Panchakarma, Here We Come!

After five days of traveling, we finally arrive at the Ayurveda Yoga Retreat on February 10th ready for the Panchakarma to begin!! We have been here a full two weeks now, and so many wonderful things have happened. I have to go back in time a bit just to fill you in:

Annie and I check in at the retreat a day early to meet up with John and two others in our group who also arrive early. Brendan stays off site at a place called The Tea House, and tomorrow the rest will be here and our retreat officially begins. Together we will dive deep into Ayurveda, taking in workshops and classes, and individually we each meet the doctor, learn what doshic imbalances we have, get our prescribed herbs, and begin the PK.

As a newly-minted Ayurveda Health Practitioner and an Ayurveda Yoga Therapist with nearly 900 hours of study and certifications and eager for experience, it is exciting for me to really see so much of what I have studied put into practice here. Studying is an amazing journey, but watching the doctor with clients and partaking in specialized herbal formulas, pastes, oil baths, powdered massage, abhyanga, nasya, shirodara, and so much more reinforces my love for this science and my desire to understand more fully, especially because it recognizes mind, body, and spirit as a daily practice. I am so excited to be here again!!!

For those of you interested in Ayurveda, it is important to note that Ayurveda is not a quick fix, and what we are doing here scratches the surface of our long-term imbalances, but what progress I have seen in days and weeks in ironing out surface Vata-inspired issues like dry skin, busy mind, digestion and elimination issues is pretty impressive. There are also situations where clients have adverse reactions to an herbal formula, and Dr. Mouli lives right on campus and is available to us nearly every day for check-ins and questions or shifts in our treatments. It is a slow and steady process to come back to balance, not a bandaid approach to heath and wellness. In fact, the real work of the PK begins when we leave Dr. Mouli’s nest and are given the responsibility of rasayana, which is a minimum of three months of intense self care, eating a clean and healthy diet, and committing to practices like self abhyanga massage, lifestyle changes which may include diet, sleep, and taking herbs to rebuild the body, mind, and spirit once we depart here. It may seem complicated, and to those who don’t want to take the time to do this deep work, it may be so; but if you want to achieve your optimal health in this body, it is worth the dedication. Even if it means wearing matching robes and being forced to have your picture taken with your oil slicked hair. (sorry guys; I had to).

My first week consists of daily dual-therapist abhyanga massage with herbalized oil. My body oil is sesame-based with herbs chosen for my imbalances, which are mostly Vata. The humongous wooden table is just as I remember, soaked dark brown with years of sesame oil and herbs, and I am excited for my first massage. Vijaya takes my head in her hands and pours herbalized coconut oil on my scalp and hair. Her strong fingers work in the oil and knead away my travel wear. I sit naked on a chair in front of her and she begins to massage my shoulders, neck, and upper back. I remember writing about this first massage last year. It is like coming home to a mother’s arms: strong, warm, compassionate… I am not ashamed to bear my skin to her and to Parvati who help me onto the table, pour warm sesame oil over my body, and begin their tandem strokes.

For a week I receive this massage every morning, and every afternoon I am given pichu, which is a warm oil treatment delivered in cotton pads, pressed on specific areas of the body experiencing pain; mine is low back pain on the left and knee pain on the right. The oil usually has camphor and other herbs used for their pain relief qualities as well as muscle relaxers. After two days my back pain is gone. After a week I forget I arrived with my back so sore. I ask about what I believe is a small meniscus tear. Dr. Mouli tells me it is possible to heal my knee if I am diligent about treating it with herbs and if I listen to my body and don’t overdo in my yoga practice. I am willing to try to avoid surgery. After two weeks here, my knee feels so much better, I barely notice it. Add steam bath to the regimen, and you have a happy girl; and just check out this steam machine!

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Week two is powder massage, which is a granular paste made from sandalwood or walnut hulls, herbs, and oils. I can’t say this is my favorite treatment, The massage itself feels a bit rough on my skin, and I’m feeling a little irritated after the first one; but it does leave my skin incredibly soft and supple.  It is also the week of enemas (bastis) for many of us… but I’m assuming you’d rather hear about the other treatments, so we’ll just skip that one for right now! Oh, by the way, here is a peek at our group tray of herbal formulas at lunch:

Rice bath is next… I enter the treatment room, and a pot of red rice is bubbling on the stove. Steam rises in spirals as I hang up my robe and sit on the stool where Vijaya starts me off with my coconut hair oil, face and shoulder massage, then Lali says “nasya today, ok Baby?”  and tells me up front it will “sting a little bit.” Nasya is nasal oil blended with ginger and sometimes milk, and about seven drops are administered into each nostril. It is worth the sting, and Vijaya rubs my hands as Lali drops the oil in my nose and asks me to sniff. It takes several seconds of toe curling for me carry out the directions, but after the tears stop rolling down my cheeks and I have had my three gargles of warm water, my vision is clearer, ny nasal passages are completely open, and I can settle down for the rice bath!

The pictures don’t do justice to the absolute mess of rice and oil that clings to my body when this treatment is over. My hands are completely covered in rice, so pictures aren’t really an option, but here you see the very beginning of the massage which is soothing and nourishing to the skin. Perfect after three days of powder massage!

My last week is shirodara, an amazing treatment where warm oil is poured over the forehead in a continuous stream.  No pics of this one this year… just deep relaxation.  If you want to read more about these treatments or see pics from my experience last year, check out this link: https://wordpress.com/post/dragonflyogabarn.wordpress.com/5577

It’s hard to believe this our final week of Panchakarma… there is so much more to tell, and I am still planning a whole post on clotheslines and laundry!  And kitty cats and puppies… and the markets! And the amazing food here at the retreat! Which to write about next…

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