Welcome to my India blog! I am on the trip of a life time to the Motherland. I have been practicing yoga for 10 years and Ayurveda for 3 years. A decade of preparation and a year of planning has brought me to this point in my life. This is my first trip overseas and I'm very excited for this 3 week adventure. For those of you who are interested, this is my journey...
Nikki Estes's India Blog
Friday March 15, 2013
I arrived in India after 20 hours of being on a plane traveling from Chicago to Paris and then to Bengalore. The flights went fairly smoothly except for a 2 hour delay in France. I traveled with 4 other companions: Jamie from Milwaukee, Julie and Mario from Chicago and Suzanne from Minnesota. Jamie from Milwaukee and David from Chicago met us in Bangalore. Dona and Laura from Alaska would be meeting us in Coimbatore.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Arriving in Coimbatore
After a relatively short flight, maybe one hour or so, we landed in Coimbatore. This much smaller city is is south of Bangalore. We arrived early in the morning in a very small airport. Again, lots of military everywhere. Our drivers met us outside of the airport to take us to Vaidyagam where we would be staying. It was nice to smell fresh air and to see India in the daytime. I soon realized it would be very hot and humid, quite the shock coming from the cold Wisconsin winter. All the women here are dressed in beautiful traditional outfits, sarees and the like. Clothing is very colorful and their hair is long, beautiful and usually in one braid down their back. Lots of women wear flowers in their hair. Men are dressed more ordinary and similar to western men. The smells and busyness of the city were intense.
Viadyagram is about an hour outside of the city. This is a very rural area with major poverty. On our way there we saw many people living in shanties off of the road. Cows, goats and dogs roam the streets freely. The traffic is CRAZY and nothing like anything I've ever experienced before. There seems to be no real traffic laws. Cars and motorcycles (of which there are many) drive on the opposite side of the street than how we drive in the US but people pretty much drive where they want to. I felt like we were playing chicken with the cars coming towards us all the time. I tried not to be nervous as I took in all the sites and sounds of this strange new place. So many people are everywhere. Many families all fit on one motorcycle and weave in and out of traffic. I did not see ONE person in that whole hour drive that was not Indian. No westerners of any kind. To be blonde and caucasian was not something to be seen anywhere. I hadn't felt this much of a minority since I went to Jamaica several years ago. Strangely enough this didn't make me uncomfortable. We stopped along the way to a stand where we bought fresh coconuts which were cut so a straw could fit and we were able to drink the water inside. It is amazing to have a fresh coconut that way. We had them cut it open to eat the white flesh inside. Yum! Coconut water has many health benefits and is cooling to the body. We all really needed that.
After driving down a long, clay dirt road we finally arrived at Vaidyagrama. This place is an Ayurvedic hospital where people come for traditional Indian holistic healing. This practice is the oldest form of medicine in the world and I get to learn from the source in the motherland. Currently there are 25 patients staying here from around the world. They come here for weeks to months to receive panchakarma. This is a practice of deep detoxing to help heal the mind, body and spirit from with in. People here receive special herbs, diet and body therapies for their specific imbalances. Lifestyle is included in treatment. There are no radios, tv, limited electricity and amenities. Prayer, chanting, pranayama (breathing practices) and meditation are part of daily life here. My group and I will be here for two weeks to learn from Dr. Ramadas, an Ayurvedic doctor, who has been practicing traditionally for over 25 years. He and his staff happily greeted us when we arrived and helped with our bags to our rooms where we would be staying. Each pod consists of four rooms with a common area and treatment rooms. We were to stay like the patients there. Julie from Chicago and I are roomies for the duration of our stay. I would soon appreciate that shorty as she was the one who brought toilet paper.:)
Our rooms are simple and clean. We have a porch, a bedroom with two twin beds, an eating area and a bathroom. I was happy to see we have a western toilet, and a shower head coming off the wall with a sink, etc. I realized right away we have no toilet paper (see my thanks to Julie above) and a bidet type of hose in place of it. Our towels are like cheese cloth material and there is no soap. It was then when I first started my mantra, "Let go of expectations and embrace what's in front of you." I took it all in as I we were shown around the many acres of land. Outside of the pods, there is a main community room where group activities are held, our class room and Dr. Ramdas's office. There are many places the staff goes but I have yet to see the kitchen or other areas. The walk ways are all covered to provide much needed shade. I felt the healing energy as well as the serenity here from the start. Everyone here is lovely and very friendly. Much of the staff can speak some English and are eager to be helpful although not always clear with answers. I soon realized there would be a learning curve of how things work on a daily basis.
