This time last year I was on my way home from two magic weeks in India. Most of my friends and family were aware that hubs and I had learnt the technique of Vedic meditation and so it was easier at the time to just say we were going on a “meditation retreat”, than it was to explain what we were really doing. Truth is we went to India for Panchakarma.
I realize not many people would know what that is so I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to reflect on the year that’s been while also addressing the question “what is Ayurveda & Panchakarma?”… other than two very peculiar looking words. For these nice succinct explanations I enlisted the help of my Med teacher Kate Cliff.
What is Ayurveda?
So, Ayurveda is an ancient Indian preventative medicine and health care system which extends back more than 5,000 years. It’s a massive body of knowledge to digest but it’s aimed at maintaining health and balance by balancing the “doshas” – vata, pitta and kapha. So the theory dictates that we’re all made up of all three, but tend to have one that dominates, and when that gets out of balance we see health issues. The idea is that we can treat those issues naturally to regain balance, with diet, vedic meditation, and various natural medications & treatments – including Panchakarma.
What is Panchakarma?
Panchakarma is an ancient detoxification treatment system. It is a process of physical purification of the body, flushing out toxins in order to restore the body to a state of balance, by balancing the doshas. Panchakarma is a sanskrit term meaning “the five treatments.” Ayurvedic doctors conduct personal health and wellbeing assessments which includes taking a pulse diagnosis to determine which doshas are out of balance and then prepare a personally designed Panchakarma treatment plan. These treatments include daily oil massages and oil baths, and an array of treatments prescribed specifically for our body’s needs, herbal medication and specialised meals – all designed to rapidly flush out accumulated toxins.
So, Panchakarma cleanses and detoxifies the mind and body, by removing accumulated toxins from the nervous system, and provides an opportunity to deeply rest and rejuvenate. It’s all about getting the body into a state of balance from an Ayurvedic perspective.
So, my story continued…
I said in my opening paragraph that we had two magic weeks in India, but magic doesn’t even begin to describe what came from those 14 days…
The first 4 days were spent exploring Dehli and Agra, seeing the Lotus Temple, The Taj, the spice markets, the hand woven rug factory (where we bought our prized cashmere rug which would have taken a family a whole year to weave), and enjoyed the festivities of Diwali aka the festival of lights… or aka cracker night on f*cking steroids. So.Much.Fun. Then, we made our way to Rishikesh.
For those that don’t know Rishikesh it’s in the North of India in the foothills of the Himalayas. It’s considered the spiritual capital of India, a (mostly) Hindu, meat free, alcohol free city, and it would be our home for the next 11 days.
I knew we were in for a lot of intense treatment, but had no idea the physical and emotional release I would feel within those first few days of Panchakarma. It started with pulse diagnosis from our Ayurvedic doctor. A practice more than 5000 years old. I can’t explain it but with two fingers held firmly on my wrist for only a few seconds the doctor started telling me things about myself that he could never have known from reading my chart. Like details about a hormonal imbalance which has caused me to have irregular periods since I was a teen (something western doctors could never explain to me, despite ultrasounds and loads of blood tests over the years). He also told me that my mum’s cancer was hormonal (correct), and connected the dots for me… “You’re made of your mothers blood” he said in his thick Indian accent “so therefore, you share a Pitta imbalance”. He continued to discuss my health, and then concluded my consult by prescribing me a treatment plan which I started the following day.
I won’t get into all the details, but the treatments included oil, lots of oil, oil everywhere… and I mean everywhere. The treatments were done in privacy with two beautiful Indian women, who have been carrying out Ayurvedic tradition of Panchakarma for many years. It was the most nurturing environment and I felt loved and cared for through every emotion which surfaced during that week. And there were many.
It was an intensely personal experience but I will share with you what happened on day 2…
As with any other day, the Women began a massage treatment… I can’t remember the name of it but it was basically a hemp sack of herbs, dipped in hot oil, being slapped and rubbed all over my body (sounds horrific but it was like an incredible exfoliation & oil therapy – my fav treatment of them all).
This day, as I lay on my back on the big wooden massage table I felt tears start to stream down my face. And then came the memories.
