this hospital and quite a remarkable man with a distinguished and holy presence to put it mildly. He arrived with an entourage of about 5 disciples who respectfully stood, hurriedly took notes and handed Dr. R his blackberry, files or answered his questions. His spirit was tangible, and his energy felt beautiful and positive. Mahesh and I both felt comforted and cared for in almost a fatherly way. He would often close his eyes and tilt his head back as if to go to deep inside himself or another plane or dimension for answers while feeling our pulse. He asked deeply intuitive questions as if he were clairvoyant. His wisdom moved us.

We peacefully drifted off to sleep internalizing the intense, yet very spiritual and uplifting experience.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ayurveda: Part One

A typical day at our Ayurvedic clinic...Week 1

The days start early apparently around here. The door bell (which is startling and sounds like an obese hungry gecko) starts at 6am and doesn’t really let up. Very active mornings. We tried to ignore it the first few times from our bed thinking they could come back later. But then I remind myself we're at a hospital, not a resort (even though it feels like a holiday), and many visits is just par for the course and the whole reason we're here anyway. Besides, it’s getting light outside and it's the only time of the day that is below 30 degrees ( abt 88F) and I want to soak up the cool morning.

6:00am: Our medicines arrive from the pharmacy. We both drink the dark bitter liquid concoctions and then see who can make a funnier grimaced face.

It's barely dawn. I sit on the veranda and do my meditation to the symphony of the birds and the chatter of the occasional donkey.

6:15am: Our medicated water for the day arrives. Tastes like water with the slightest bit of a kick of something. Another boy brings our tea. Another brings the paper.

7:00am: I try to squeeze in a walk. For our first 7 days, the doctors prescribe Abhyagam (preparatory treatment of simple oil application rubbed all over the body for 45 blissful minutes). During this week, we can take walks in the garden and go to the temple. Once our main intensive treatment starts(will describe that in the weeks to come), we will be restricted to our cottage and veranda. Forced rest, relaxation and healing - sounds pretty good to me.

7:45am: Our medicinal oils arrive: plastic bottles filled with mystery liquid...some smell funny but not bad. Some smell pleasant and coconuty. All are dark in color. I can't wait for my treatment later this afternoon. Am so curious.

Blood pressure ladies stop by to do the needful.

8:00am: Our breakfast arrives at our cottage. Today I chose Pongal (a soft rice dish with veggies served with the usual chutneys).

8:30am: Priest comes by to bless our cottage and leaves us an offering: flowers and sandalwood paste on a portion of a banana leaf. He is slightly chubby, jolly and shirtless wearing a white skirt with bright orange trim and shawl. His forehead is decorated with colored paste in a special religious design.

9:00am: Doctor T arrives to discuss our ailments and go over our treatment plans. She is calm and exudes a wonderful energy. We feel taken care of. The goal: heal our ailments by balancing our dosha's through diet, external oil treatments and internal medications. Ayurveda is holistic as it views man in his totality (physical, emotional, mental, cellular, spiritual, genetic, etc) within a wide ecological spectrum and emphasizes the view that ill health or disease is brought about by an imbalance or disequilibria of man in his total ecological system.

10:00am: Nutritionist visits us. We are on a restricted vegetarian diet during our time here. The food is strictly Ayurvedic in preparation and selections, and it is simple Indian food with very little spices: usually a bland thali meal with chapatti or kichadi or it's idly or dosa with chutneys. I have enjoyed the clean and basic food so far. (It's only been one week though. Not sure if I'll feel the same 2 weeks from now.) It's nutritious and my entire body thanks me. Food is very much part of the treatment here. The clinic’s farm, herbs and veggies come from Kerala, the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu. All are naturally grown without chemicals.

Man with large metal kettle stops by. Palak Soup. Yum.

11:30am: Homemade buttermilk with turmeric and cumin is delivered. It was, well…interesting - not terrible and I can see myself tolerating it and maybe even liking it. You can definitely taste the turmeric which is not necessarily a bad thing at all. Came with roasted papadums. One of Mahesh's favorite snacks. Gobble gobble.'s not even noon and it's been a full day already. I am loving every minute of it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Healing Place

The bird sounds wake me even though I only got a few hours of sleep because we arrived quite late last night. As we're both in need to detoxification, we decided to spend 5 weeks (or longer perhaps) at an authentic Ayurvedic hospital here in Tamil Nadu in the south of India where the mother of medicine all began.

The manually hand-pulled bell from our compound tells me it’s 7am. Motorbike and tuk-tuk horns grow in number as the morning ages. As I lay in bed, I am curious as the action in the village picks up. Our hospital is in a secured gated area but since our cottage is on an upper floor you can see all the bustle going on.

I go to the window in the kitchen while hubby sleeps on. We have large bright pink and orange colored bouganvilla trees outside our window. And underneath them, some rubbish and a couple of old empty coconuts. Across the street just outside a very simple home (probably without electricity or running water) is a man in a skirt (I’ve noticed that’s common here and actually looks quite comfortable) standing reading his newspaper. Nearby him, a young boy (maybe around 9) brushes his teeth while intently watching the action on the little road. Women in sarees and grocery bags walk by. I notice a store “Krishna’s Demolition Services”. A dog saunters by determinedly. I see an old white-haired woman in a bright pink saree walk by. She was wearing shoes that must be 3 sizes too big for her. Holding her hand was a young girl in a light green pajama kurta with a pink shawl. The child was skipping at every third step or so. The sound of a very cheap version of a popular bollywood song echoes through the air followed by a “halo?”. Then I hear religious music…probably coming from the temple. Our hospital has a lovely temple here on the campus deditated to Lord Dhanwanthari, the God of Ayurveda and healing.

I step outside onto our verandana. My body gladly soaks up the brisk coolness of the morning air.  A woman in a simple green saree uniform sweeps the lovely tree-lined path of the hospital's grounds. I see sleepy patients gradually emerging from their bungalows and head towards the canteen for some breakfast or towards the temple for a healing pooja. A frail woman in a gold saree carries on her hip a large flat basket filled with white cloth or towels. A man near her balances metal jugs at the end of each hand.

The smell of insense envelopes the compound. I am curious as to my life here for the next month. What will happen here? Who will I meet? What will I learn? How will I feel? How will Mahesh feel? How will our bodies change? 

My mind is open.
My body is open.
My heart is open.