Going Places

Man

The page – or in this case, the blinking cursor – is calling me back. I’m not sure what exactly it’s asking for yet, but I’m open and making myself available.

Mostly it seems to be inquiring about travel.

In the middle of reading another inspiring non-fiction book on self-mastery, the question was posed … really the author demanded, that I finish reading the current sentence then go sit with myself somewhere and write down my dreams. All the crazy, seemingly unattainable ones, the ones that make me shudder with excitement, fear or anxiety, the simple ones – like having a place for everything in my house, I mean super simple – and any rogue thought that happens to pop into my head that might be a thread that leads somewhere magical.

On it. Aside from discussing consciousness with Christians, yogis and atheists alike, dreaming is my favorite!

Travel writing.

That’s what the Universe handed me on a slightly smudgy, obviously dented, silver platter. Gifts from the Universe often have to make a few trips around the sun before I’m ready to receive them. This one may frisbee back out yet before it sits beside me each day.

And I had to really study those two words because I don’t think they mean what they seem to say. I believe, in my case, they are meant as two separate commands that intersect.

Here’s how I see it:

Travel is my blood type, a plane ticket, a new passport stamp? Those are transfusions. When I don’t get to go places (by which I mean, when I believe there is something more important than wandering like laundry or running my businesses) I get sick. It’s not a normal sick, I’m rarely that. I get bitchy and itchy. I grumble a lot like an old man who wishes those idiot boxes were never invented and what the hell is a sofrita anyway, what’s wrong with meat and potatoes? That guy. The only antidote is travel. I’ve tried other medicines; wine, chocolate, yoga, they only take me so far.

Writing too has been my constant companion my entire life. Mountains of journals sit heaving in my closet, eyes rolling when they find out they’re not so special. Each one has the same list of how I want to structure my day and all that I would like to accomplish. Day after day. They get bored, my journals. I hear them yawn, audibly breathe the sigh of disappointment when I start rolling out a new plan. But when I start to describe the view from my hotel room that includes a black-faced monkey and the Ganges they start to perk up. They’re totally fine with packing lists for European treks and they especially like when I confess how a place has revealed something about me to me.

And there are blogs, once organized, now somewhat willy nilly, and mostly lately covered in cobwebs and neglect. It helps me, the writing. The publishing is scary, but it’s part of the process too.

Travel. Writing. Travel writing. These will likely never be the kind of stories picked up by Afar or Conde Nast Traveler. I’m not likely to tell you where to eat or what not to miss or what time to be at the Vatican, and which gate so you can bypass the line. But I will tell you how standing on the banks of the Ganges made me cry tears of connection to everything and while sipping red wine at a vineyard overlooking the Mediterranean in Lucca, Italy on the most perfect day ever, I was so overwhelmed with gratitude for this life I couldn’t speak.

I will share the humility I have gained by talking to a man who had no home and no shoes but smiled nonetheless and even gave the dog sharing his tarp the piece of bread I offered him. How he had enough. He was happy. He gave up everything and now whatever he needs comes to him. I will tell you that that is true abundance and I may even give you a hint of yoga philosophy lesson on the tenet of Aparigraha or non-attachment. Mostly because it’s a reminder and lesson to me.

The more I tell you, the more I learn about me.

Travel. Writing. They are symbiotic in my world. They need each other. One does not describe the other. When I look at them I can see them each on the bulbous sides of an infinity symbol.  Traveling opens me up and reveals the dark corners that need to be energetically vacuumed out, as well as the covered bits of light yearning to shine and share.

Traveling is manna to me. Writing is how I process and share my experiences.

So this is my big, anxious, hairy, exciting dream. I mean, a well-organized house is also still on the list, but it just doesn’t curl my toes like going places.

What’s your dream?

Ayurveda, Blood Type, and Eat Fat, oh my.

Peacock Made From Avocado Palta And Avocado Tree Leaves On Gray

This food odyssey I’ve been on for decades is wearing me out. I started a health coaching business over 10 years ago because I had become fed up with food being my enemy and was bound and determined to make it my friend. I schlepped to New York City for over a year on various weekends to attend trainings (don’t let the tone fool you, I LOVE NYC and loved the training) to become a Certified Holistic Health Coach. And to learn more about food and me.

I came home, set up a website, hung out my shingle and commenced to help people navigate the treacherous food jungle. A few years into it I got frustrated with clients that seemed determined to stay stuck in their stories. Mostly I felt like I had to be someone I wasn’t. I had to be all nicey-nicey and compassionate and supportive and say all the positive things.

But guess what? I can be firm and bold and STILL compassionate and supportive. Maybe even nice sometimes.

This, I have learned through teaching and training others these intervening years. Authenticity is king, or queen in this case.

About that same time I fell back into those comfy TV watching pajamas we know as habits. I had lost weight, gained energy and embarked on what I believed to be the lifestyle and career to keep me healthy and fit, so I slacked. I stopped paying attention. I wore yoga pants – the enemy of weight management.

Then menopause.

Now, here I am again – on the other side of that hormonal high-wire act –  revisiting all the old ways that helped me in the first place and floundering about for purchase. Add to that, all the “new” ideas. Kinda. Whole30, Eat Fat Get Thin, Paleo, Keto. The sea has become deeper and more turbulent as each new author has found the cure for obesity, fatigue and generalized ennui.

So really, not much has changed.