The memories came thick and fast, glimpses of my great grandmother, and my Uncle’s. Flashbacks of running out of school choir bawling (mid song) & telling the teacher who came after me that I was just sad ‘cos my family keeps dying’. And memories of laughter & happiness. The ladies continued the treatment, knowing this was all part of the process, and at the end gave me the biggest warmest hug. They have such respect for the work that they do, knowing deeply the impact it has on our bodies. The treatments went for 2 hours a day, but that day the tears just kept coming. It didn’t feel like I was re-living the grief, it just felt like a huge exhaustive release. And then I slept, and slept, and slept.
Reflecting now, there was so much loss in just a few short years (especially as a small child when ‘a few years’ is a third of your life). I suppose as a child, we understand death and there’s certainly sadness but I guess we don’t have the capacity to really process that loss? I felt like I cried all the tears I never got around to crying when I re-enterd the school yard after each of their passings all those years ago. It was a physical reminder of the work that we were doing to remove loads of stuff (known in Ayurveda as sanskara) stacked up in our nervous systems year on year.
I came to a bit of an epiphany about life during the trip, and I’m not sure I’ll ever share it all here, but it all came full circle with my fear of having kids and I can say with certainty, I found my missing puzzle pieces in India.
At this point I want to be clear, I hear what I’m saying and I know it sounds like I’m on day release – fresh out of the nut house lol. And I 100% realise my story aligns with every stereotypical clichéd experience of “finding oneself in India”. Eat Pray Love and all that. But, believe me or not, Panchakarma changed me.
It wasn’t all tears and revelations, there was a shit load of fun too… wandering into Rishekesh for nightly Aarti, festivals and cheat nights eating the most insane Indian dessert treats (contraband during our Ayurvedic diet), waking to the surreal sound of morning prayer echoing through the mountains, exploring the abandoned Ashram of Maharishi (where the Beatles among other celebs learnt the Vedic technique of meditation), afternoon swims in the most mineral rich water in the world at the foot hills of the Himalayas (with cows chillin’ on the beach of course), hikes and waterfall swims, the most ahhhhmazing vegetarian food I’ve EVER eaten, and oh my god – sunrise. Sunrise over the Himalayas was like actual life giving magic.
We woke, rounded (rounding is a sequence of yoga asanas + breathing + meditation), had breakfast, and then went in for our 2+ hours of treatment, every day for 10 days. We did a lot of work on ourselves in that short space of time.
So, the idea with this kind of treatment is that it provides an opportunity for a mass release of stress, tension, toxins & fatigue. A release that allows you to launch back into life. And as I write this post, and reflect on the past 12 months… boy did we launch.
To recap; I bought a new car (in the most seamless transaction you could ever imagine – like the car found me and the paperwork might as well have signed itself), Mitch bought a new car, we bought a house (due to be big development no.2 – coming soon to 2018), we travelled to Canada & the USA – where I was invited to shows at New York Fashion Week & ended up front row!? I was announced as a finalist in the fashion category of Rising Social Star AU. And then, we travelled to Spain, France & Italy – an epic non-stop trip that somehow just felt easy. And now, we have our house on the market… ready for our next big adventure.
I’ve also grown my blog & instagram and had amazing opportunities come my way, working with incredible brands & meeting some pretty awesome peeps in the process too.
And then there’s the rest of my personal growth… Hubs & I stopped eating meat – yep, just like that. I got rid of my fake nails, vowed to grow out my blonde (it’ll take a while), reduced my coffee intake, reduced my sugar intake, reduced my alcohol intake, eliminated 80% of chemical products in my beauty regimen and home, and overcame my fear of having kids.
Oh… and never. got. sick. once.
All in all I’ve felt better, more relaxed, more confident, more at ease in the world, more creative, more loved up, and more alive than ever.
Our motivation to learn about meditation came from a pretty dark time, but where we are now is proof that it’s possible to make a choice to have a different experience of life. I have no doubt on this earth that I’ve taken leaps and bounds in my own health & wellness over the past 2 years, accelerated by our time in India.
I suppose next time I head to India (and I will be back for sure) I’ll simply be telling you all I’m going for Panchakarma.