I was feeling weary from our long travels as welcomed our first meal. We will be eating the detoxing diet that the patients receive here. Completely vegetarian with lentils, grains and cooked vegetables. The only fruit served here are steamed bananas (delicious), mangos and pomegranates. Other than the last foods mentioned, all foods are cooked to help promote good digestion. Lunch is the largest meal of the day of which I was happy to receive.
We were able to rest and luckily I received my first body Ayurvedic body treatment, an abhyanga. This is a special massage that incorporates lots of hot, herbalized oil stroked and swiped over the body in a particular pattern to promote grounding, circulation and specific healing to the individual. My digestion was not right due to all the traveling so I knew this would be helpful.
Modesty is not something practiced here. I was basically naked except for a small strip of material (loin cloth) as a small indian woman performed the treatment. I am modest so again my mantra kicked in, "Embrace and be open to what's in front of you." After a short time I got over my vulnerability of being so exposed, relaxed and enjoyed the treatment. I was so relaxed afterwards that I could barely stay awake. With in an hour my elimination system was beginning to get back on track.
I finished the afternoon with something that is called satsang. This is question and answer time with the guru about the practices of Ayurveda. Students and patients are welcome to join. Afterwards, I rested until dinner. Dinner is our smallest meal of the day. This was fine as I could barely eat from being so hot. Patients and hence us, are encouraged to be in a natural environment with no artificial air to encourage healing, promote good respiration and better skin. Again, something I'm working on embracing. I was ready for bed soon after as I had not had a nights rest since I left America on Thursday. Sleep was heavy and peaceful.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Morning prayers and meditation in Sanskrit
I awoke early at about 5 a.m. before the sun. Internet is available only by the group hall and is intermittent due to the power that is turned off several times a day to conserve electricity. The whole place is run on generators. We need to log how much we use the electricity and internet and will pay at the end for this usage, I went to the hall to try to make contact with the outside world. Afterwards, I went to morning prayers. This practice is at 6:15 a.m. and lasts for about 45 minutes. One of the four Dr.'s leads the prayers and and chants entirely in Sanskrit as we sit in meditation. Although I understood nothing and recognized only a small portion of the prayer, it was so powerful for me. I released several tears and am unsure why.
Afterwards, we practiced Nadi Shodana or alternate nostril breathing, a form of pranayama, to balance the left and right brain and open the nasal passages. I felt so invigorated afterwards. Then Dr. Ramadas put special markings on our third eye and upper heart center at the base of the throat which I wore all day called a bindhi. This is made of sandal paste and turmeric which is very cooling. Breakfast was served which was a porridge and quite tasty. The group decided to go to town for the morning before our classes started (except the two in the group who were there for panchakarma treatments who cannot leave) to buy supplies and traditional clothing, meaning cooler clothing to start our stay here. We need to observe the culture by wearing long pants or full skirts and have our shoulders covered at all times. We also wear scaves as a sign of respect.
Our driver didn't speak English so we had a hard time communicating where we wanted to go. We were looking to go a local market area to buy local products but he ended up taking us to a mall in Coimbatore instead. The mall was called Brookfield Mall which is ironically the name of the same mall I shop at in my home town in America. We were a bit disappointed to see how "Americanized" it was. There were places there like McDonalds, KFC and Nike. We did find a big store that sold traditional Indian wear. Most of us left with lots of things. Me, being the shopper that I am, left with 5 outfits and 3 scarves totaling $99 or 5,400 rupees. At home I would spend that on a pair of jeans. We were also able to get liter bottles of water for 25 rupees or 45 cents. The mall was huge and had 4 levels. The people there were at higher financial level than most of the people we would see in the streets and villages. All the Indian people were so helpful and nice. Again, in this crowded mall, we were the only non Indian people.
When it was time to leave our driver took us back through the busy streets streets of Coimbatore where people watching was fascinating and we were able to stop for some fresh watermelon from a street vendor. Not everyone was brave enough to eat street food as the water is unsafe to drink and everything is washed in it. I have been taking lots of herbs to boost my immune system and to help with parasites so I felt confident enough to try some and boy was it refreshing on a hot day.
We returned to Vaidyagram to eat lunch, our largest meal of the day so we were sure we didn't want to miss it. After lunch it was our first session with Dr. Ramadas.
