Few would deny that our world seems to be growing more complicated with each New Year. What used to be the norm of manageable daily challenges is now darted with discord, data fear and market instability, politics and protest, war and worries of what all this stress is doing to me — my capacity, my body, my family’s future.
Like so many parents, survivors and women of a certain determined disposition, I’ve been embarking on a journey in search of alternatives to the madness. Recently, this journey took me far away to the muddy maze of roads and traffic leading to an Ayurveda retreat center for alternative medicine in Bengaluru, India.
A majority of medical doctors are openly dismissive of alternative or complementary medicine. Many take the position that there is no scientific proof that alternative medicine works and that the safety of alternative medicines is still questioned. But if you are a physician like me, who has been trained in Southeast Asian countries, you are genuinely open to considering alternatives. Life and the world have taught me that that’s not a bad thing at all.
Ayurveda means the ‘Science of Life.’ Ayurvedic medicine is a 3,000-plus-year-old whole-body healing system and practice. Developed in India, it is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between body, mind and spirit. Its emphasis on prevention allows the active promotion of good health outcomes apart from treatments targeting revealed health problems.
As part of their intake process, the practitioner explained to me that the Ayurveda practice asserts that every person is made of five basic elements of the universe: space, air, fire, water and Earth. These basic elements form three types of energies, or doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Just as every individual has a fingerprint, each person has a unique mix of doshas within his or her body. Vata (air and space) is associated with movement. Pita (fire and water) relates to the metabolic system. Kapha (earth and water) represents body structure.
The treatment plan is designed according to a careful calculation of the particular doshas that govern one’s physical and emotional health. Additionally, one of the goals for the treatment, called Panchakarma, is to cleanse the body and help restore harmony and balance.
I was not there for any specific ailment, so I did not ask for nor was I given any specific treatment plan. My curious objective was to rejuvenate and re-energize.
There were time-scheduled activities throughout each day. My first morning started at 6 with a yoga session for an hour and right after that a mountain hike. After reaching the top of the mountain at 8 a.m., I then began feeling this sense of freedom, release and the satisfaction of accomplishment. The cool breeze. Mountains. The mist. What a sight. My excitement could not be contained, so I video called my father and other close friends, and showed them the scenery and shouted, “Look, I’m at the top of the mountain.”
My dosha-prescribed morning massages used heated essential oils. The head oil massage featured friction-based strokes with warm oil that enabled deep relaxation of my mind and throughout my body.
The one element of this process that stood out most for me is called Shirodhara. A soothing stream of warm oil was gently poured onto my forehead for a period of time. I drifted in and out of sleep. I could actually feel an unburdening, a lightness and a sense of balance while also pleasantly aromatic and uplifting.
The meals were all well balanced with roti, vegetable curries, rice with buttermilk. The water was always served warm and had a cumin powder taste.
I could choose my own comfortable eating spot for the meals. Those outside covered seats. Just watching the mountains and the flowers, the ponds and the fresh air while being served the tastiest of healthy meals still lingers fresh in my mind.
Other activities included guided meditation and educational sessions on naturopathy. I was told that sitting at a certain spot of my choosing, under the circle of Karanja trees, that breathing the air there reduces aging. Instead overthinking whether to believe such as fact or not, I simply released enough to appreciate — in that special sitting space of time — small things, tiny things that stack up as high joys in my life.
At a cost of $300 for a three-day stay, such an experience would be a wonderful gift to someone you love. Every moment was a magical, exciting, unforgettable and cherishable experience.
But most importantly, I took a very different step from my norms toward introspection, positive energy and a more self-determining lifestyle. Living in the moment and passing it on.
Nazeera Dawood has a Master’s in Public Health from the University of North Carolina and a medical degree from Bangalore University, India. She can be reached at email@example.com.