Here’s my dilemma. Dr. Hyman (who actually taught at the health coach dealio in NYC and whom I have a not-so-secret crush on) says “Eat FAT lady! Lots of it, especially coconut everything. It’s sooooo good for you.” I seek out the approval of Dr. D’Adamo (Blood Type hero) who is moving his head oh-so-slightly back and forth with the ‘I’m sorry’ face on. Coconut everything, except oil, is on the naughty list. Ayurveda says “you must eat legumes for protein so you do not need meat” (I kinda just typed that in an Indian accent) and the blood type diet says, “Girl have you looked at the size of your ass already?”

Gah!

Yet, I continue to fall back on these very stand-bys, and when I do, I feel better and my weight begins to behave. I love using the combination of the principles and science of Ayurveda – a 5,000 year old system of health from India, that must be doing something right if it’s still here –  and the newer, more suspicious Blood Type Diet that tells people what is excellent, mezza-mezza or muy mal to eat for their blood type, and has done wonders for me and my clients. Add in a dash of fat from avocados – 100% approved by all – and I’ve got myself something to work with. If I decide to work it.

All of this to say, I hear you. I get it. We’re all just tryna figure it out.

In the meantime, the advice-o-sphere is pulling me back toward health coaching. Ok, it has dislocated my shoulder while yanking me into the ring. But this time, things will be different. This time I will not hold back my heart-felt desire to unstick you from your personal flypaper. And this time, there will be yoga involved. Not headstand or any flying anything upside down, but the philosophy. In particular, the Yamas and Niyamas – the 10 tenets of the yoga philosophy. You know, innovative ideas like kindness, moderation and discipline. Doesn’t that sound sexy?!

But seriously. Here’s a glimpse at how the path is unfolding before me:

12 weeks, 1 session per week. Beginning with what your intention is for your LIFE. We’re starting off all light and breezy. Then we’ll move into the 10 tenets, one each week and tie it all up in a recap bow that looks a lot like a newly minted, very best version of you!

Perhaps there will be some podcasts or live videos; definitely some one-on-one coaching; and, of course, some classes and group work. My fave.

Stay tuned. More to come…

In the meantime, if I can impart any advice on behalf of the 739 health books I’ve read, seminars I’ve attended or certifications I thought were necessary to love people back to health, let me know.

I’m here for ya!

PS: Give up processed food. That one’s on me. Oh, and, avocados are magic.

Homeward Bound

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Day Seven, Last Day.

We choose to end our time here on the beach as the sun rises again. I am convinced there is no better way to start the day. We are all together, including the therapists. It feels like a special group. We’re told we were a low maintenance group and we hear, “You are our favorite group.” There is an ease among us now. We have been through a transformation together and it has bonded us. At least while we’re still in one place. Once we get in our cars and onto our planes and back into our lives, who knows.

Of the Fourteen people involved in this whole process from the therapists and cooks to the doctor and the participants I knew five coming in. And I’ll continue to stay in touch with them. But this whole experience is unique because we each had such inward experiences. We were tiny little islands of processes. Our take-away and evolution, or involution, were extremely personal. While we shared the same big house and amazing therapists and helpers, our transformations were ours alone.

We came together in this experience in much the same way we get to know our neighbors right after a hurricane or other natural calamity and vow – at least privately – that we’ll all become best friends and this will become THAT neighborhood where everyone knows everyone else. But it’s not sustainable. I’m not sad or wistful about this, just observing it.

People come into and leave our lives all the time. It’s by design.

Today, I meet with Dr. Jain for the last official time. The news is all positive. My agni is up, my ama is down, but there’s still a ways to go. My Pitta/Kapha constitution has been restored but my Vata is still elevated, but not nearly to the degree it was, there are still some stress management practices I will need to continue.

Oh, and, I should be a vegan.

He actually told me this back in August when I brought my husband here for some mini-panchakarma. I nodded and said okay and committed for about 45 minutes. I didn’t totally agree with him. Here’s why:

About 12 years ago I got fed up with food being the enemy and decided to make it my friend by learning as much as I could about it. I found an amazing program in NYC called the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. It continues to be one of the most profound and life-enhancing experiences I’ve ever had. During the study of  my own self with regards to food I came to the now-educated conclusion that the Blood Type diet held the most positive answers for me. I was also quite taken with the whole concept of Ayurveda, so as a newly minted Certified Holistic Health Coach I used those two philosophies together to heal my own food issues as well as the digestive, weight and stress concerns of others.

All of this to say, my blood type tells me that I should basically eat beef and broccoli. And when I do eat mostly paleo my weight normalizes, my energy is sustained and I feel good. But it’s been a long time since I held to a strict diet of any kind.

So I do what I should have done in August, and ask him why.

Does it have something to do with agni? Does eating meat put the fire out per se? I mean, I’m open to try almost anything that will boost my energy and make me feel shiny again.

“No,” said he, “eating meat has nothing to do with agni. You do not have enough agni right now to digest meat.”

Of course! That makes total sense.

In truth, if I thought I could be a healthy vegan I would completely embrace it. I don’t like the smell of cooking meat. I don’t like touching raw meat. I do love a beautifully seasoned filet made by a Cordon Bleu chef. But I am committed to my own health. I have promised myself, and Dr. Jain, that I will do the vegan thing for three months. My hope is to be balanced enough to add eggs back in. That’s all, I don’t need meat. Maybe a few times of year. Some happy grass-fed, free range animal protein. Or not.

If I had one recommendation about all this food misinformation and conflicting theories – for anyone who is looking for one – that came out of all this experience it would be this: find a way to cleanse so that you can begin to understand the language of your body again. Learn to listen to its needs, not the desires of your tired, worn out ego looking for a sugar bump. Reset in some way and listen.

Really listen.

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Our amazing healers: Casey, Roslyn, Jenny (therapists), Dr. Jain and Michele Jain.

