Hello Dear Ones!
Sorry for the late post-it’s hard to believe that 9 days have come and gone since my last post. What day is it again? Who’s keeping track of that, anyways? Ok…I know. I’m the only one not keeping track-which is a really strange feeling.
So where have I been and what have I been doing the last 9 days…After arriving in Pune on Wednesday, 8/14, I spent some time exploring the hotel and the city on Thursday-Sunday, since it was a long holiday weekend and the office wasn’t open. I spent my first day, Thursday, decompressing. I took full advantage of the hotel amenities which included a very nice gym and spa area with a sauna and steam room. I spent one day luxuriating in the spa for a few hours with a full body massage, head massage, body scrub and herbal soak. The hotel food was delicious-three five star restaurants to choose from and breakfast was included every day. It was an interesting experience-I haven’t stayed in many (if any) five star resorts prior to this one. They do a great job of making you so comfortable that you never want to leave-you almost feel like you are getting everything for free since you don’t have to swipe a card to pay, “just charge it to the room”. The service was over the top-almost too good! I was told Indian hospitality was amazing but this…this was exquisite. After a couple of days of realizing that there was more to Pune than the JW Marriot, I decided it was time to get out into the city and explore at bit. There was a lovely temple called the Chattushringi Devi, (http://www.chattushringidevasthanpune.org) which was just a short 10 minute walk from my hotel-I took a saunter over there, stopping to explore the local grocery store-there were surprisingly (to me) a lot of the same brands for things like cereal and toiletries. I didn’t buy anything-it was just an experiential stop. Later that day, I booked a half day tour for Saturday where I explored several of the local sites (temples, museums, etc.) with a local driver. That was a lovely experience. It felt good to leave the comforts of my hotel and really be part of the city and the culture. That evening, a friend (who is a medical student here) that I met during my last trip to India came to visit for dinner and we caught up over delicious North Indian cuisine.
Monday it was time to get back to work! I spent the days at the office between 9A-5P giving leadership workshops and having product review meetings with several specialized teams for the product we are working to develop. It was a great experience and so nice to reunite with several familiar faces from the Exxat team! In the evenings, I usually headed back to the hotel to relax and have dinner before a few late night calls with the U.S. team (because of the time difference-we are about a half a day ahead of the U.S., depending on what time zone you are in there). After a day of talking, discussing, lecturing, thinking, interacting, I couldn’t wait to have some quiet and the JW provided that with ease. I finished my contract on Thursday and said goodbye to the Exxatians. A few of us shared one last delicious dinner together at a restaurant nearby the hotel.
I left Pune yesterday, 8/23. I had a quick breakfast and headed out but not before getting showered with lots of sweet goodbyes and kindness from the staff at the JW Marriot. I connected with 2 of the young men (Arun and Federick) who were working in the restaurant that I frequented daily. We shared a few selfies and Arun gifted me a beautiful package that he asked me to open later. I grabbed and Uber and headed to the airport (an Uber here to go 15 km to the airport is approximately 5 dollars!-bargain, right?! Things are so much cheaper here than in the U.S!). In the Uber, I opened the package and found a beautifully wrapped blue package with a Ganesha statue inside. Ganesha is a religious deity who is worshipped in India and is known as the “remover of obstacles”. I was brought to tears, overwhelmed with the feeling of gratitude and deep appreciation for this journey and the sweet gesture by my new friend.
I took at short flight from Pune to Kochi and arrived around 1 PM. Anjit, the driver for the place I am staying at, picked me up at the airport-complete with a typed sign with my name on it-he was waiting right at the exit of the airport which made it so EASY for me! I appreciated that more than you know! As you can probably imagine, there is some anxiety that comes with arriving in a new city and not being sure who you are meeting or where you are going, so to have that be so seamless and easy was a gift. After a 30 minute ride, we arrived in Aluva at the Health Village, an Ayurvedic center. I was checking into the “hospital” as a patient. I have had a great interest in Eastern Medicine since working with Oncology patients and realizing that the care we provide in allopathic medicine, especially for cancer patients (at most places in the U.S.) is very symptom and disease focused rather than holistic. We spend so much time chasing after symptoms rather than working to prevent them. I have seen so many patients go through treatment for cancer who end up cured, but subsequently have persistent side effects which may include neuropathy (numbness), permanent hair loss, fatigue (tiredness), depression/anxiety, etc. In my opinion, we, as a system of providers in the U.S., don’t do a good job of preventing, preparing and supporting our patients through the entire process of disease and treatment. In fact, many people that I have talked to have felt abandoned and hopeless in the process. So where am I going with this? Eastern medicine has a wonderful way of focusing on establishing and maintaining balance in the body-understanding the reason for the symptoms and trying to rebalance the body to treat the symptoms holistically. Most of us don’t relate with the concept of balance within the body. Have you ever felt like something just wasn’t right but you couldn’t put your finger on it? Or ignored a symptom and just chalked it up to, “it’s just me-I’ve had this forever.” Eastern medicine delves into those nuances and encourages/allows for you to really check in with yourself on a deeper level (emotionally, spiritually and physically). Ayurveda, is a type of Easter medicine; a system of medicine with roots in India, means “knowledge of life and longevity.” It focuses on understanding and balancing your bodies constitution using food, herbs and physical treatments for the body. If you are interested in learning more about Ayurveda:https://www.keralaayurveda.biz. And if you are interested in learning about your “body composition”, check it out here: http://www.ayurvedaacademy.com/academy/?q=resources/doshaevaluation
