On the first day of the new year, I declared that 2014 is the year of good health: living, eating and thinking healthy! That we( D & me) will indulge in at least one wellness/ holistic experience this year. After spending many nights researching holistic holiday destinations ( Thailand & Bali immediately sprung to mind) we decided to give Ayurveda a try, all arrows pointed to Kerala- the birthplace of Ayurveda.
Ayurveda has existed for centuries, much before the BCA. It is a science and what’s great is that it uses natural remedies that are based out of extracts of plants, herbs & animal produce. Yoga is an essential part of Ayurveda and almost every treatment plan incorporates various yoga postures or ‘asanas’
We enrolled ourselves for a 14 day detoxification programme to ‘purify’ our bodies( this was later extended to 18 days on the advice of our doctors) The detoxification process is known in Ayurveda as the classical PANCHAKARMA THERAPY ‘Pancha‘ means ‘five’ and ‘karma‘ means ‘action.’ This five-fold purification therapy aims at correcting the imbalance of three elements or “doshas” in the body namely- Vata( Wind), Pitta ( Fire)& Kapha( Earth) in order to maintain their inherent equilibrium. During each season of the year, one or more of the doshas accumulate, which causes an imbalance and makes the body prone to illness.
I’ve detailed our entire Panchakarma journey, documenting our thoughts of experiencing each process
Day 1: Arrival at the Ayurvedic center( Sree Chithra Ayurhome in Manathala) A two hour scenic drive from Kochi airport, winding through lush green paddy fields, backwaters & sleepy villages, finally brought us to our centre. With the check in formalities out of the way we had a detailed consultation with Dr Madhusudan(founder of the centre)who reviewed our medical files and history. We were informed that treatment would commence the next morning.
Acquainting ourselves with the centre, we were called in at around 5pm for a relaxing ‘Abhyangam’ massage, this was the first time I’ve experienced a synchronized massage with two therapists, which left me completely relaxed. The Abhyangam massage refers to an oil massage, using large amounts of heated Ayurvedic oil, said to have medicinal properties. It is an essential part of the Rejuvenation therapy. A delicious (vegetarian)buffet dinner was laid out at the garden( we discovered it was a patient’s birthday hence the ‘special’ spread)
Before turning into bed, we were asked to drink at least 2-3 glasses of a decoction that comprised of fresh turmeric ground with butter milk and Ayurvedic herbs
DAY 2: Beginning dreaded ‘Snehapanam’ phase of Panchakarma, i.e- Drinking medicated ghee!
Purvakarma is a preparatory procedure that helps the body discard the toxins present in the stomach and tissues and help facilitate the toxins to move to the alimentary canal
Our Purvakarma procedure was called Snehapanam, which is an internal oleation therapy involving drinking a concoction comprising of medicated ghee & herbs- the quantity of which is gradually increased in every consecutive day.
Waking up to birds chirping, we got up just in time to see the sun rise from the serene back waters. At around 7am we were asked to drink a small glass of ghee( more like a shot) , it wasn’t too bad given that much has been written about people throwing up after drinking the ghee! This was followed with a basic yoga class on pranayama and breathing techniques. No food intake is allowed when undergoing Snehapanam; if we do feel hungry- a boiled banana or Rice porridge, similar to a Konjee ( sans salt, oil, any toppings) could be eaten at their cafeteria( closely monitored with CCTV cameras) At around noon we were summoned for our daily treatment- Udvartana for me and Abhyangam for D.
Udvartana is termed as the cellulite busting massage in which herbal powders are massaged into the body by two therapists using opposing hand movements. Make no mistake, it isn’t a relaxing massage, the purpose of which is to break down all fatty deposits. My therapists assured me that this was an effective massage guaranteed to ensure inch loss and that it was common to feel a little pain caused by friction from the opposing hand movements.
We felt ok till the clock struck 3pm, that’s when hunger pangs kicked in, we became snappy and frustrated at not being able to eat anything. By evening we were weak. Doctors kept coming around during the course of the day to ensure that we wouldn’t fall asleep, for that would be ‘detrimental’, they wanted the organs to fully digest the ghee. At around 7pm, we gave in to our hunger pangs to have the bland rice porridge. We had just about enough energy to make it back to our room and call it a night.
Day 3- Day 5: Medicated ghee therapy pushing us to our limits
I woke up with a nagging headache & dull ache around the eyes. Like the previous morning, we were made to drink ghee, today the quantity was increased to half a glass. We could just about manage to swallow this in two gulps. This left us with a greased palate and bloated feeling. On days 4 it was successively increased to 3/4 glass and by day 5 we were forced to drink a full glass of ghee- the most revolting experience ever!! Our bodies were in protest- we kept letting out utterly disgusting ‘ghee’ burps( Other patients and Doctors said this was ‘totally normal’) We were too weak to do any yoga. We were advised us not to go out in the sun or participate in any physical sport, walks were restricted to being within the center’s premises. The only other activity for the day was our daily treatment comprising of Udvartana for me and Abhyangam for D.