The Second Brain

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Day Six

Mornings have become routine. I am making good on my promise to myself to do the tongue/oil/brush dance. This morning I woke up a bit earlier so I just got up and took care of all these things and added in a little journaling.

I love my time alone in the dark, still morning hours.

It has taken this long for some people to come out of their shells – a natural byproduct of releasing mental, emotional and physical gunk (the technical term) – and as such we are all talking over each other and interrupting. We are all pittas so everything we have to say is important. Perhaps this would be a good time to explain the constitutions or doshas as they’re known in Sanskrit, briefly as I can.

Firstly, you are born with your constitution which is some combination of the three doshas. Like your blood type, it will not change in your lifetime, so it’s important to embrace it. Secondly, since we all have some mix of all three any one, or all of them, can become frightfully out of balance. Next, doing something intense like this detox or something as simple as changing your diet can greatly help bring the doshas back into balance.

Here is a bit about each:

Pitta: Fire and water elements. Pittas have a medium frame and are well-proportioned. Because one of the elements that defines them is fire, they tend to overheat easily and can anger quickly if they are out of balance. They are often Type A personalities that thrive on accomplishing tasks. Highly organized and focused they are able to power through most things (but that doesn’t mean they should). That determination can also take a turn when they are out of balance creating workaholics who may create problems that don’t exist just so they have something to fix. They love to fix problems. They get hangry easily. Their heat can manifest as skin rashes, digestive issues and irritability. It’s best for pittas to stay away from heating foods and spices and partake in more gentle exercises than they are likely drawn to.

Vata: Defined by the air element and all that entails – airy, spacey, flighty, dry but also highly creative, quick thinking and sharp. Their body types tend to be thin with delicate bone structures. When they are out of balance they can worry unnecessarily, become nervous or suffer from sleeplessness. In balance they usually tend toward the arts. Physiologically they are defined by the nervous system.

Kapha: Earth and water elements. Kaphas generally have larger body types and bigger bones. They can gain weight easily but are not necessarily overweight. They can be very powerful athletes better at endurance sports than short sprints. When they are in balance everyone wants to be around them, especially Vatas, they can be a very grounding presence. Out of balance they can become lethargic and depressed. They can be difficult to get moving, but once they are they tend to stick with a program that is fun.

There are thousands of years of information on these and if they interest you, I’ve noted a few resources at the end of this post. You can also find a dosha questionnaire online to help you determine your constitution, but please note, these tests are subjective so your mood, belief systems and even the current temperature can skew your results. The only definitive way I know of to get an accurate answer is to have an Ayurvedic Practitioner or Physician do a pulse diagnosis. If they have been practicing for a while, they can also likely tell you what your imbalances are and offer recommendations on how to treat them.

I am a pitta/kapha. My primary dosha is pitta with kapha running a close second. Vata for me is very low. IF I’m balanced. When I arrived here my pitta was slightly elevated (anger/stress), my kapha was higher than it should be (toxins/lethargy) and my Vata was off the charts high (stress, stress and more stress and more specifically, the inability or desire to manage it effectively). My job during this week has been to lower all three back into balance, specifically by increasing my agni – digestive fire – by eating vegan, doing pranayama, meditation, yoga and the treatments AND reducing my ama – toxins – also by the same means. I’ll be assessed my last day here to see how my body and mind have responded to the treatments and changes in diet and daily routine.

My treatments are early once again today so I take just a tiny bit of baked fruit. This may be my favorite find this trip so far. Seriously. Anyway, the treatments are going well. All of them and I feel lighter and lighter, both physically, for obvious reasons, and mentally and emotionally. The reason for this is the gut-brain connection.

Just before coming here, I watched an 8-part docuseries on how nutrition affects the brain, and it was mesmerizing. The gut is known as the second brain; your entire immune system resides in your gut. What you eat has a profound impact on your mental clarity and emotional stability. And most of what we eat in this country is Frankenfood; processed, packaged and lacking any prana and little nutrition. Stay tuned for a future rant on that subject!

Our last night here becomes a time of reflection. Not in the sweet, sappy way but in the recounting of where we started and how easy it is to not even recognize what a mess we were while we were in the middle of it. How we lose our footing and balance and that becomes the norm. We become so accustomed to our habits and lulled into repeating bad choices because we are so stuffed with impurities. As we take a step back from this renewed perspective, we marvel at our ability to stand and think before being purged, pummeled and pampered. We vow to not let ourselves get “there” again.

One last lecture. We devolve. We become silly, there has been an incredible release of … pick something, anything, someone has let that go and so we are feeling the lightness of being that is our birthright. We quiet a bit, learn a few more things, but at this point how we are feeling trumps any sort of knowledge we could take in.

We embody a gentle euphoria, an understanding that life does not have to be suffered – that is always a choice. Suffering is always optional. Pain is a given, how you are with the pain determines your state of health.

In Ayurveda, there is a word for optimal health. It has nothing to do with what size or age you are, it doesn’t take into consideration your DNA or food allergies. That word is:

SWASTHYA = Established in the Self.

If you know your Self – that part of you connected to consciousness or your source – you are healthy.

Refreshing.

 

Resources:

A Nice Cup of Hot Water

Glass Cup of Tea

Day Five

Today is Big B Day. Basti – you remember, enema. (I just want you to know I typed that last word  s u p e r   s l o w l y  with my face all scrunched up.)

I decide to start my day right, with the routine Dr. Jain recommended.

  • Tongue scraping
  • Oil pulling
  • Teeth brushing
  • Hot water drinking
  • Pranayama
  • Meditation
  • Yoga

Let’s unpack a few of these a little more, shall we?

