By Santosh Sachdeva
Five weeks in an Ayurvedic center in Coimbatore made the author healthier, fitter, and positively glowing.
Living in polluted Mumbai, ‘ayurveda’ and ‘oils’ sounded somewhat exotic to me. That is till my niece Shonali – having suffered a bad back for years – had a severe attack that left her bedridden for almost two weeks and informed us that she was leaving for an ayurvedic healing center somewhere in south India. She came back after five weeks, her back restored to health, her skin and complexion glowing and radiating youthful, good health.
Sometime in July this year, I developed a problem with my left thigh with awful pain emanating from the groin area down to my knee. Going by the GP’s advice to take a course of Brufen for ten days, I was fine and going for my morning walks again. Around this time, my sister Raj (Shonali’s mother) developed a problem with her left foot (she referred to it as a ‘spur’) and despite orthopedic rounds, injections and physiotherapy sessions, the pain traveled up her leg. Soon, it became quite excruciating – she could barely stand for ten minutes at a stretch and spent most of her time lying prone in bed, totally housebound. Without much ado, Shonali quietly went ahead and booked her at the center she had been to down south. Unwilling to put herself through the regimen, my sister kept coming up with excuses to get out of this until I decided to go along to keep her company, also hoping to shed some weight in the process. Ignoring my children’s reservations and overcoming my own apprehensions about being away from my family for five weeks, I packed my bags and was all set to go!
Flight to Coimbatore
Our flight to Coimbatore was pleasant enough, but just as we were ready to disembark, I found to my chagrin, that the pain in my left leg had returned with a vengeance. Despite a low tolerance to pain, I almost cheered and welcomed it, glad to be at the right place at the right time to get it treated.
The reception staff at the Arya Vaidya Chikitsalayam and Research Institute (AVP) had a car waiting and within 20 minutes, we arrived at their lush, green campus. Here, we were shown our residence, a one-bedroom hall unit with an attached kitchenette, complete with a gas connection, in case we wanted to do our own cooking. A blessing from Lord Dhanwantri, Lord of ayurveda and healing, was our very own treatment room contained within the cottage.
Once we settled in, the AVP team moved in a precise, structured rhythm. An assistant doctor, Archana, came to note down our medical case history and a staff member brought a herbal concoction, kashayam, to be taken before and after lunch. When the oils required for massage were delivered by 3 pm of that day, we were ready to start treatment. From now on, I was under the personal care of Dr. Raveendran, who came in the evening to check my pulse, nails, tongue and skin. Looking into my eyes, gently patting my hand, he told me, ‘We are going to take good care of you for the next five weeks.’
Dr. K.C. Narayanan and Dr. K.G. Raveendran, both medical directors of the Institute, come regularly to diagnose through the feel of the pulse, while listening to complaints. Quietly they come to their own conclusions, regarding not only your physical condition but also your individual mental condition. Through the pulse, the doctors can get information regarding individual physical and mental conditions, which patients themselves may not be able to convey through words.
Dr. Roopa, too was a regular visitor. The doctors had a sensitivity to their touch which I could identify only after I had reached the midway point in the treatment. Perhaps, with the removal of toxins from my body, I had become more sensitive to their touch. I could feel a throbbing in the tips of Dr. Roopa’s fingers as she would check my pulse.
Eight years ago, Sarla was like a ‘rusted bunch of keys’. Today, she is active and flexible
A fairly large room attached to our cottage made up our treatment room. It had a sturdy table made of seasoned neem wood that glistened darkly from having soaked up much oil from earlier patients who must have occupied this particular cottage before us. There was a bowl-like depression at its head to collect oil during dhaara treatment, a process that involves steady dribbling of oil on the upper forehead. The core treatment here involves the daily application of special ayurvedic oils according to the individual’s specific ailment, which lasts for seven days and is called abhayanga.
Before commencement of the daily oil massage, the therapist lights a lamp and both she and the patient stand with folded hands, while a prayer is invoked to Lord Dhanwantri. You are then seated on the table, while a palm-full of oil is poured on your head and rubbed in circular motion. Then, as you lie down on the massage table, the gentle application of oil on the body begins. At no time was I asked to turn on my stomach; the back was oiled and massaged either while I was sitting or lying on my side. The procedure, together with a hot bath, is completed in an hour or so.
