Last week I had the Panchakarma experience. What is this you ask? Panchakarma is Ayurveda’s primary purification and detoxification treatment. Panchakarma means “five therapies” and these therapeutic treatments eliminate toxins which are often rooted deep in the body. Although I came to India to work on my book project, I believe I also came here to learn, grow and step into a new realm of being. In order to do so, one must transform ingrained ways of thinking and being, and part of that transformation process (in my view) includes a total cleansing. I felt doing the Vipassana meditation course was a valuable step to cleansing my mind and getting control of my thoughts, but now it was time to clean the body. While we spend a ton of time pampering and working on the outside of our bodies, consider what little time we spend cleaning the interior. While I have done a few cleanses in the past (The Master Cleanse [X2] and a liver detox), never have I done anything like Panchakarma.
I have been working with my doctor since the middle of January to prepare for this treatment. Prior to the ‘big’ treatment week, I had to take a number of remedies throughout my day and drink a tea which caused severe abdominal cramping. Last Monday, I officially began the Panchakarma treatment which went like this; rise early and drink large quantities of Ghee, a clarified butter, that is blended with herbs and remedies. Proceed to the doctor’s office and get a full body oil massage which included dumping warm oil deep into my ears. The oil used was mixed with turmeric meaning I glowed like the sun and stained everything I touched! I was then put into a steam box for about 15 minutes. The amount of Ghee that I had to drink increased daily and by day three, all I could smell was Ghee and was too full to eat anything else (which was the point). I’ll spare you the details regarding how my Ghee filled body reacted to this process. Let’s just say, Ash was in a bit of a ‘stink’ about having me as a roommate last week. None the less, he found the whole process very entertaining and did not resist his urge to capture all of my ‘glamorous’ moments throughout the process.
On Saturday, I had to be at the clinic by 7am. I arrived and took a quick 5 minute steam and then prepared for the vomiting procedure. Yes, it is exactly how it sounds. Essentially the doctor, and his 5 medical students, gave me between 15-20 full cups of various remedial concoctions that I had to drink, and these concoctions would make me vomit. I knew it was not going to be a pleasant morning, so I arrived with a lot of wit and humour. After escorting me to a room with world’s biggest bucket in front of me (see photo) we were ready to start. Right after one of his students gave me the first concoction and before I shouted “cheers” and started to chug, my medical ‘team’ said a prayer requesting that all toxins be extracted from my body and all doshas (energies) that govern the biological function of my body be balanced. When the prayer was complete the party began!
I chugged the first 3 glasses; taking huge gulps to avoid tasting the mysterious drink. Once consumed we waited, but it didn’t take long for the vomiting to begin. The doctor told me that the toxins would be specific colours and have certain textures. At one point when I managed to open my eyes, I was alarmed to see a tub filled with black muck. Several drinks after that, I opened my eyes to a black tub laced with thick yellow paste. Seeing what came out of me was a solid reminder, moving forward, to be attentive and mindful of EVERYTHING that I put in me.
“To keep the body in good health is a duty . . . otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”—Buddha
“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”—Jim Rohn
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.”— 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV)
Everything was going fine, I mean, as good as it can go when you’re forcibly puking your guts out. I was about 1.5 hours into the treatment and only a few cups and vomits away from freedom, and then it happened . . . I panicked.
One of the students handed me yet another concoction to drink. Yet this time when I raised the glass to my lips, I immediately started to sob uncontrollably. The student grabbed the cup from my hand and asked me what was wrong, but I had no idea why I was crying. I started breathing heavily which then turned into rapid panting. My hands were shaking and my whole body instantly overheated. The doctor looked me in the eye and said “Laska, you are safe. We are almost done. What’s wrong?” I looked at him confused, not knowing why I was upset and blurted out “I don’t know.” Then the doctor calmy replied . . . “Are you upset because we’re giving you milk to drink?” to which I responded with an outcry of tears and more panting.
While vegetarians are very common in India, very few are familiar with vegans. For those of you who have known me for some time, you are aware that over the last two years I have been decreasing my animal product intake and have instead adopted a rich plant based lifestyle. In the last few months, I have become less of a ‘flexitarian’ and more committed to my stand for veganism. Therefore, I stopped eating all animal products for reasons related to my health, the damaging and unsustainable effects it has on the environment and animal rights. This is an idea I have been leaning into for some time, and although the process has been gradual, I have reached a point where I have comfortably adopted it as a lifestyle.
Since the beginning of my treatment I’ve have a hard time taking Ghee knowing that it was an animal product. As well, a few days before the vomiting treatment, I was upset with my doctor because he was continually advising that I consume dairy products. My breaking point on Saturday was very important to both him and I for a few reasons. First, I believe that having me as a patient is opening my doctor to new experiences and different types of people that exist in this world. With the rise of veganism, this is something he will start to see more of, so I feel I was meant to be part of his journey and expose him to new avenues in his medical career. Additionally, what I realized for myself was how committed I am to a plant based lifestyle and how important it is to me.
Although the doctor told me that my body was not ‘absorbing’ the milk concoction, he knew he had to change his plan. I calmed myself down by repeating “You are safe. These people are here to assist you. Calm down” in my head, and finished the treatment with another drink that didn’t include milk.
Immediately once I finished the treatment, the doctor had me smoke a few puffs of herbs from a special Ayurvedic pipe, and then I passed out from exhaustion. I awoke to Ash laughing and snapping photos of me (see photo). My entire body ached, as did my chest and my throat. I left with strict dietary and lifestyle instructions from the doctor. Rule number three is Ash’s favourite as it reads “. . . excessive talk and excessive laugh is strictly prohibited for 15 days.” So far, all of the cleanses I have done in India greatly promote that I shut up, so I best start listening. After spending two days indoors with minimal movement and drinking only rice soup, I am feeling much better. I have a follow up appointment this week to see which treatment is next. Ash has his fingers crossed that it’s leeches!
Once home, the doctor phoned Ash and spoke to him for some time about my ‘episode’ at the clinic. After their conversation, Ash informed me that the doctor was seeking clarity about veganism, as he did not understand it, and was doing research in order to figure out ways to treat me moving forward. Although I’ve found myself, at times, frustrated during this treatment process, the question I eventually asked myself was “Do I think my doctor has my best intentions for my health at heart?” to which I replied “Yes”. With this clarity, I found it much easier to move forward since while I don’t always ‘understand’ the reasons for his choices, I can rest knowing that I ‘get’ he is sincerely concerned for my overall well being. I just started reading the Tao Te Ching, a book of wisdom by Lao-tzu, a Chinese prophet, and he encourages that we enjoy the mysteries of life, as the mysteries are the doorway to all understanding. Let the world unfold without always attempting to figure it out since everything will stretch out in divine order. Wise words.
Remember, there is no way to a healthy life, living healthy is THE way.