I briefly explained tongue scraping and oil pulling in yesterday’s blog and I trust you understand teeth brushing, but maybe you don’t see the appeal of “a nice cup of hot water”. Honestly I don’t either, or didn’t, but it’s not so bad.

Hot water with lemon was grandma’s old remedy to get things going in the morning. That’s still its purpose. Hot water stokes the digestive fires or maybe wakes them up. Mostly one cup will do, but if you’ve cheesed it up the night before or went to bed with a hamburger, maybe add a second cup. The idea is to drink the hot water until you eliminate.

Drinking hot water throughout the day keeps the plumbing happy. Dr. Jain recommends lime instead of lemon, and just a little bit, if you’d like to flavor your water. I wish I could remember why, I know asked him no less than 20 times. But a little of either would be fine.

Pranayama, our next step in this process, is a fancy Sanskrit word for breath work. Here, we are doing three different kinds.

Bastrika or breath of fire – forcefully inhaling and exhaling through the nose. We’re guided to do as many rounds as is comfortable and feels beneficial for us. Mostly we seem to be doing 2 sets of around 35. Between each round we take a moment to allow the breath to come back to normal.

Nadhi Shodhana or alternate nostril breathing. This is an amazing technique that balances both hemispheres of the brain and is great to do before meditation or bed. It is done with a mudra (hand gesture) so that each nostril can be closed off to switch back and forth.

Kappalabhati or skull shining. It might be my favorite. It is also a forceful breath, but just on the exhalation. It takes a bit more practice to master as it involves the snapping in and up of the diaphragm on that forceful exhalation. The inhalation happens on its own. We do several rounds including adding in the kicky alternate nostril bit along with it.

All of these breathing techniques are done in this order and slowly with awareness of how they are making us feel. This part takes about 10 minutes.

The breath work clears the mind to prepare it for meditation. Here we sit for about 20 minutes, followed by a gentle yoga class.

This is my new morning routine, maybe an hour, hour and 15 each day. Fingers crossed.

My treatment is scheduled early today so I will forego breakfast. Skipping lunch yesterday had the pleasant consequences I was hoping for, so I’m trusting my gut. And leaving it empty. It will all be emptied out for me anyway.

It is Big Basti Day.

I want so badly to share the details with you but I fear I will lose you forever, so let’s just leave it at this: It cannot be done wrong, at least not with these kind and loving therapists. I imagine no matter what happens they remain encouraging and tell you what a great job you’re doing.

I can tell you that the bag they use is scary. It is big and full of oatmeal colored stuff. (Imagine an IV drip bag half full.) Each basti is tailor-made to the individual. I have no idea what is in mine but it has a yellowish tinge so I’m assuming turmeric is among its ingredients. They all have some sort of oil base, like coconut, olive or even ghee. There are tiny specs of things floating around in the bag which I take to be healing herbs.

Thank you. This is good for me.

It wasn’t humiliating or as bad as I thought. It did produce the desired results and after about an hour I felt pretty amazing. And I get to do it all over again tomorrow! (There’s sarcasm in that exclamation point.)

Most of us are walking around lighter and glowy as we meet for dinner. It is a free night, and a movie on Netflix has been cued up for us. It is not by accident that we are going to watch What the Health. It’s food education after all. The movie is clearly shewed toward Veganism with all the right doctors and statistics. But it offers a lot of useful information. We wince and oh my god at all the right places and vow to become vegans, at least until we leave here. After the movie we engage in a lively discourse about what we have just watched. We offer our opinions as well as debate certain facts. We listen to each other and agree or disagree kindly. All movies should be viewed this way, with a group of people who are like-minded but may have differing opinions. This art of conversation seems to have been swept away with the tides of civility not so long ago.

I head to bed with the stories of the three people in the movie that went from death’s door to glowing health in just two weeks, the pleasant feeling of being empty and a text from home that the kitty I’m fostering is a monster.

This should make for some interesting dreams.

Scrape, Pull, Brush

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Day Four

On this morning we decide to do our pranayama and meditation on the beach as the sun rises. It’s chilly so we bundle up, gather towels to sit on and blankets to wrap ourselves in. The tide is making its way in and at this particular location that means there will be no beach on which to sit in less than an hour so we perch on the ridge of the sand dune and wait. The sky is already light and beginning to blush as the sun still hides behind the horizon. The full moon is directly behind us slowly descending against a gradient sky of pastels. Suddenly a man with fishing gear is standing beside us with a huge smile on this face. He says a hearty “good morning” and makes his way down to the water’s edge to set up his poles. Not long after, another happy soul appears and emits a, “Wow! Good morning!” They must not get much company in the wee hours.

Their mood is infectious. We learn later, when we ask one of them to take our photo, that they are here on vacation from Portugal.

The sun rises behind the Florida mountains, rimming the tops of the clouds in a shimmering neon orange. It is full minutes before it seems to move at all. We’ve forgotten pranayama, mostly,  but we do chant a quiet Gayatri Mantra and an attempt is made to do an open eye meditation. But mostly we’re struck silent by the magnificence before us: this trivial thing we take for granted will happen on a daily basis.

Once the spell is broken and the sun too bright to gaze into, we do some random yoga poses. It turns into more of Simon Says play time, with each of us guiding one pose. Then Dr. Jain’s wife, Michelle, who is a yoga teacher and yoga nidra facilitator (among her many talents) asks if we’d like to do some laughter yoga. She’s certified in that as well.

We’re a bit tentative, too refined for such silliness, then she lets out this huge belly laugh totally unexpectedly and we fall apart. It might be my new favorite yoga.