Learning in Sanskrit and ancient prayers
Our classroom is on an outside porch. The temperature and the bugs made it somewhat of a challenge to concentrate but I was excited to start learning. Our text book is straight from ancient sanskrit texts and is still in the traditional language. Dr. Ramadas translates the material for us verbally in English. It is special although somewhat challenging to learn this way. Sanskit doesn't always completely translate in English. We are getting more information than we would from our Western texts as the Dr. understands things on a much deeper level. It was hard at first to always understand his thick accent. We were taught ancient prayers that are said to help to remove obstacles and open us up to the knowledge of the ancient sages. During class time in the afternoon we are served our snack of coconut water and steamed plantains, and banana-like fruit but sweeter.
After class we return to satsang. We have an hour with the community at Vaidyagram to ask the gurus questions about Ayurveda. It is great to learn but admittedly I have a hard time as it's the hottest time of the day and the room reminds me of a sweat lodge. Prayers follow for about an hour. We return to our rooms to shower and prepare for dinner. Dinner is much smaller which suits me well as I cannot eat when it's so hot and wasn't able to finish everything. Sleep was difficult as well but I know I'm still getting acclimated to the time change.
Monday, March 18, 2013
The day started at dawn with morning prayers, pranayama and yoga. I really enjoy the morning routine here. It has reinforced to me why it's so important to set the mind and body in the right place to start each day. So often we shut the alarm clock off and hit the floor running. Giving thanks, setting intention and putting the mind in a peaceful place is so important for good health in mind, body and spirit. Here it is also the coolest point in the day so I'm not distracted with discomfort.
Food, herbs and the six basic tastes of Ayurveda
Afterwards breakfast is served and we prepare for our first full day of studies. At 10:00 we meet Dr. Ramadas back at the class room as we start our studies. We first are going over basic concepts of Ayurveda and he offers us new insights on how things are understood. One line of sanskrit in the ancient text covers a whole chapter sometimes in Western texts. We are all facinated by this. I feel better now as I'm understanding more and feel able to keep up. We talk about why so many Western medications create deeper imbalance in the body. Even supplements and vitamins are not needed when proper foods and herbs are ingested incorporating all the six basic food tastes. This is a concept I'm already beginning to understand with my own patients but the perspectives he gives clarify things even more for me. He explains how medications and supplements make the body lazy and it doesn't know how to fix itself.
We get a nice long break in the middle of the day to eat and rest. I skipped satsang as I felt my body needed the rest instead. In the afternoon we have our first hands on session. We learn the complex ritual of abhyanga. This is the application of body oils. They do not see it as massage because it's again, more of an application. Having experienced this first hand, I can say it's even more blissful than a massage. Abhyanga improves elasticity in the skin, firms the muscles, slows the aging process and improves circulation. It also calms the mind and helps to promote better sleep for deeper rejuvenation. I'm looking forward to my next treatment that will be the following day. We practice on each other fully clothed which I was relieved about. I'm still working on the modesty thing.
Evening satsang and prayers follow class and then welcomed down time and dinner. Some of the girls and I hung out afterwards, discussed topics of life and Ayurveda, then showered and went to bed. Mosquitos are bad at night. Most of us have been bitten and malaria is a concern here so we try to be careful to not be outside much after dark which is 7:00 p.m. The bad thing is that's the loveliest time to be out temperature wise. It's in the 70's at night as opposed to hovering around 100 during the day.
Stray dogs and other animals are out when it's cooler too. I haven't seen many animals yet here other than dogs, cats, goats, cows birds and a huge spider. I was told there are a family of peacocks living here but haven't seen them yet but have heard them in morning prayer. I was told there are poisonous snakes too but thankfully I haven't seen them either.
As I reflect on this day I am reminded of how things are harder here in some ways, yet so much simpler. I have really become au natural. I haven't worn a stitch of make up or done my hair since arriving here at Vaidyagram. It's too hot for both. My hair has been completely pulled back everyday in a bun. It's the only option in the heat. I realize now how much time all of that takes each day. Maybe that's why I have time to enjoy our other morning rituals here.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
OM NAMAH SHIVAYA
The day started with prayers, chanting and pranayama once again. I am enjoying this morning ritual but notice that I like some of the leaders style more than others. Since I don't understand the sanskrit prayers I tune into other things like tone, speed and melody. Our morning prayers are meant to be more masculine and energizing, while evening prayer is meant to be feminine and calming. Like part of the prayer mantra called Maha Mritunjaya. The Dr. explained in satsang that this mantra is meant to remind us that our soul and body needs to be connected like the pumpkin to it's vine or we die. Spirituality is such a big part of the culture here. They express gratitude each day to God and the various deities for all they have and hope to attain. I love the Indian people and their ways. They have a satvic or pure quality as we say in Ayurveda. At the end of prayer we chant 108 times OM NAMAH SHIVAYA which is a mantra to remind of us the atman, or true self, and to be aligned with the nature of our soul. In other words, to thine own self be true.
