Panchawhat?? Yep this is a word/concept that is probably foreign to most.
Ayurveda is a traditional Indian approach to medicine and healing. The word 'Ayurveda' literally translates to the 'science of life'. It is based on the premise that health and wellness is dependent upon a delicate balance between the mind, body and spirit. Ayurvedic treatments typically include dietary recommendations, herbal remedies/treatments and yogic exercises (breathing, meditation etc).
Panchakarma is a method used in Ayurveda to detox the body, strengthen the immune system and also restore balance and overall well-being. There are many different varieties of Panchakarma treatments but the one that was recommended to me after an assessment of my body's constitution was called 'Virechana'. This treatment is focused taking the toxins from the body, moving them into the intestines and the expelling them all out.
For the last few years I've been very curious about the whole science of Ayurveda, Panchkarma was something I've been wanting to try. Given that we had a week off in the middle of our yoga teacher training I thought I'd give it a go, I also had a friend embark on the treatment with me which made the whole experience a little smoother.
Here is an overview of my experience.
DAY 1 - Just a normal day
The Pachakarma treatment begins by taking herbal tablets three times a day with food. The first day of the treatment was very much a normal day, nothing interesting or special to report. It was however International Yoga Day which was a lot of fun. I was involved with a small group from our teacher training putting on a short performance at the Lion's School in Mysore. My yoga practice for the day was really light and based around the yoga day events/performance.
DAY 2 - Here comes the cold, immune system low
This morning was day two of the herbal tablets, I woke up feeling like I was getting a cold. My head felt congested and overall I wasn't feeling great. I was however excited to be getting out of bed as I was going to lead a small yoga class with a few friends. That was my practice for the day. The rest of the day was really chilled out, spent lots of time hanging out with friends eating at nice restaurants.
DAY 3 - Sleepathon
Today we were to drink 10ml of Medicated Ghee (clarified butter) before eating anything. From what I understand the idea behind ingesting liquefied ghee is to make the walls of the intestines and the digestive system slippery, this is to help all the unwanted stuff slide out with ease on the day of purgation. It didn't taste too bad, I was okay with the ghee at this point.
After taking the ghee I did a gentle yoga practice. While my body was feeling pretty good I'd decided to take it easy, this week my intention was to keep the load on my wrists light to give it a chance to rest (my right wrist has been aggravated with the first month of twice daily asana practice).
I could still feel the hint of a cold lingering, after the yoga practice I started to feel really tired. After breakfast Katie and I decided to chill out and watch a movie, it was only 11am and we both fell asleep. I lasted until around 5pm and then fell asleep for another 3 hours waking up at 8pm thinking that I should get something to eat so I don't wake up ravenous in the middle of the night. I quickly went down the street to grab a smoothie and then came home and jumped back into bed. Around 11.30pm I fell asleep again and didn't wake until 6am the next day. Given that I've been averaging around 6.5hrs of sleep a night and was feeling great this was an epic sleeping day.
DAY 4 - Spontaneous tears and a massage/steam bath experience to remember
Drinking 20ml of Ghee first thing in the morning didn't seem too bad, I think I'd convinced myself that I didn't mind the taste. I felt that I wanted to do a yoga practice today but was still feeling pretty rubbish so was pretty excited when the friend I was practicing with suggested that chilled out yoga would be a good idea, we did a Yin Practice - perfect.
If the detox hadn't already taken affect and had some sort on impact on my body, today it would become blatantly obvious.
The feeling of a general cold stuck around with the occasional feeling of an upset stomach and the possibility of vomit. A new addition today was watery leaky eyes, throughout the day, every now and then I would have a stream of tears flow down my cheeks, this seemed to be for no apparent reason, there was no thought or emotion attached to it, just tears.
While we have scheduled massage treatments for the final 3 days (Days 5 - 8) we thought we'd go today as a nice way to relax while the energy systems were feeling depleted. I had no idea what type of massage it would be, I just contacted the clinic and asked for a few massage appointments.
Katie went before me and I was giggling from the minute I was taken in. Katie was in the shower and they were fitting me with a skimpy piece of material which is essentially a g-string with a front flap, that tucks in at the back. I had visions of Katie walking out of the shower only to find me sitting there with nothing but this little piece of modesty material on. Thankfully Katie was saved and they put a towel over me before she came out. I was only slightly concerned when Katie came out and said something along the lines of 'that was like being drowned in oil and beaten to death'.
