India is wonderful, but India is stressful. Once Naana got me settled into my apartment with my basic needs taken care of, he resumed servicing others and I was left to handle India on my own. It hasn’t been easy. After a week in Pune, I decided to take a much-needed break and go to an Ayurvedic spa for 30 hours of rest, relaxation, and remedy.
Ayurveda is East Indian medicine, and the main focus lies in prescribing a combination of diet, herbs, oils, and treatments appropriate for balancing what they call your Doshas. There are three Doshas: Vata (wind); Pitta (fire); and Kapha (water). Most people are dominant in one of these three, and many have the strong influence of a second. Your dominant Dosha is determined at birth, but during the course of a day, week, month, or year, the Dosha that dominates your physiology can change. It’s ideal to maintain a healthy balance of all three Doshas, so once they determine your constitution, an appropriate regimen is prescribed just for you.
Your Doshas are identified by an Ayurvedic physician who feels your pulse, and then seemingly somewhat magically figures out everything that’s wrong with you. I actually have a tiny amount of experience with pulse-reading, and while I would not recommend seeking me out for treatment, I have felt some of the subtle distinctions they look for in determining your imbalance. This doctor figured out most of my problems in a matter of minutes. I was quite blown away.
The weekend consisted of several ayurvedic meals, one major treatment, and one minor treatment. Both treatments were hot oil massages — one rather long, and the other more cursory but also quite effective. The first is followed by a steam and much-needed mud-scrub and shower. I should warn you that these are massages to purify your physiology and are thus fairly comprehensive – much more-so than you’d be accustomed to in the West. I was not warned, so I was caught a little off guard. Men massage men and women massage women. The treatment was amazing, but it can also feel a little invasive, so be prepared to potentially feel somewhat vulnerable.
Most of the other people there were Westerners, and they were from all over the world. I met an amazing family from Egypt, a New Yorker who’d built a life/business in Amsterdam before retiring to Australia (where he met his charming Aussie yoga teacher girlfriend who probably lured him to this distant location), a Swiss couple who have lived all over the world in mostly developing nations, and a court-reporting, jewelry-making yoga teacher from San Francisco. Most were there for weeks and undergoing Panchakarma – a deep Ayurvedic cleanse that is so complete it makes the hot oil massage feel about is personal as a handshake. Panchakarma means “Five Actions” and those actions include such delightful procedures as blood-letting and herbal enemas. A couple of these and you’ll be pledging a balanced diet forever! (I’m not sure they do blood-letting at this spa but traditionally it is included — nowadays perhaps not.)
There is also a yoga teacher who comes up from Pune to teach Iyengar yoga several times a week. He’s 78 years old and has been studying with Mr. Iyengar for over 60 years. He walked in late and immediately yelled at me for stretching on my hands and knees and not doing sun-salutations. “This is not a gym!” he barked. “Now give me 12 Sun Salutations quickly. Jump back. Do it!” I wasn’t really warmed up yet and with my back pain, I prefer some preamble before I start jumping back into plank pose. He became much warmer later, but we didn’t get off to a great start. The charming Aussie yoga teacher glanced at me sympathetically from across the room, mouthing the words, “I told you so.” It reminded me of a story my spiritual teacher used to tell.
Once upon a time this wandering farmhand came to a farm looking for work. The Farmer walked him out to the mule and told him to steer that mule through the dirt and plow the fields. “Whatever you do,” he said, “don’t hit the mule.” So the farmhand pulled and pleaded and yelled and bribed and tried to scare the mule into moving, but nothing worked. He wouldn’t budge. An hour later the farmer returned to check on his progress only to see the mule, plow and worker exactly where he had left them. So he picked up a stick and swung it at the mule, hitting him with all his might. Sure enough, the mule started walking.
“I thought you said not to hit the mule?” the farmhand asked, confused by the farmer’s actions.
“I did,” the farmer replied, “but first you have to get his attention.”