The Dr. takes off on Tuesday as some consider it to be an auspicious day, like Sunday. We were only obligated to a cooking class in the afternoon so 5 of us decided to get a driver and go into the market place to shop. Once again we went through very rural areas and drove about 45 minutes to get to the main city near by. Being the only foreigners again we definitely got a few stares as we went through the shops. We also had sales people all over us where ever we went trying to show us things. The first store was like a department store similar to Filene's Basement in Chicago with 4 levels. David was finally able to find traditional men's clothing. The most interesting thing there was the the toilet which was a hole in the ground that you had to squat over. There is no toilet paper, paper towel, or hand dryers.
We shopped at several stores and were told to bargain. Bargaining didn't seem to work very well as most shops were not willing to come down in price or very little. I got great purchases for much cheaper than what we would pay in America....silk and cashmere scarfs and a beautiful sandalwood statue of Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. It is said if you chant the mantra, Om Shreem Mahalakshmei Namaha, you will prosper in all areas of your life. We had watermelon on the street corner and it was so refreshing. We are always leery of eating from street venders because of the water used to wash the food and utensils but it was too hot to turn it down. The temperature has been in the high 90's each day with 94% humidity!
The frenzy and heat from shopping made us all very hungry and we were excited to eat outside if Vaidyagram. Our driver took us to this great restaurant where there was a mix of Northern and Southern Indian food which can be very different. We had no idea what to order so we all got a sampler plate. There was so much food it was crazy, like a buffet on each plate. The whole meal cost 150 rupees or 3 dollars. We were all happy to get cold water and ice cream! (which are Ayurvedic no nos). We had to remember the left handed rule. You cannot eat with your left hand or use it at all at the table. Only the right hand is used for eating as the left hand is considered the wiping hand when you use the toilet. There is no toilet paper anywhere or soap for that matter so I can see why the rule is in place. I did finally get soap from the store at Vaidyagram and it is the best soap I've ever used. It has 15 herbs in it and of course all natural. Too bad I just figured it out though and had to wait 6 days to get it.
After our fabulous meal we headed back to our home and were finally able to on the way to get electrical converters to charge our phones for 60 rupees or a little over a dollar at a hardware store which essentially was a small shanti on the side of the road.
When we returned we had our first cooking class. They demonstrated how to make Upma which is a wonderful dish that I can't wait to make when I get home. The ingredients are coconut oil, mustard seeds, onions, curry leaves, cilantro, carrots, green beans, cracked wheat, rock salt, tomatoes. They made ocra, or bindi, as the side which was a great vegetable dish with added onion, salt, pepper, cilantro and curry leaves.
Afterwards I had my second abhyanga (oil application). I had hoped that this would help me sleep better and help my digestion as it is useful for both of these things to ground vata as we say in Ayurveda. Unfortunately it didn't. I sleep a maximum of 4 hours a night. I think it's a combination of travel, heat and a very hard bed. My digestion has been pretty off too. At any rate, the treatment was relaxing and very good for the skin and hair. Afterwards, I watched the sunset with David and Laura. We marveled at the sights and awe of this country and talked about how surreal it felt to be on the other side of the world. We laughed at how we were able to still get internet in this small village town even though it's slow and intermittent when we barely have electricity.
Around bedtime is when I try to catch up on journaling. Usually I don't get far before I fall asleep. The hard part is staying asleep. I go to bed between 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. and can be up for the day anywhere between 2 and 4 a.m.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Morning prayers were harder to sit through in the morning. I made through pranayama but left before final chnting. I enjoyed some meditative time of my own in this same spot I pick each day before the day begins. I can be a loner sometimes and enjoy time of my own when I can get it. Afterwards we had a lovely yoga practice taught by Heather honoring the new moon. It was just what my back needed. I realized that I was not experiencing knee pain like I was in the states for about a month before. I wasn't sure at the time if it was a vata (too much air and ether element in the body caused from an imbalance cold and dryness in the body) which was producing pain and stiffness in the joint, or if it was an inflammatory condition due to pitta (an imbalance of the fire element in the body caused from too much heat). Since heat is a huge factor here, it was clear to me that it wasn't inflammation because only cold can balance that. Heat would create more of a problem. The heat has improved my condition so it balanced the qualities of air and either - cold and dry. As in life, Ayurveda is about finding balance.