It was too late too turn back, I was committed. I was super grateful that they stayed away from tapping/banging on my head (the doctor told them to leave my head alone because of the cold), my face however received the most intense massage of my life. The strong powerful stroke massage was nothing compared to what was to come..
In phase 2 of the treatment they put your in a little wooden steam box, it's seriously f***ing hot in there. My first concern was that I'm too short, my head won't to poke out the top and I'm going to suffocate (which was irrelevant because they covered my head with a towel and pretty much steamed me to death anyway). My second concern, after all that belly massage I was feeling like I had some wind that needed to pass, but didn't want to let that go in the fear of making myself suffer further in this highly confined space. I moved past all that and managed to chill out for a while enjoying the heat and sweat.
I have no idea how long I was in there, maybe 20 minutes until I started to get that feeling of 'I have to get out of here, this is not okay' but I decided to go all yogi on the mind and simply watch my thoughts so that I could find out why I was wanting to move away from the discomfort, was it something deeper? That lasted for around minute or two until I couldn't take it anymore, I ripped the towel off my head to gasp for cool air, the massage lady opened the door and then things went a little pear shaped.
I was on the verge of fully passing out...I sat there taking slow controlled breaths while the lady stood beside me looking on. I think she wanted me to move to the shower but I couldn't do a thing other than concentrate on not collapsing. I was there for what felt like forever motionless only focusing on breathing, then that awful vomit sensation came back, I was just like 'I have to get to the toilet' and as I started to try and stand the lovely woman grabbed me and helped me walk to the bathroom. As soon as I got to the bathroom floor I sat down and slid my slippery oil/sweat drenched self to the toilet bowl, I sat there resting for a few more minutes. It was taking forever, I still wasn't coming good, I had the lady pour cold water over me as I sat on the floor struggling to stay with it. At some point I became fully naked, she'd removed my modesty cloth and she was bathing me trying to get the oil off - I couldn't do a thing, moving seemed out of the question so she did her thing washing me down as I sat there butt naked doing nothing but focusing on breath as the room seemed to narrow in on me.
After who knows how long finally I felt like I could stand and walk myself out of there. Thank goodness I was able to dress myself!! They gave me some sugar laden tea and bread and I started to come back to a semi normal.
The funny thing is that we still have two more oil drenched steamings scheduled so that should be interesting...the minute I start to feel the need to get out of that steam house in the next treatments I am out of there!!!
DAY 5 - Please no more ghee
No longer do I like the taste of ghee, it was a struggle to get the 30ml down this morning. I woke with every intention to do a yoga practice but made it through only 3 sun salutations and a few standing balances before I decided that lying down would be a better option.
The day passed quite normally, still feeling the impact of an overarching cold with lots of undertones of lethargy and a real hankering for chocolate.
In addition to all the lazing about today we visited an amazing doctor in Mysore who has a practice based on Chinese medicine and the energy systems within the body. He measured my pulse and instantly concluded 'low energy' which couldn't have been more accurate and then looked at my tongue and concluded 'long term digestive issues' he only continued to blow my mind after that. This was a nice validation for the decision to undertake this Ayurvedic detox, it would help to clear out my digestive system which was a problem area that the Chinese medicine doctor had picked up.
It was time for round two of the oil massage and steam treatment. I used the bathroom before the treatment and actually noticed how the room looked, the whole colour and layout of the room was totally different to what I'd thought from the day before. One of the first things the lady said to me was '10 minutes' while pointing to the steamer, perhaps she sensed by concern. The whole treatment went without a hitch aside from the unpleasant oil seeping into my eyeballs the making it uncomfortable to open them.
DAY 6 - Getting ready to purge
It was such a relief this morning to not have to take the medicated ghee. I woke myself several times throughout the night coughing, I can't even remember the last time I had a cold like this.
I've got the whole massage routine sorted now, walk in strip off, sit down, get shoulders massaged, jump on the bed face up, flip over, jump in steam bath, shower, get dressed, drink tea, leave.
Today I managed to find some mindless entertainment during the massage. One of the songs they play during the treatment sounds a lot like Kelly Clarksons 'Beautiful Disaster' I found myself wondering if Kelly had taken a Panchakarma treatment here and had been inspired by this tune to write her song? Beautiful disaster is kind of fitting for the whole experience, it's such a beautiful thing to be cleansed from the inside out but it's also quite a disaster ingesting the ghee, feeling the need to sleep all day, having no energy to practice yoga and being scrubbed down by your massage therapist because you can't do it yourself..
