Into the Unknown: My First Ayurvedic Cleanse

Into the Unknown: My First Ayurvedic Cleanse

In my twenties, I had a weird fascination with alternative health practices. Ok, I still do, but I'd like to believe I have a teensy bit more integrated and grounded knowledge now, thanks to Ayurveda. In my ignorance, I found myself doing self-recommended fruit fasts, coffee enemas at Thai retreat centers, and vomiting up copious amounts of salt water in ashrams.

Once I discovered Ayurveda I learned about the mysterious panchakarma cleansing process. It sounded like an intense mind-body overhaul that wasn't for the semi-interested wayfarer. It sounded like work!

It wasn't possible for me to travel to India at the time and spend months at a panchakarma center, but I was very excited to have a taste of this ancient cleanse, so I went for a week of palliation therapy at Dr. Vasant Lad's Ayurvedic Institute.

Each morning I was ushered into a tiny room scented with nutmeg essential oil to calm my nervous system before receiving a two-person abhyanga (oil massage).

I felt both extremely vulnerable and nourished in surrendering and being exposed to two loving women who would chant an opening prayer before using precise massage strokes in a synchronized way to help my nervous system return to a more natural and calm state.

Next was the shirodhara treatment, where a continuous flow of warm sesame oil was poured over my third eye.

I know this is meant to be one of the most relaxing of the panchakarma treatments, but for me, I had mixed feelings about it. Sometimes it was great and deeply restorative, and other times it was irritating or annoying. At the very least it was a great barometer for where I was—mentally and emotionally.

To finish off the morning, I was seated in a container with my head poking out so it stayed cool during the svedhana (steam) treatment. I wouldn't last long in the steamer, as my pitta would get stoked very quickly. A rose water face spray helped to keep me cool, but the moment I felt irritation arising I knew it was time to exit.

I loved the communal house that I shared with others and how we were all going through a similar process in our own way. We would sit around chatting about what herbs we were individually given, and cook our herbal basti (enema) oil on the stove. I found all of it extremely amusing and fascinating.

Meals were a thrill despite every one being kitchari, as the rest of the day was reserved for doing nothing, literally, no-thing. We were encouraged to do as little as possible and even give up reading and talking too much.

This was before reality TV shows were a thing, but surely following around a handful of random strangers restricted to eating a mono-diet of Ayurvedic kitchari, and having treatments that consisted of copious amounts of oil lathered onto their bodies or poured over their third eye, would have made for a captivating watch.

My first Ayurvedic cleanse was a beautiful experience—part Ayurvedic spa, part One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and part profound inner and outer transformation.

Whether you choose to go to a panchakarma center or do a home cleanse of a kitchari mono-diet for a day or more, taking a step in the direction of giving your body-mind time to unwind and be still is healing in and of itself. Wishing you the best on your healing journey.

About the Author

Melanie (Madhuri) Phillips

Melanie is an author, yoga teacher trainer, clinical Ayurvedic specialist, and energy healer. She created the Madhuri Method: 100-hour Ayurvedic Yoga Training and the Inner...

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