Class in the morning was a continuation of exploring the six tastes that exist in all food and should be a part of our diet each day. We talked about how the tastes carry into medicines and herbs and how they should be taken. I still struggle to understand much of the sanskrit but I keep up for the most part. An interesting thing happened during class.
A crow speaks
Our classroom is outside and there are big crow - like birds that hang around the grounds. One came to visit us and wouldn't stop "talking" to us. Dr. Ramadas explained they consider the birds as their ancestors. He says when ever the birds call out like that it means that there is a visitor arriving. We all laughed as we thought he was joking. With in a short time we had a family arrive to the clinic. A cute little girl and her parent came that appeared to have Muscular Dystrophy or something similar where she had a hard time walking. I assume they came to get help at the hospital. The birds sometimes seem to join in and sing during prayer which I noticed that day.
All animals that hang around here seem like they are part of the family at Vaidyagram. I had a cat that came to see me on my porch. I gave him some water and he slept on my porch bed for the morning. There are at least three cats here and they are litter mates. They are all about half the size of my cats just like the people are to us Americans. I hope they eat the snakes as I found out that there are several poisonous ones around here.
Meeting the local wildlife?
I've had two experiences here with insects that have been unsettling. The first one came in the afternoon this day when I had my second abhyanga treatment. After the oil application the technician bathes you in a paste and washes the oil of with water. During this experience a HUGE cockroach entered the bathroom that was about 2 1/2 inches long and 1 inch wide. This was the biggest one I've ever seen and could not relax until she was able to get it out of the bathroom. I said, "What do you call those here?" (There is an Indian or sanskrit name for everything here it seems.) She said, "A cockroach." I just laughed and said, "I guess it's the same in any language." :)
The second experience was the following evening when I was ready to take a shower in my room. A HUGE spider, again, bigger than any ones I've seen in Wisconsin, decided it wanted to hang with me. At Vaidyagram, they are very eco friendly and their whole philosophy is to work with the natural environment and to not kill anything, including insects as it is bad karma. It took me about 15 minutes, while not being clothed mind you, to try and get this guy out of the bathroom. I was doing laundry in a big bucket at the time and when I poured the water down the drain I actually drowned it. I had no idea if it was poisonous or not so I took a picture of it and found out luckily it is not.
Abhyanga and Shirodhara Treatment
In the afternoon of our second day of hands on training, we finished learning the technique of abhyanga and shirodhara. Shirodhara is an application of putting a constant stream of oil on the head (third eye) primarily for vata conditions where there is too much prana in the mind meaning, people suffering with insomnia, anxiety, fearfulness, stress and other restless mind issues. I was the guinea pig for this. In class, we are not literally doing all the applications, just simulating some them like this one.
Our next treatment we learned about is called a pinda treatment. The purpose of this treatment in panchakarma (deep detoxing treatments) is to open the channels of the body to release deep ama (toxins) in the body. Mario, one of the people in our group who is receiving panchakarma, is getting this treatment daily. The treatment is done with special herbs, neem oil and gram flour wrapped tightly in cloths called a bolus and then tapped or pulsed on the body after external oiliation (oil application). Mario says it's an intense treatment that makes him feel like his technicians are beating him up every day but his muscles are now soft and pliable after several days of treatment. He feels tired now and that is to be expected as the body is working hard to release deep imbedded toxins from his body.
Evening Satsang: The four stages of consciouness
During the evening satsang (asking questions of the gurus) we learned how every cell in the body has it's own karma. There are four stages: consciousness, birth, growth and death. Then the cycle begins again as it is said for all living things. We learn so many things here from the 4 doctors that treat patients. We can ask them anything we want and they always have answers. Doctors here go through 7 1/2 years of training. Most doctors have seen thousands of patients and have over twenty years of experience. Our education in America is so much more limited, only 2 1/2 years of training as I have had. There is a masters program being developed in some states but we are a far cry from what these doctors know. I realize the more I'm learning, the less I really know. I am certainly humbled by this experience. As the reflection book, "Inner Realities" given to us in our room says, "Learning is an on going journey. With every step I take, I discover how many more steps I need to take."