I am not suggesting replacing Western medicine with Eastern. I am suggesting a more integrative approach would be beneficial for many. I feel that we can provide better care to our patients if we are looking at the whole picture of who they are as a human being and supporting them through treatment with nutrition, herbs (when appropriate) and physical treatments for the body (like massage, acupressure/puncture, aromatherapy, etc.). When I speak to Western physicians about my opinions regarding this, I am often brushed off with the statement, “there is no evidence.” And they are right-there have not been any large scientific studies on many of these modalities but consistently, people will tell you that these therapies make them FEEL better, more whole. And additionally, it is a wonderful means of self-care. So maybe we do not have evidence that we are prolonging overall survival or time to relapse but if we can help our patients FEEL better while they get treatment and improve their quality of life WHILE giving them standard of care with chemotherapy etc., that counts for a lot….just ask someone that has been through it. So…I decided to embark on this journey with the plan to experience authentic Ayurvedic medicine treatments myself so that I can truly understand what it’s all about, how they are delivered, how it feels, the impact on my body, mind, spirit, etc. My intention is to do this in as many places on my journey as possible so that I can bring back my experience and incorporate these ideas into my next medical practice that I work in (that is TBD…)
So here goes nothing….upon arriving at the center, I was whisked off to lunch. The meals are served in a communal area in a buffet style. They are all prepared with Ayurvedic principles (utilizing certain spices, oils and vegetables). All meals are vegetarian here at the Health Village which is just fine with me! I really love Indian food and I have not had a bad meal since I came to India. Those close to me can vouch for this-that says a lot since I am highly critical of food and love to eat. The food in India feels like comfort food to me-like there is love infused into it. After lunch, I met with 2 Ayurvedic doctors (if you are wondering-Ayurvedic doctors go to school for 5.5 years in India and complete a 1 year internship prior to graduating). They asked me questions about my health, body, mood, etc. They took my pulse, looked at my skin and my tongue and together, came up with a plan for the 5 days that I would be visiting. I got the impression that 5 days was considered to be a very brief stay and that they were a bit concerned that not much would be able to be accomplished. But I was sure that I would get a lot from this experience regardless of the length of time. I was whisked from the consultation to a synchronized abhyanga massage from 2 female practitioners (wondering what that is: https://ayurvedawellness.wordpress.com/tag/synchronized-massage/). It’s wonderful. Imagine a massage with 4 hands and warm oil. It felt like they were really working with intention to care for me and to heal my ailments (shoulder pain, constipation, melasma of my face). Each stroke was with intention-both women working together in a synchronized fashion, one on the left and one on the right. After about 45 minutes, they concluded the massage with a steam treatment where they provided localized steam to my upper back and shoulders. They took care to dry me off, wrap me with my robe and escort me to my room. I felt deeply cared for and supported after the treatment.
I arrived back to my room around 4:30 PM and was instructed to take a warm shower and drink a glass of water. The shower is a bucket system where you fill the bucket and dump water over yourself-takes a little coordinating but the water was warm and I was grateful for that (when I was in India a couple years ago, we didn’t have hot water….so this is luxurious! Although not compared to the JW Marriot-ha!). I went to a cooking class from 5-6 PM where we learned to make Green Gram Porridge and Ginger Curry and then got to taste it-yummm!!! Then Pranayama (meditation and breath work) class, followed by dinner. Dinner was to follow but not before a very nice nurse arrived at my room door with the medicines-a Collin’s size glass of murky brown liquid and 1 brown tablet. (In my mind I was thinking: “Did I agree to this? Did I sign up for this? I thought this was just supposed to be treatments and learning about my dosha and how to nourish my body with food…and herbs…oh these were the herbs…shit!”) I was hesitant to consume these medicines since I hadn’t been provided with the specifics about what I would be receiving but I really wanted experience this and after all I sought out this experience and paid for it….so, after some mental negotiations, down the hatch it went but not without some gagging. The tablet was very dry and stuck to my throat on the way down. (P.S. For the record, I HATE taking medicine and avoid it at all costs. Tablets always get stuck in my throat [even the tiny ones] and when I take liquid medicines, I stand over the sink gagging before I even attempt-my mother can vouch for this). It’s like I set myself up for failure.