Laughter is indeed the best medicine.

Back at the house we begin to mentally prepare for our personal schedules. My meeting with the doctor is early today and our goal is to discuss my daily routine. (Finally! Over 40 years of journals have been filled with this ridiculous notion of scheduling my day or at least my morning. Mostly it ends up with me needing to get up at 3 A.M. and be done with my whole day somewhere around 11 A.M.) I have some ideas of my own so we’ll see what comes up.

I show up armed with the daily routine for a pitta, some notes from a friend who is in a training for just this – creating healthy habits based on Ayurvedic principles – and the usual suspects I believe I need to complete in the morning in order to feel prepared and productive.

He tosses the pitta routine aside, apparently my secondary dosha, Kapha is what needs addressing at this time, and he scrutinizes my various lists placing check marks, numbers and other notations beside items. Overall his recommendations seem doable and at this moment I am committed and ready to take my time and my life back. Here’s the abbrieviated list:

  • Rise before the sun
  • Tongue scraping – clearing the sleeping muck (or ama – toxins – that collect on the tongue overnight)
  • Oil pulling – a blend of sesame oil with a touch of peppermint oil swished around the mouth, pulled through the teeth and gargled
  • Drink a cup of hot water
  • Pranayama – specific breath work to clean out the cobwebs of the nasal passages and sleepy brain
  • Meditation – maybe 10-20 minutes to start
  • Yoga – whatever I want to do

Beyond that, he has no opinion of the morning routine. I still think I can cram in journaling, reading and writing, which may put me back at 3 AM, but we’ll see. Also not sure where walking or the gym will come in. But I like the beginnings of this, it feels like something I can implement while I’m here and continue once I’m home.

I skip lunch so I don’t react during my treatments. It’s a good plan and I am glad I did. So many things are better on an empty stomach. If only I could remember that more often.

The treatments hold no surprises today. I am able to relax through them. Tomorrow is Big B day. THAT may have some surprises.

Evening session after dinner brought a cooking class with a sidebar of Dr. Jain’s personal story and entry into Ayurveda. It was far more entertaining than the cooking lesson. Like most people who make huge lifestyle changes, he was struck with a personal issue that seemed devastating at the time.

He calls it the first crack in the ego foundation. This crack is  necessary and the impetus for change.

As chief of staff and general surgery at a hospital, at the prime of his life and career, he developed an auto-immune muscle disease. He was told he should take a year sabbatical and rest. There’s a lot in between, but the bottom line is, it led him to Ayurveda and he credits Ayurveda for healing him completely of the disease.

For me, it’s the personal stories that have the most impact and his was profound.

I head up to bed with the sense that I am exactly where I am supposed to be in this moment. I open the window to hear the ocean and try not to think about Big B.

Sunrise, Sunset

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Day Three

I awake with a constant questioning of my existence here. I know this is productive and all good things are coming, but it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done. My feeble mantra every time I’m accosted by a therapist is “thank you, this is good for me”.

Our days begin with pranayama, meditation and yoga. Today we made it through the first two then three of us had the sudden urge to… I know what you’re thinking, but no… go watch the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. I live here, in Florida, less than hour from the beach but my friends live in LaLaLand and perhaps have not seen a sunrise that was not produced on a green screen. So, we trotted to the shore and took selfies with the rising sun. It was magnificent and awe-inspiring as always and I think to myself, “If I could wake up to this view every morning I’d be a better person.” Maybe.

Today’s treatments are similar to Day one. I can manage this. Even the steam. I really don’t want to be THAT person, you know, the one telling everyone how to do their job better to suit my needs? But I have learned that expressing my concerns gets me either an explanation of why they are trying to melt my skin off or an adjustment to alleviate my concerns, and the heat, sometimes both. I have also learned that I can refuse treatment any time I want. There is some comfort in this I guess, but I think many years ago a tiny little directive snuck up on me, that whispered, “Just go with it, see where it leads.” And so mostly I try to lean into new experiences. But it has been helpful to both lean in and find my edges and my voice.

After treatments, my afternoon stretches out before me. I have three hours before my consultation with the doctor. I have a list of questions and recommendations. This is because I am a pitta I am told; one of the Ayurvedic constitutions known as doshas. All you need to know is that pitta’s know everything, they’re always right, and they have the best ideas.

I contemplate a shower, but we are told leaving the oil on our hair and skin as long as possible is beneficial. I feel like a giant piece of walking fly paper, but I wander around the big house anyway careful not to get too close to things that will adhere themselves to me. I find no one in the kitchen so I grab my laptop to write about not only this experience but a few memoir type chapter starters. One of my hopes coming here was to find the time and desire to write again. Although all the books I’ve read on writing (Is that ridiculous? Reading books on writing?) insist one must not wait for inspiration but instead put oneself in the path of inspiration. This is my attempt.

Time to meet with the doctor. Now, this is no ordinary MD, Dr. Jain was a surgeon in his previous life (well, this lifetime, not his previous incarnation – it can all get dicey with all the Indian and yoga stuff) and a couple of decades ago started studying Ayurveda, so he is now still an MD and an Ayurvedic physician. East meets west. It’s a lovely thing. We chat a little about bodily functions – which is becoming surprisingly comfortable now (sorry, not sorry) – and then we start talking about stress. There has been a bit of stress in my life lately – like every day for 365+ days – so this is the probable cause of most of my issues.

We chat about control and letting go of trying to control what others do and don’t do. We talk about yoga, meditation and deep breathing practices. And we talk a little about food, but mostly it is a counseling session and I immerse myself in what he is telling me. And much of what he is telling me is a reiteration of what some of my closest friends have also suggested. I am now just ready to hear it fully.