Prayers were lead my Dr. Ramadas in the evening. I love his chanting and devotion. It such a good way to end the day.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
this was a big day. My morning started at 5:00 a.m. with a special ceremony for Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. This has always been one of my favorite deities. You may know this figure as the one with the elephant head. The Hindu religion recognizes the one true god, or supreme being, as supreme consciousness that lives with in all of us with in the soul or true self. Several deities were created to recognize that the concept of God is so big and powerful that essentially this entity is broken down into several gods as so people could conceptualize the idea of God better.
A special Tamil priest was brought in to perform the ceremony. In the main hall they created a campfire in the center of the room and set up an altar with flowers, fruit, rice and other offerings for Ganesha. The priest and Dr. Ramadas performed the ceremony together with mostly the priest chanting. The puja was an 1 1/2 hours long with chanting the whole time, giving offerings, lighting incense and all of us gathering with an opportunity to put offerings in the fire...twigs, flowers, rice and herbs. It was very elaborate and pretty amazing. Afterwards we were rewarded with prasad on a plantain leaf (which are often used as plates). A prasad is a gracious gift, usually edible food, that is first offered to the deity and then distributed to his or her followers as a good sign. The prasad is then considered to have the deities' blessing residing with in it. This prasad was a very sweet granola type mix with fruit and jaggery. We all left with a bindi or mark in our head made with sandalwood paste and turmeric which is done after ceremonies and prayer.
Each morning class starts with prayers. We chant to Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, to help remove obstacles from our path, to remove ignorance and to show us the the light. We also pray in sanskrit, " I am saluting the guru who is pleasing to give knowledge. Please help me to receive knowledge directly from the soul."
Morning class concentrated to how the time day and time of year affects how we should eat and conduct our lifestyle. Further confirming to live with in the harmony of nature. Our digestive system and our mind are the foundation of all disease. Each day upon awakening we should ask, "How is my stomach doing?" Also, we should be eating 80% alkaline and 20% acidic foods.
After lunch they showed a movie in the main hall for everyone on "How to be happy". I took away three things to remember: Physical comfort is different than happiness, Happiness is not dependent on physical objects and happiness is our inner creation and can be created irregardless of external comforts.
Hands on Therapy
Afternoon class concentrated on more hands on therapy. We observed a treatment for the eyes called a Tarpana that's very healing for the eyes. In this treatment a dough dam is built around the eyes while lying on a table. Melted ghee (clarified butter that they make here straight from the cow) is poured over the eyes and the patient waits for 20 minutes while open and closing the eyes to wash the ghee into the eyes. David was our volunteer as he has vision problems. This treatment is very effective for several eye conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and other vision problems. After the treatment the patient needs to stay out of the sun and rest their eyes. David said afterwards he didn't have to use his glasses for reading.
We also took a walk around the grounds (25 acres) to see where all the herbs and plants grow that they use at Vaidyagram. We were able to taste some of the leaves straight from the trees or plants themselves that they use in cooking and use to make many of the herbal formulas.
In the evening we were treated to a special group feast in the main hall with music singing and dancing. Many talented people are here including Veegee, a very famous Indian dancer from Sri Lanka who performed for us. She is even currently writing an autobiography about her life and is now retired and currently teaches.
I had the opportunity afterwards to have a consult with the doctor to ask him about current issues from traveling and overall health issues. He prescribed me some jam like medicine for my digestion issues and offered me valuable insight on how help heal other conditions with diet, herbs, eating habits and lifestyle. He also showed me how a few symptoms I have are linked that would seem totally unrelated. Also my knee was diagnosed as having arthritis and is both pitta and vata creating pain and inflammation. I feel grateful for this information. The herbal medicine started working right away the next morning.
Friday, March 22, 2013
Abhyanga (oil application) Treatment
On this day I skipped morning prayers to have another abhyanga (oil application) treatment at 7:00 a.m. I find that each of the technicians do the treatments slightly different. This treatment was with Shyey, one of the technicians we work with in class.It was my best one to date and I was able to get the herbal oils they use on my head and body in extra bottles to use for the rest of the trip and to take home. I suspect the doctor told her some of my issues as she concentrated in certain areas more than others. My modesty is completely gone at this point because I even skipped the loin cloth with this treatment as it seemed pointless. Even though we are washed afterwards, the oils remain on the head all day long. I never thought I'd see the day where I'd walk around completely comfortable with no make up and completely greasy, wet hair. No one cares here and everybody is excepting of how anybody looks. It's quite refreshing.
