With Theresa taking a course in Ayurvedic medicine, it was only natural that we should experience this ancient healing art for ourselves. We were the perfect subjects, with a few minor ailments and a willingness to try natural therapies. Violet had a minor rash on her bum that had been plaguing her since Australia, I had the eczema that I was sure had been caused by semi-toxic living conditions in Thailand, and Theresa and Violet were both suffering from… well let’s just say that it’s pretty common for most travelers in India to have problems with their digestive system.
The first task for an Ayurvedic doctor is to determine your body constitution. In Ayurveda, there are three main body types, with most people being a combination of two, usually one for mind, and one for body. Those with a Vata constitution are usually irregular in physique, change easily, and are prone to circulation or joint problems. The primary elements composing this type are air and space.
The second type (or ‘Dosha’) is Pitta. Pittas are made of fire and water, and tend to be of average physique, with a sharp mind, a fiery temper, and a strong appetite. They also like organization, and tend to have problems with their digestion or skin. (The ‘digestive fire’ is ruled by pitta.)
Last is Kapha, the hardiest of the doshas. Kaphas are made of Earth and water, and tend to be large, heavy, and slow (although not stupid.) They are often lazy, and are prone to being overweight.
Patterns of disease often follow from an excess of decrease in one particular dosha. According to Ayurveda, we start out our life with a certain ratio of dosha that never changes, and is considered to be in balance, i.e. I am 45% Kapha, 40% Pitta, and 15% Vata. External conditions can throw this balance off, which is the cause for disease.
In my case, my Pitta had increased, from living in hot climate and eating spicy foods, so I was manifesting skin problems. On top of that, I was experiencing hyper-acidity, another common Pitta problem. The obvious solution was to reduce things that increased Pitta (like spicy foods and alcohol) and to increase my Kapha and Vata. Generally speaking, I’m not too excited about increasing my Kapha (which often leads to weight gain), but simple things like eating cooling foods like cucumber and lettuces will go a long way for me.
Violet is almost a dictionary definition of Pitta, a balance of the traits of both Theresa and I. Fiery, strong willed, stubborn, overly organized, it’s enough to make us want to live in Antarctica! When balanced, Pittas are probably the strongest dosha, but are easily thrown off. Cyrus is an interesting mix of Kapha and Vata, which can be difficult to balance, as the treatments for imbalances of each are opposite. It also makes for some interesting personality traits. Theresa is a nice balance of Pitta and Vata, which makes her free spirited but focused, always a nice combination.
Theresa and Violet had picked up an intestinal bug of some sort along the way to Goa, and through a course of natural treatment, they were all cleaned up within a couple of weeks. Not as quick as Cipro, but still effective, and free of side effects. As for me, they decided to perform a treatment known as Virechan, part of Pancha-Karma (the five therapies of detoxification.)
The first part of the treatment was simple enough. I had to consume an increasing quantity of medicated Ghee every morning for five days. Ghee is a form of clarified butter that is considered to be a wonder-medicine in India. It is known to permeate the body and bind itself to any toxins, so that when flushed, will carry the toxins with it. It is also remarkable in that it will take on the properties of any substance it is prepared with, i.e. an herbal remedy, while retaining its original characteristics.
In my case, the Ghee was fortified with herbs designed (in my opinion) to give the maximum amount of revulsion and gag, or at least, as I was told, provide the most effective cleansing. The first day wasn’t so bad, slugging back 30 ml of bitter, clarified butter. 60 ml on the second day was tolerable. 90 ml on the third day and I was having second thoughts. 120 ml on day four was close to my limit. By this time, I was starting to smell like Ghee. I was peeing Ghee. I was Ghee.
On the final day, I had a whopping 150 ml of Ghee, almost half a pint. Of clarified butter. Each sip was an exercise in discipline, as I forced it down amid shivers of revulsion. I shiver even now as I think about it. As I got down to the last 15 ml in the cup, I couldn’t bring myself to drink it. I kept raising the glass, only to put it down again, unsipped, suppressing my gag reflex. After 20 minutes of this, I decided I had reached my Ghee saturation limit, and decided it was okay not to drink it.
Not having to drink Ghee the next morning was the highlight of my week. I hadn’t realized how much it was bothering me until it was gone, sort of like removing the proverbial stone stuck in the shoe, and I was filled with relief.
The following day, I arrived at the center at 7 am for my ‘procedure’. I was given a rather nice full body oil massage, followed by a mini-sauna in a steam box, and finally a gritty carob-ish tasting drink. With nothing to do but wait, I was led to a room, and left with the instruction to focus on my body. This was a little difficult, as the children were sharing the room me, but between their schoolwork and the TV, they were sufficiently occupied to give me enough space.
A little over an hour later, I felt the first rumblings in my gut, followed by a mild sensation to use the toilet. Within 15 minutes, I was running for the bathroom, hoping I would make it before the medicine did its trick. And with a movement scarily reminiscent of what they call ‘Delhi Belly’, I was done, for the time being.
A while passed, and the process repeated itself. Not too bad, I told myself. If that was it, I could take it. After about two hours of this and four movements later, I was tired, but feeling fine. My attendant had been checking in on me frequently, and assured me that all was going well. After a quick consultation with my doctor, they decided that I could handle an additional dose. Damn my hardy Kapha constitution!
An hour later, I was sitting on the toilet, wondering if I was going to lose consciousness. Concentrating on my breathing, I managed to get through the worst of it, and slowly made my way back to the bed. Was this worth it? I had felt like this before, in the grip of some nasty bug, and remembered that as among the most retched experiences of my life. And here I was, voluntarily subjecting myself to a similar experience.
By about three o’clock, it was decided that I could eat a little. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this, but my stomach had other ideas. I was given a bowl of watery rice, and told to only drink the water, not to eat the rice. I’m sure there are worse things to eat, like glue, or soggy cardboard, but in my state, it was just what I needed to keep from feeling completely washed out.
By five o’clock, I was feeling ready to go home, but I wasn’t sure if I would make it. I was a bit weak, and any previous attempt to walk around had made me run to the toilet like a depraved madman. I made it to the taxi and we all went home. Grateful to make it through the door without incident, I continued my pattern from the Ayurvedic center until the early hours of the morning.
The next day, I was well enough to drive Theresa to school, and wasn’t even as hungry as I expected to be. I guess the rice water had tided me over after all. I wasn’t allowed to eat anything other than rice water again, and maybe some oatmeal if I felt up to it. Such indulgence!
At the center, I was asked to step on the scale, to see how I had done. To my amazement, I had lost 4 kilos from the previous morning. The Ayurvedic doctor said that the Ghee brings out fat, water, and toxins during the treatment, and I must say, I felt thoroughly cleaned out. Now I just needed a way to deal with all the leftover skin hanging off me.