Weakness, tears of frustration, daydreams of food- this pretty much sums up how we felt. It was difficult to focus on anything- reading a book or listening to music. The days seemed to stretch on forever and by the end of day 5 we were close to giving up and leaving.
As if reading our thoughts on cue, we were summoned to the Doctor’s room for a check up, they declared that I was ready for the next step of the Panchakarma therapy but that D would need another day of ghee-tox. We retired to our room with mixed feelings- me elated that the worst was over and D preparing himself with dread for the next day’s ghee intake 😉
Day 6 and Day 7: Purging the body of toxins- Virechana and Vamana On Day 6, D summoned all the courage to drink a 1 &1/2 glass of ghee, which I have to say he managed to gulp down except for a wee-bit in the end. I was asked to swallow Ayurvedic pills that would induce the Virechana process. Virechana refers to inducing purgation specially for elimination of Pita( Fire) related toxins from the body. Here, drugs that stimulate bowel movements are induced for the expulsion of excess Pita. I felt okay till the medicines kicked in. I found myself spending at least 2 hours expelling all the ghee & toxins from my body. It felt like I had a case of the Delhi belly. The staff came around to ensure that I stay hydrated- rice soaked water was given to soothe the tummy. By lunchtime I was feeling much better. My lunch was a simple rice porridge( again!) but I was assured that I could eat ‘normal’ food for dinner. It truly felt like a treat because I could finally eat something that tasted of something. D unfortunately wasn’t as lucky- time seemed to crawl slowly, he was weak and too tired to think of anything. Thankfully in the evening, the Doctor gave him the good news- his body was ready for the next step, but that he would have to undergo 2 purgations- Virechana & Vamana the following day. Vamana, refers to inducing vomiting specially for kapha related illnesses like asthma, coughs, chronic colds, psoriasis, acne, arthritis & diabetes.
He was done with both by lunchtime, and finally by dinner we both were able to enjoy a tasty meal together. Food was simple yet delicious- a daal or ‘lentil’ soup with two chappatis and salad. * On both day 6 & 7 our daily treatments comprised of Udvartana/ Abhyangam
Day 8- Day 12: Nasal cleansing and commencement of rejuvenation therapies On day 8 we were ready for the next step in the Panchakarma therapy and this was Nasyam or nasal cleansing by the application of medical oils or powders in the nasal canal. Rejuvenation therapies were finally introduced- this mainly being the Choorna( Herbal Powder) Pinda Sweda massage for me and Patra ( Herbal leaves) Pinda Sweda massage for D. The Pinda sweda massages refer to herbs or powders tied up in a cloth bundle, this is gently heated with herbal oils and then massaged on the body- The pinda sweda massages induce sweat thereby releasing the toxins from the pores. The pinda sweda massage also helps remove pains on the joints and lower back. Our massages were administered before lunch at around 11am. At around 4pm I was called in for another therapy called ‘Avagaham’ this is mainly a medicated steam bath where I was made to bathe in scalding hot water that was boiled with ‘pitta’ eliminating herbs. This unpleasant ordeal lasts for a good 15 minutes and is stopped till you finally have sweat and steam coming out of every pore in your body.
From the start of day 8 we were beginning to feel lighter and better, on day 13 the weighing scale showed a loss of 4 kilos for me and 5 kilos for D!! Meals in the center were at best light vegetarian fare with an emphasis on simplicity. It’s amazing how everything tastes good when cooked in coconut oil 🙂 Our morning yoga classes resumed from Day 8, classes were now more fast paced to include sun salutations, prone postures, shoulder stand, plough. The main aim being to focus on reducing fat on the abdomen.
It was completely by chance that we stumbled onto a scenic walk that took us through the green paddy fields into the local Chavakkad beach, this became a welcome daily evening routine. Local fisherman returned back every evening with their catch, live auctions of fish catch, men haggling over prices, local children playing by the shore, all of these sights added to the charm of watching the sunset in the Arabian sea!