It feels like balm to my rattled brain, salve to my struggling soul, someone asking about and listening to my “problems” with concern, compassion and no judgment. This is what medicine should be.

The healing is in the listening.

Buoyed by my counseling session I head to the kitchen to find dinner and company. The topic of conversation: the super blood full moon. Tonight. And we want to watch it rise over the ocean. We are staying right across from the beach so this isn’t a big deal, but there is no direct beach access so we plan to drive ½ a mile up the road to find our dune.

The beach here has been hit hard by hurricanes the past few years. Repairs to the wooden steps leading down to the beach were damaged a couple of years ago, and only about half of them were repaired. Then another hurricane barreled through last fall undoing everything. Right where we are a giant slab of concrete has been upended and looks like it could fall at any moment. A sea wall perhaps? We stay high on the only beach access here, a dune divoted by the passage of many feet.

We sit patiently, maybe a little concerned that we got the time or location wrong. But there were a couple of people already here that seemed to have the same schedule and a few more showed up, so we relaxed and gazed out to sea. There was a bank of clouds on the horizon – Florida mountains, I like to call them – that the moon would have to rise above. Which she did, slowly and elegantly. It was beautiful. We are held still and silent.

There is a call to presence when experiencing nature’s power.

Back to the house for lecture number 4 on Ayurveda. Tonight we chat about prana in food. Prana is the Sanskrit word for life force or energy, as in pranayama – breath control, or literally life force cessation, suspending the breath. All living things contain prana, it is what animates us. When we eat a live plant we are getting prana, when we eat fruit just picked from the tree: prana. When we eat an egg, a steak or drink a glass of milk? No prana. There are still nutrients, protein, fat, etc. in animal products, and we are not discouraged from eating them, but they contain little to no prana. When you start to look at food as energy (and actually many countries use Energy Units rather than calories on their food labels) you may make different choices. I know I will.

As I prepare for bed I have the sweet realization that we began the day with the rising sun and put it to bed with the rising moon. Goodnight moon.

D-Day

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Day Two

We were warned yesterday that today we would all receive something to take – either pills or a liquid – that will cause something they like to call “controlled diarrhea”. Have you stopped reading yet? None of us is excited about this prospect especially when some of us have to take our medicine just before our treatments – the massages and sandings. The pills are tasteless and I am not worried and I swallow them 10 minutes before my massage.

I march up to the treatment room prepared for a repeat of the day before. Today will be gentler I am told. There will be no sanding – actually called udvartana or something sounding like it came out of the fabric lips of the Swedish Chef on Sesame Street, and it’s done with silk gloves, that’s it, no sand paper – and no basti. Just the massage and steam. Oh, and the eye drops and nose dealios. It sounds manageable.

But something happens to me when I lie down. There is an acidic surge from my stomach to my throat, a sourness, that I try to maintain and ignore. Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be? I manage to make my way through the massage on both sides, albeit uncomfortably. As they lowered Steamy Wonder over my slick body, I took a breath and tried to suck it up. But the steam apparently cooked whatever was already brewing inside and I had to cut my session about 10 minutes short. They managed to muddy my eyes with ghee and have me snort some oil, but that was it.

As I sat up, the therapist handed me a glass of water and I could barely swallow the first sip. Not a good sign.

I went to my room to use the bathroom (by now you know what you’ve gotten yourself into) and vomited my entire breakfast. Both bowls of some sort of spiced rice mush with broccoli. Fortunately, the broccoli did not make a second appearance. And actually I felt much better after the purge.

I never throw up. I will do whatever I can not to vomit. Ok, well, there have been a few times when the wine was flowing freely and I may have been over-served, but this elimination was so much cleaner. There was no shaking with cold sweats. There were no promises to any entity with the power to make this go away as I pressed the side of my tortured head to the coolness of the porcelain. It was more of a quick assessment and realization that that just happened and now we’re moving on.

Then there was the other end.

[A note of caution: When you’ve been soaked by a gallon of oil head to toe, take care when taking a seat on a slippery surface like porcelain.]

Again, I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that it was more annoying than anything. I would start to read a sentence or two in a book and be interrupted again by the goings on in my digestive tract. It went on for about two hours. For others it lasted over eight.

Four coconut waters, a couple of naps and an empty stomach later, I arrived back at the dinner table feeling lighter. Mostly.

We’re bonded now, having gone through the same experience. We eat slowly and gaze up from our bowls of food on occasion to smile at one another. Quiet conversations start and fade out. No one asks how the other is doing, we simply assume our presence at the table indicates we have survived.

Tonight’s lecture topic is all about agni, digestive fire. I do not have enough, most of us probably don’t considering the way we eat and our stressful lifestyles. Ways to increase it?

  • Meditation
  • Pranayama
  • Sipping warm (or hot) water all day
  • Eating only warm food
  • Certain spices – these are specific to each individual dosha (constitution)

This doesn’t have to be forever, just until the body is back in balance. But there is so much benefit in continuing ALL of those practices, so why not? Oh, and here’s a revelation for our excessively-minded society:

Only eat when you’re hungry.

Wait, what? But, what about breakfast, the most important meal of the day? And lunch. I have to have lunch when it’s my time to go to lunch. And dinner, of course, that’s when we all get together and talk about our day (or sit in front of the TV mindlessly shoveling food into our waiting, bored mouths). What about 6 small meals a day?

Ayurveda may actually be the originator of intermittent fasting. Two meals a day is really all anyone needs. But we’ll explore all the food stuff later. It’s too good not to share all on its own.

But for now…

Hungry? Eat. Not hungry? Don’t eat.

 

 

Sanded, Slathered and Steamed

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Day One and a Half

It is Sunday and I have been gagging on melted medicated ghee for a week now. This is the day I head to the beach to the wellness center to begin my purge. I am ready. Not ready. I don’t have to be there until 5 PM and it only takes about an hour to get there so I decide to have late lunch before I go, around 3. I stop at Chipotle and choose the barbacoa bowl.

I’m gonna need to fortify with some good beef, I convince myself.

If I were a healthy, balanced person I would have chosen to eat mostly cooked vegetables and maybe a little rice at home, but I am neither, so my constant companion, Habit, takes me to lunch.

The drive is easy and when I arrive I am the last of the six of us who will be sharing the intimacies of our bodily functions and mental neuroses.

Two of my friends are here and they have brought along another friend who I adore immediately. The four of us will spend time together when we are not otherwise engaged.

The center is a big house originally built to be a bed and breakfast. It is on A1A, the main highway that runs along the east coast. We are on the mainland side. There is a row of houses between the road and the beach that prevents us direct access, but does not completely obstruct the view, refreshing scent of sea air or the lullaby of crashing waves. A short walk will take us to public access.

My room is on the second story in the front of the house. Each room is equipped with a queen or king bed, a variety of other furniture pieces and a private bath. That last part is going to be key.

Once settled, I head back down to the kitchen where we gather around the large oval hand-painted table. The theme of the house is American Tuscany, but in case the architectural pieces and iron railings don’t make that clear, there is a giant map of Italy on the kitchen wall.

Conversations are easy but brief, we learn a little about each other, form our opinions and eat the first pot of our healthy food. We have a cook, two I hear, that will be making us a pot of something healthy every day for every meal. All our food will be served warm, it’s part of the healing protocol.

After dinner we head to the living room for our first lecture. We learn about the three body constitutions and their attributes. I am familiar with most of what is being said, but I dutifully take notes in an attempt to remain awake and upright. He, the doctor, seems to realize we’re all a bit distracted and tired so he wraps up and we head up to our respective rooms. My friends from California sit at the kitchen table and chat with a couple from Texas. Their bodies are all still a few time differences behind.

It’s chilly for Florida, but I open the window anyway. I like the fresh air and I want to hear the ocean. I also turn on the ceiling fan, I like air moving. Sleep comes pretty easily and each time I wake I rest back into the rhythm of mother ocean.

A good start.

I wake at 6:00 AM refreshed and ready to start this process.

After pranayama (breath work), meditation and yoga, we head to the kitchen for a breakfast of oatmeal and spiced fruit. The fruit is amazing.

My treatment isn’t scheduled until later so I walk down to the beach to drink in all those healing negative ions. There is no better reset for me.

After my walk, some journaling, a taste of boredom I have become unaccustomed to, and lunch, I head to the treatment room.

I am handed a blue paper sheet and asked to disrobe, sit on the table and cover my intimate parts with the sheet. A delicate knock later, two of the massage therapists approach me to begin treatment with a prayer, each of them holding one of my hands in both of theirs. After a shared om, one moves behind me to gently place her hands on my shoulders and the other places her fingertips on the top of my head and on my third eye. As the one in the front moves to place her warm, oiled hand over my heart, the one behind me does the same in the back. My heart is in their hands. Then I am guided to lay on my belly. This is where it gets good, the warm oil massage.

But wait, apparently I have to be sanded down first like a wooden board to receive stain.

I don’t know what they’re doing or why. But I go with it. I take it. They are moving in tandem, scrubbing up the sides of me, starting at my hip and ending at my ribcage. I am being planed. After I am polished and smooth, they begin the warm oil massage. Only it’s hot. It feels hot. Perhaps it is because I have been tenderized. Again, they are working in tandem. This is abhyanga, a specific massage done by two therapists working together. It is a lymphatic massage to help detoxify the body. Mostly gentle in nature, except for that first part. That was new. I am lulled into submission by their rhythm. Then they begin pressing on certain points in my appendages, marma points I am told and it’s all good, until they hook their thumbs into my airpits and wave at my shoulders. It tickles and it shocked me. I struggle not to giggle. This is serious business after all. This healing stuff.

They shift the cover from my legs up to my back slick and sticky with oil. They will now work on my legs. They separate my feet and tuck the sheet between my legs and I am suddenly struck with the visual of a sumo wrestler. It isn’t pretty.

As I lean into the ebb and flow of the massage again, I exhale and relax.

Time to flip. Now the front. I have become so seduced by the warm oil that I nearly rise off the table when they begin sanding the front of me. They are moving together on my sides again, only this skin feels a bit more tender. And it’s starting to get personal. They begin to do this arching thing from my rib cage up through the middle of “the girls” to my collar bone. Over and over again. When they take a break, I take a breath.

Warm oil on the front. Too hot again, but ultimately soothing. I am complacent once more.

When they are done with the massage, they lower this coffin-like tent over my body. Its name? Steamy Wonder. I soak in steam for a day or two it seems, I don’t like it, but they’ve devised clever ways to distract me. While laying on my back they put a few droppers of warm ghee into my eyes, sauteing my eyeballs with hot butter right in their sockets. Miraculously I can still see afterwards.  Then some sort of medicated oil I am to snort up my nose. It rests in the back of my throat and burns a hole to my spine, I am sure. just as I am about to fling the tent off me and run for the ocean, the facial massage begins. This is divine. I endure the steam as long as they are petting me.