Morning class continued with how me should eat, take herbs and conduct or lifestyle with the seasons. It's a little different here in India as their seasons are opposite and they also have a rainy season. So often, in the states we are not conscious of how to be in harmony with nature...eating cold foods when it's cold out, eating inflammatory foods when it's hot out, speeding up our pace when we should be slowing down, etc.
In the afternoon we saw an oil bath treatment performed called a seka. Warm oil is poured all over the patient continuously with two people and is used before the panchakarma process. This is not in the original texts and was developed by ancient physicians in Kerela. It is used mainly for vata ailments (too much air and ether in the body) and is especially good for arthritis, paralysis and where pain is the number one symptom such as lower back or hip pain. Three liters of oil is used for each patient which is a ton and I can't imagine how expensive this would be in the U.S. for all that oil. Here our treatments are like 20 - 30 dollars.
The second treatment we focused on was a nasya treatment. Jamie volunteered for this one. A combination of sesame oil and 16 herbs is poured in the nose after a steam treatment to bring kapha (mucous, a combination of earth and water) out of the tissues. A form of this is a daily routine that we as practitioners prescribe for our patients but just a few drops are put in the nose daily. This really helps to rejuvenate the nasal passages and to help with nasal issues.
Finally, we did another treatment for Heather who was having a headache. a special paste was made with herbs, gram flour, camphor and a little oil and then put on her forehead and then was wrapped in a cloth on left on for a half hour. We all jokes that she looked like the karate kid walking around but she found it to be very effective and cooling. This treatment works well for pitta (too much fire in the body). After our afternoon snack of pomegranate seeds and coconut water we went to the cow puja.
After our afternoon snack of pomegranate seeds and coconut water we went to the cow puja. The cow puja is a ceremony they do every Friday here at Vaidyagrama to honor the cow. Cows are sacred here in India. At McDonalds's you won't find a hamburger made with beef but rather with lamb. Dr. Ramadas said, "Cows are like coconut trees, they keep giving. Cows give milk to make ghee, buttermilk, anupanas (carriers) for medicines, their urine is used as an antiseptic and cow done is used for fuel and fires. Coconut trees are used for water, milk, and food while the shells are used to make rope, bedding and used for mulch.
At the puja we all received bindis (special markings on the third eye) including the cow. She also received them on her back and feet. The was adorned with flowers and a prayer was said. We all walked around the cow three times and then fed her some plants. Afterwards the best part came where we got to eat the prasad (reward offering) that was a grain mixed with jaggery (a natural sugar).The cow seemed happy. They are treated well here.
They day was finished with satsang (questions and answers with a guru), prayers and dinner. Most of us like to hang out the the group hall and get on the internet in the evening before the mosquitos get too bad. All of us are bit from head to toe. This is always the coolest time of the day which we all appreciate . I wonder what the Indian people think of us with our noses buried in the computer. I don't think they understand our addiction and feel we should be focused on inner healing rather than the outside world. There is a lot of truth in that.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
Morning devotion was followed by a great yoga class taught by David from our group. We have 5 yoga teachers with us and we all pretty much have decided to share in the morning teaching. I love to see the different styles and so far David's class is closest to my vinyasa style of teaching. The exception is the beautiful mantras he sings which has inspired me to do more of my own. I had a great work out and felt revived after a turbulent night of sleep. Each day seems to a better adjustment to the time change but between the heat and hard coconut shell bed, toss and turn much of the night. The generators seem to shut down in the early morning which means the fans stop working. This will wake me up because of the lack of air flow. As much as I love Vaidyagrama, I look forward to when we move on to the beach.
Ayurvedic Daily Routines
In class this morning we discussed the daily routines one should do as well as spiritual routines. Lifestyle is part of Ayurveda much like yoga for those who are deep into their practice. Our lifestyle can create harmony or great imbalance in the body, mind and spirit. Some daily routines include: waking before the sun (depending on your dosha), eliminate the bowels, brush teeth and clean the tongue, cleanse the eyes, oil the nose, ears and body, exercise, shower, mediate, pranayama (breathing exercises) and eat breakfast.
Spiritual practices should include: avoid sinful actions, lend help to the poor, be kind to animals, be emotionally stable, have your focus be on the action and not be attached to the result, always talk in a pleasing manner, your actions should not harm others, don't gossip, don't abuse the body, be focuses when you work, don't eat closer than three hours before bedtime, practice the barter system, avoid addiction to alcohol and other drugs, don't over exercise, be compassionate and have selfless devotion to the cause of others. This is a lot to live up to but even though the text was written thousands of years ago, all holds true today.
