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.