Then the front is essentially done, but now it’s time to flip again, gotta roast the back, which somehow isn’t as uncomfortable. More padding back there perhaps.

Just when I think I am done, they guide me to assume a position to receive a medicated basti (think enema). The process is very brief. Not details. No real discomfort either.

But I do find myself wondering what I have signed up for?

Once I retrieve what’s left of my dignity I am shuffled to a chair in the hallway where I await an additional treatment. Shirodhara. This one I am looking forward to. A warm oil drip in the middle of the forehead for about 30 continuous minutes, followed by a head massage. I let go into that one.

My door is next to this particular treatment room so I don’t have far to stumble. I walk into the bathroom of my room uncertain what I should do with myself now. My hair is thick with oil, my body slick and there’s the possibility that something digestive could be happening at any minute. I am in limbo.

I decide to entertain myself with a book. Later there will be dinner and a short lecture on Ayurveda.

I’m still trying to figure things out, control them, fix them, but there is a softening around the edges, I am quicker to let go of the struggle. Perhaps the day’s events are beginning to do their work.

Impure

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It has been a week since I completed an 8-day detox. This was not a stay-at-home and mix some lemon and apple cider vinegar cleanse type of thing, this was a go to a place get lulled into relaxation by the beautiful surroundings then get beaten up by treatments kinda deal.

I may be a tad bit dramatic here.

What I did is called panchakarma. It is an Ayurvedic detoxification process. Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga – they kind of grew up together – which focuses on food, the physical body and its relationship to nature. Yoga, is the spiritual practice that is its companion.

You may be confused by that last sentence as yoga certainly seems like a physical exercise and in part it is, but that is just one small aspect of the philosophy. But we’ll get into that at another time.

Panchakarma translates to: pancha = five, karma = actions. There are five actions taken to help the body detoxify, but the actual detoxification is three weeks long (or forever). Here are the cliff notes:

Week One: The week before attending panchakarma I met with the doctor. Based on his assessment of my overall health he prescribed medicated ghee (an organic clarified butter with helpful herbs for my constitution), a powder to mix into hot water and drink before meals, and castor oil to drink at night. For 7 days.

Week Two: Go to the location of the panchakarma and receive the five actions, as well as; participate in breath work, meditation and yoga each morning; eat healthy balancing food provided throughout the day; and attend a lecture each evening.

The five actions in brief:

Abhyanga – a two-person lymphatic massage using a gallon of oil. Two people work on opposite sides of the body, in tandem, to help the lymph move through to carry toxins out of the body. There are other add-ons to the body work that I will share as they happen.

Swedana – Steaming out the impurities either through a canvas steamed dome that is lowered over the massage table or a steam box in which one sits with the head out.

Shirodhara – a continuous warm oil drip onto the third eye. You might see god, it’s that divine.

Vamana or Vierechana – Controlled Elimination. Depending on the individual’s constitution and level of impurities, they are administered herbs to either “gently” vomit or have “controlled” diarrhea.

Basti – enema. Do you want the name and number of this magical retreat yet? There are two types: a 2 ounce oleating enema that mostly gets absorbed into the colon, and the 12-ounce bag (think IV size) that is filled with a personalized prescription of oils and herbs. The results of this one are markedly different from the 2-ounce as you’ve likely already surmised.

Rakta Mokshana – Blood letting. Like leeches. We did not do this one. Apparently the FDA has rules about the health of leeches so we missed out.

Ok, I know that’s six and there are also nasya – medicated oil up the nose, and netra tarpin – eye drops. Just know we got the full package, plus some extras, minus the leeches.

Week Three: During week two diet and lifestyle practices have been discussed and then prescribed for home. In addition, some herbs or supplements may be recommended. And in all honesty, this third week is really a suggested way to continue eating and living for the next three months. Or forever. I am doing the vegan thing until May. At least. To the best of my ability. [Please note: chocolate, wine and coffee are all vegan.]

By now you may be wondering, Why? Why would you do this and why are you sharing this masochistic torture with me?

Because the results are amazing.

It is a complete reset. When I showed up at the center’s front door, I was stressed beyond my capacity to deal with it in a healthy manner, instead I was on the fuck it diet – eating whatever I wanted – and drinking way too much wine. I let go of all my helpful practices and even gave up riding my beloved bike, Ruby Blue. I was just too busy being overwhelmed and important to take care of myself. I was on auto-destruct but powering through.

I had to disrupt all my habits.

I had committed to the panchakarma six months before going. A couple of friends from California were going to do it and invited me join, so I say yes. One of my best yesses, I’d say.

The first few days of panchakarma I was still stuck in my head, anxious without an impossible list of tasks to complete, but by mid-week I had relaxed into the rhythm and surrendered to the schedule. I could feel the stress turning to vapor and leaving my body (it left in other ways too, but I don’t want to spoil it), I could feel my mind beginning to clear and my muscles and righteousness beginning to relax.

By the time I left, I had a clarity and focus I have not had in years. My body felt lighter and more open. I could breathe fully and smile easily. My skin was glowing.

Why would I want to give that up? Why would I ever want to go back to the old uptight pressure cooker I was? I wouldn’t. I don’t. I am doing all I can to maintain my peace and continue to heal body and mind.

What will follow the next few days is my day-by-day account of what I went through. It’s written in real time, as I was experiencing it, so it has all the snark that comes along with a sarcastic, stressed, overweight, toxic, middle-aged woman being asked to get naked so her body can be sanded, slathered and sweated for her own good.

Regardless of what that crazy bitch has to say, this clearer, calmer version of her, highly recommends the process and the amazing therapists and doctor of the Mind Body Wellness Center in Flagler Beach, Florida.