We were able to have a Jyotish reading done during the day. In the Vedic studies (the oldest studies in the world), there are three categories: yoga, ayurveda and Jyotish. Jyotish is a form of astrology but much different from Western astrology and way more complicated. Few people are skilled at it as it takes many years of knowledge and practice. It's much more accurate and detailed than the western version. The jyotish reader works with your date and time of birth and where you were were born to figure out your chart. It works with the positions of the planets rather than the constellations at the time of one's birth. I've had a reading done before with someone well known from Chicago and he was quite accurate. They work by first reading what has already happened to you, then what's happening know and what can be seen in the future. We are told that while we may have a certain fate, there is always free will to change our course. This knowledge gives us power to make choices that will help us or harm us depending on what we do. It is not like fortune telling and actually works completely with mathematical equations.
Needless to say, after my reading, I was not feeling the best. Among many things, I was told that Saturn has entered my chart for 17 years. Saturn can cause a lot of trouble for someone and is sometimes though of as the planet of doom. Few people have Saturn in their chart for this long. I have begun to study the planet though a book I downloaded and I am finding out, with the right knowledge, tools and actions, Saturn will teach valuable lessons and encourage transformation and growth in one's life. Saturn can help or harm you depending on what you do. I also was told I know my soulmate but it is not our time just yet and no new relationships should be started at this time. After discussing others readings, everyone said he was very accurate on what he picked up from their past. It's totally amazing. He just does equations on a piece of paper. In the states they usually have to use a computer program to figure things out.
In the afternoon, we witnessed more hands on training. We saw a Tamlam performed which is often used for psychosis. A herbal paste is made with amla (Indian gooseberries) that we picked the day before that had been soaked overnight in fresh buttermilk, then rolled out into a paste and is put on the crown chakra on the top of the head. A hole is put in the center and herbalized oil is poured in, then wrapped in a banana leaf and kept on for 30 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. This treatment takes much times and preparation for one patient. The treatment is done for several days in a row.
We also practiced a treatment called Duhma Pama. Herbs are made into a paste rolled up and in a paper and inhaled through the nose and blown our through the mouth. This is good for sinus problems. Most of tried it and it was quite intense.
Later in the afternoon we taught how to make a decoction. Most of the herbal medicines taken internally here by the patients are given this way rather than in capsule or churna (powdered herbs added to water, milk or aloe juice) form like we make in the states. They feel it is much more effective as larger amounts are given per dose. It is made by adding 1 part herbs to 16 parts water, cooked for 15 - 20 minutes to reude to 1/4 of the original amount. This can be made and used for 24 hours. It's more of a process but is said to cause less dryness in the body.
For the last part of the day before prayers, a power point presentation was shown about the main organization, Purnanava, the main company that runs Vaidyagrama. Their mission with this healing village, that started 4 years ago, is "Reuse, Restore, Recycle." Also along with, "Live simple, live well, live happy, live healthy,"
Vaidyagrama's goals are:
Build a self-sustaining community to increase harmony with the environment and all life forms.
To nuture transformation through healing, personal growth and spiritual practice.
To foster an environment of compassion, patience, integrity,responsibility, love and joy.
Creative expression through music, dance, art, poetry and other art forms.
To reach out to the greater community by sharing and exchanging ideas and knowledge.
Vaidyagrama's currrent projects:
Ayurveda medical care.
Free camps educating locals about plants and herbs.
Water conservation with raised bed technology in agriculture.
Natural farming using mulching.
Growing not like a garden but more like a forrest.
Worms used for soil, bio engineering.
Only organic pesticides used such as tobacco and pepper.
Kitchen and toilet waste used to make bio gas.
Green drive planting trees. All patients and students plant trees before they leave. So far they've planted over 3,000 trees.
Paper making, bee keeping, pottery making.
Candle making from recycled oil.
Hand made soap making.
Compressed stabilized earth block to make all blocks for their buildings.
Education in surrounding villages.
Community house building. Mud houses made for the poor.
Future projects for Vaidyagrama:
Solar lighting and biogas generation from human waste.
Waste to make fuel and electricity.
Leasing of land to encourage self-reliant farming and non use of pesticides in farming.
Building a senior citizen home.
Empowering women with self help groups.
Training and employment of villagers in each of their projects.
Homes for out or state volunteers.
Ayurveda college to create Ayurveda experts
Eco-friendly manufacturing of Ayurvedic medicines.
For more information and donations: