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.

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