What I later learned is that medicines are served 3 times a day, 6 AM, 6 PM and 8 PM. I knew that there were more brown murky drinks in my future….and they said 5 days wasn’t enough?! We shall see! J
After sucking down (and gagging on) the medicines, I requested a list of exactly what I was consuming into my body which was later provided to me. A list a mile long of herbs that I have mostly never heard of but I have some solace in at least knowing what they are and what the intention of them is. Don’t be afraid to ask your providers: “what is this, why do you think I need it, what will it do and are there other options!” We should all know what we are putting into our bodies and why-not just trust someone else with that decision and abide without question, even a health care provider.
I had dinner with a few of the women who are here studying Ayurveda from Chile and listened as they spoke Spanish-understanding every 4thor so word and once again feeling slightly embarrassed at my lack of ability to speak any other language except English…next bucket list item to conquer, maybe?
I went to bed-tossing and turning a bit due to the firmness of the mattress (the bony parts don’t like that-hips and shoulders) but overall had a good rest and woke at 5:45 AM to prepare for my next dose of the brown murky medicine which was coming at 6 AM. I had wrapped my head around this task but when it arrived, the nurse informed me that they had added some oil to it for “my bowels”. On top of the brown murky liquid, floated a thick layer of yellow oil. I had to psych myself up for this on a whole other level now. I took a deep breath and took a sip. The oil was warm and very sour. I swallowed it down and it came right back up. I vomited a few times, just water and the oil and raised the red flag-Brown Murky Drink + Oil 1, Me 0. I was disappointed in myself but instead of conceding or lying and telling them that I had drank it, I requested a meeting with the doctor and explained my situation. She told me that she would change my medicine to a powder form, instead. Score. I hoped that would be better.
After the medicine this morning, I headed to a 6:30 AM yoga practice where I was reminded of how tight my hips and hamstrings are, followed by breakfast. Following breakfast, I took a walk around the grounds and listened to the birds, watched the butterflies and admired the flowers in the garden and on the grounds of the property. I read my book for a while-a book I have been reading for a long time and haven’t finished (I won’t tell you how long because that would be embarrassing). Then I had my first treatment of the day at 11:45 AM. I receive 3 rounds of oral medicines and 2 treatments (1 major and 1 minor) during the day. The first treatment was a treatment called Patra-potola svedam, a therapy which uses chopped, pressed herbs in cotton cloth poultices which are dipped in hot oil and applied all over the body using rotational movements. This was followed by sudation which was a steam treatment where I was placed into a wooden box from the neck down (it kind of looked like something a magician would put their assistant in to cut them in half) and medicated steam was pumped into the box. It all felt very therapeutic and relaxing.
I had my most recent medicine dose delivered tonight and took it like a champ. I said a little prayer to help myself to accept this medicine (that I asked/paid for) graciously and with gratitude rather than with anxiety and resistance. Funny, it went down so much easier! Thank you, Ganesha, for clearing those obstacles! Tomorrow I go through a Virechnam, a therapeutic purgation where I cannot eat and have to do a bowel cleanse (similar to a colonoscopy prep). Pray for me that I can drink the medicine they provide tomorrow. Pray hard.
All in all, I am good. I feel privileged to have this time. It feels a bit weird, like I am relearning how to live my life. I am so used to rushing; filling my schedule with to-do’s from 5 AM-9 PM. I am accustomed to the stress and anxiety that comes with that and with the profession I have chosen. I have adjusted and learned to thrive in that state since college, really. So this is all weird for me. The feeling of not having anything to do. Not having a schedule. Not having anyone needing me for anything. No email to check. I am learning to SLOW down in everything-when I eat, when I walk, when I talk. I am learning to listen more and talk less. Learning rather than teaching. Observing more rather than acting/doing. Nothing is directed at a goal….most of the time, it’s just an experience in the present moment. I hope to hold on to this pace a bit when I return to the U.S. There is so much value in making space for deep relaxation regularly. And we shouldn’t have to take 5 months off of work to do it either. I almost forgot what it feels like to let go. In fact, I’m not quite there yet-it’s still a process for me. I am in the process of letting go some. Some days I feel like I lack purpose and value because no one is needing me. But I am reminded in those moments, that I need to be able to fulfill that feeling internally and not rely on any external source for fulfillment. So, I’m doing my best to enjoy every moment, even the ones that are hard. This part of my journey is the first time that I can remember where I can honestly say that there is nothing tying me down or holding me back. I have no commitments, no meetings, no phone calls, no nothing. Just me, this journey, this moment, this world.
Also, Kerala has the first fully solar powered airport-how cool is that?!
Miss you all! Xoxox
And remember, please pray for me that I can go through this purgation with grace and ease.
Sending love and courage!!! XXXOOO
Loving your adventure!!! Enjoy!
your stories bring back so many memories of visiting family in Cairo, Egypt! ESPECIALLY the pic of the airplane’s “lets get high together” message!! ha ha!! wishing you much joy and many good laughs on your journey Linds! xoxo -Salma
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