Day 13- Day 17: Vasti and final rejuvenation therapies The final leg of the Panchakarma journey is focusing on rejuvenation and final flushing out of toxins. By the start of day 13, our bodies were ready for the final and most important step namely- Vasti, which is nothing but a medicated enema & particularly good for alleviating excess Vata. “Vasti’s effects are directly felt in the colon, the prime abode of the Vata. With the application of a series of purifying and nourishing Vastis, the morbid doshas and other toxins trapped for long in the tissues are eliminated. This restores the equilibrium. Vasti is good for spleen disorders, colic & kidney stones. It helps in chronic constipation, low back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, sciatica, various neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, dystrophy and atrophy of nerves and muscles”. After 3 successive days of vasti, we graduated to the all important Sneha Vasti , “which is an enema using medicated oil that remains in the colon and rectum for a short period of time to absorb the toxins and eliminate them out of the body” The vasti is typically performed after the relaxation massages which were Abhyangam and Shirodhara for me and Pizichil and Thakradhara for D. Shirodhara, The word shirodhara breaks down into two: “shiro,” meaning head, and “dhara,” which means flow. Together they form a concept that aims to bring physical and emotional balance by rejuvenating the spirit and preserving health. This is achieved through a relaxing technique in which over 2 litres of warm oil is poured over a client’s forehead, followed by head and shoulder massage and a warming body wrap to seal in moisture. The oil cannot be reused in any other treatment and hence on a whole this is a very expensive treatment
Pizhichil, is considered by many to be the king of all treatments. The whole body is bathed in streams of lukewarm medicated oil with simultaneous soft massage. Three therapists attend to the client, focusing on their particular needs. More than three liters of relaxing, medicated oil is used in this therapy. Pizhichil protects the body from illnesses and builds up immunity for a healthy life. It is very useful for rheumatic diseases, arthritis, paralysis, sexual weakness, neurological disorders, blood pressure, nervous weakness and helps to arrest the ageing process”
Thakradhara, is a form of Shirodhara, which involves continuous flow of medicated butter milk to the centre of forehead By the end of the 17th day we were feeling totally re-energised and rejuvenated. Gone was the sluggish feeling. We usually had an early start to the morning- one involving walking through the village into open green paddy fields, this was followed with a session of yoga on our return. After a light breakfast our treatments were scheduled through the day, to finish by 4pm every evening. So we could walk to the beach to see the sunset. Somewhere in between we got to see the elephant sanctuary in Guruvayoor( 3kms away from our center) & the local villages celebrate the union of Lord Shiva with Parvati in temples to mark the occasion of Shivaratri
Day 18: Check out, feeling rejuvenated and refreshed!
IN THE KNOW Here’s where we had our treatments Sree Chithra Ayurvedic home Manathala (Near Guruvayoor), Chavakkad, Thrissur, Kerala, India- 680 506 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Review- rooms are clean and basic, don’t expect 5 star luxury as it is essentially home stay. The founder and centre head- Dr Madhusudhan is well known in the Thrissur district, Kerala. He has two other daycare centres for locals in Manathala & Guruvayoor. We were surprised to find patients coming from as far as Russia and the Middle East to seek treatment. The therapists were fantastic and knowledgeable. The two resident doctors- Dr Priya and Dr Arun were friendly but slightly laid back in their attitude. We had a couple of issues with them not having our medicines and bill ready during check out, communication between them non existent, moreover we needed to badger them with questions on each treatment procedure, rather than them coming to us with all information. I guess it’s a cultural thing- people of Kerala are more laid back! The quality of medicines and oils used in Sree Chithra are really good- this was verified by our masseuse in Hyderabad. I would recommend this place to people who are willing to overlook this. * Another word of advice: if you are looking at the Panchakarma detoxification, please look at booking in for at least 14 nights/ 15 days. To block yourself for 7 nights is a guaranteed waste of money- the effect of the treatments and medicines will only begin to show after 14 days. Ayurvedic Doctors always recommend a 21 nights detox programme on the Panchakarma therapy, but that is not always possible, given that most of us would never get leave/ holidays for such a long time Other recommended ayurvedic retreats in Kerala are as follows: HIGH END 1) Somatheeram Ayurvedic resort in Kovalam( Chowara) is the most well known ayurvedic resort- expect to pay anywhere between Rs 2,50,000- Rs 3,00,000 per person for 14N/15D stay 2) Kalari Kovilakom and Kalari Rasayana– Both are CGH Earth properties. Considered to be excellent however very expensive- mainly catering to rich foreign tourists. We got in touch with both and received a quote of Rs 10,00,000 for 2 adults for 14N/15D
MID RANGE Expect to pay anywhere between Rs 60,000- Rs 80,000/ pax for 14N/15D programmes per person. The Doctors here are very good, but accommodation & treatment rooms is fairly basic and simple clean nonetheless). The quality of medicines and therapists are very good.
1) Athreya Ayurveda in Kottayam- Dr Sreejit is well known & highly regarded. This was originally our first choice but unfortunately Dr Sreejit was travelling and hence we decided to book at Sree Chithra. Rooms are simple & clean. Food reviews seem very good. Prices per person is Rs 5,000/ night- inclusive of treatments, medicines, accommodation and food
2) Krishnendu Ayurveda near Kochi is also another good choice. Dr Mohan Babu is highly regarded. Rooms in the Junior suite category located in the Wellness area are very comfortable, with modern flat screen tv’s and a swimming pool. Expect to pay Rs 6,000/ person/ night- inclusive of treatments, medicines, accommodation and food
*Many of the pictures used in this blog were taken from the internet, it was impossible for me to get any pictures taken of our treatments-
a) given that we were so greasy from all the oil 😉
b) The therapists aren’t trained to take pictures
c) Strictly no access to the male therapy rooms