I quite enjoyed the steam treatment today. I managed to stay totally calm and relaxed, it was almost meditative, I didn't want to get out once I was comfortably sitting there in the warmth with my head poking out.
Again much of the day was spent reading, sleeping and watching some TV. A yoga practice was totally out of the question.
DAY 7 - Time to Purge
Day 7 of the treatment is purgation day. From what I understand, generally the purge comes in the form of very loose bowel motions for around 4 hours, this is the clearing out of the digestive system.
I woke at 4.30am to take the little magic pill that was expected to take affect within 1 - 2 hours. It wasn't until 7.15am that I first felt the need to go to the toilet. While I'd gone a few times (maybe 3) it was a bit of a non-event compared to what Katie was going through. I was using more tissues wiping my nose than what I'd used on my butt! The cold was in full force, my head was aching, nose was running and eyes were watering.
At 11am we went to the doctors office for breakfast, a nice lentil soup. I gave the doctor an overview of my morning, she gave me another pill to take (this time only half), she said that it would likely kick in before lunch. I went home took the pill, went back to sleep and at lunchtime around 1.30pm when we had to return I was still fine. In the meantime poor Katie was still on the toilet unable to leave to collect lunch, I took lunch to her. Our lunch and dinner for the day was plain white rice with a rasam soup, we also had some buttermilk to take with dinner which was to help stop the bowel motions.
It wasn't until around 4pm that the second tablet seemed to take affect. A few more trips to the toilet (maybe ~4) and it was all over for me. In the meantime Katie was discovering more liquid in her body than she thought could possibly exist.
For me personally the purging wasn't too different to having a stomach bug (Bali/Delhi Belly). In fact I think I cleared my digestive system just as much only a few weeks ago when I had a stomach bug, perhaps that's why this purge didn't seem to be as effective on me. The doctor also suggested that the cold I've been experiencing may have impacted upon it too. She said that I could go for a round two next weekend although I have little interest in stressing my body any further, particularly given that we will once again be immersed in the yoga teacher training.
DAY 8 - Restoring the Body
After the day of purging I had another really long night of sleep, I'm struggling to recall a time when I spent so much time in bed. I'm now really missing my active yoga practice, I simply haven't had the energy to do it.
On this final day all meals are provided, I believe this is to ensure that the digestive system doesn't become overloaded after it's been cleared out. Breakfast was scheduled for 10am, by this time we were both starving, again it was a lentil soup which went down really well.
For lunch and dinner we had Kitchari which is a really common meal in Ayurveda that generally consists of a mixture of grains, it's great in that it's really easy to digest, after eating it for some time though I imagine it would get quite boring.
In the afternoon we had a Shirodhara treatment which involves having the hair soaked in oil with a bit of a scalp massage, followed by around 30-40 minutes of warm oil being gently poured on the forehead in a constant stream. It took me a little while to relax into it with the two women in the room chatting but after around 10 minutes I was totally relaxed and started to drift off to sleep. It was a lovely treatment but the pleasantness of the experience really faded when the massage lady decided that I was washing my hair incorrectly so she needed to step in and forcefully do it for me. There was violent scrubbing and water going everywhere. As with much of the massage treatments it felt like it was a life or death situation, something that had to be done with extreme intensity/speed or we would all die. The Shirodhara itself was great through, I'd certainly do that again.
I'm glad that I had the opportunity to do this Panchakarma treatment and I'm super grateful that I had Katie doing it with me, it certainly was an interesting/unique experience for both of us. They say that after the treatment people generally feel very light and energetic. Unfortunately I'm not yet feeling it, my body is still very much in fighting mode trying to get rid of this cold and the lethargy is very much still there. Already I'm wondering how on earth I'm going to get through our morning asana practice tomorrow when Level 2 of our yoga teacher training starts.
While it's been a challenging week with the fatigue, tiredness and the head cold I also think that it's been a blessing in disguise. It's really forced me to take some proper rest which I know would've been difficult if I was feeling great. It's still early days so perhaps that lightness and energy is still on the way, only time will tell.
If you are curious about the whole process then click here for an overview of the benefits that Panchakrama treatment can provide. One thing I can suggest, if you are going to do it, make sure it's supervised by a qualified professional and that you have some support, it's a pretty intense experience.
Mandy Habener (Dumas)