At the chikitsalayam, we naturally ran into other patients who were staying here. One of the first things I noticed was that no one looked lost or morose. Everyone seemed to be happy being here and with the progress they were making. When word got around that I was the author of books on kundalini, Dr. Indulal, who heads the research department, suggested that I meet Sarla Jaisinghani, who, in an intensive phase of her treatment, was in quarantine and not permitted to go up and down. Settled in Pune since her retirement, Sarla told me how, when she first came here eight years ago, she was like ‘a rusted bunch of keys’!
Bed-ridden, she could not bend and had to be helped with her daily chores. Seeing her, it was hard to fathom how such a ‘rusted’ bunch of bones could have become so active and flexible. Sarla has been diligently coming every year for the last eight years. She feels this holiday-cum-treatment she treats herself to every year, keeps her fit and kicking for the rest of the year.
We also met Sonia, a young German girl who had come for detoxification. During the intensive treatment, all her latent aches and pains came up, making her moan and groan. However, by the time she completed her round of treatment, she was up and about, ready to leave the campus looking in the pink of health.
The first seven days prepare the body for the next phase in the treatment, which lasts for a fortnight. This forms the ‘intensive phase’ of the treatment during which patients are advised not to move out of their rooms or receive visitors from outside. As I understand it, the immune system is brought down to a level where it could easily make the body-mind organism susceptible to infection. Called dhaara pizchichil, it requires six therapists, two at the head, two on either side of the torso and two to work below the waist.
Before we entered this phase, we performed a Dhanwantri homam or ceremonial havan. Performed with vedic rites and the offering of samigri consisting of 108 different herbs, the mantra ‘Om namo bhagavathe vasudevaaya dhanwantharaye, amrithkalasa hasthaaya sarvamaya vinaasanaaya, thrylokyanaathaaya sree mahavishnave nama’ is recited 108 times along with ahuti, herbs offered into the flaming homam.
In dhaara, medicated oil, milk, or buttermilk, depending on the ailment, is poured from a hole in a metal bowl, in a continuous stream on the patient’s forehead, in a regulated rhythmic manner. Pizhichil is warm, medicated oil continuously poured on the body and is effective in all kinds of muscular and skeletal disorders including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, lumbago, sciatica and neuropathy. I found this treatment most soothing and relaxing. The oil is used in abundance; four pairs of hands keep dipping strips of cloth in oil and squeezing the oil out of them on the body which is continuously being manipulated with precise, gentle movements of the hand. The cool oil on the head helps contraction and the warm oil on the body help in expansion of the meridians at different levels, enabling the body to release all its toxins.
Before starting the intensive, the patient and the treatment table are symbolically anointed and puja performed for Lord Dhanwantri. After it is over, the patient performs another thanksgiving puja, first acknowledging the treatment table and then the framed picture of Lord Dhanwantri. The patient who has received the treatment washes the table with coconut water, then decorates it with beautiful pink flowers and lights a lamp to perform the aarti, taking the tray with the flame across the table’s length and breadth, and then to the framed picture of Dhanwantri to whom the prasadam of rice puffs is then offered. I found this ritual most empowering. During this phase one is most relaxed and a spiritually sensitive person may move into the subtle realms or have symbolic dreams.
After our intensive treatment, we hosted an annadanam, offering a hearty lunch for 150 people in and outside the chikitsalayam. It was a beautiful experience, where, along with the chanting of a mantra, we first offered the ‘satvic’ food (prepared without onions, garlic, and other spices except for a little seasoning), to the image of Lord Dhanwantri, and then helped serve all those who came to partake of the annadanam.
Now we were into the next seven days of our treatment, known as navarakizhi. Cloth pouches of a special variety of boiled rice, dipped in warm, medicated milk, were applied to my waist, joints and legs. This is done for all skeletal and muscular disorders.
After one completes this last phase of the intensive treatment, one can move around within the complex, go to the temple, browse in the library or just visit other patients in their rooms. This freedom is a great release after so many days in confinement, and presents another opportunity to renew contact with the other patients
It was only after the navarakizhi got over, that I started to gain a deeper understanding of the process my treatment had followed. Earlier, every time I had to show my tongue to the doctors, I felt like Kali Mata, because my tongue would have a thick, black coating after drinking herbal medicines. I found that I had been constantly bringing this to the notice of Dr. Raveendran and Dr. Naryanan, as also that I was passing sticky stools. They would listen patiently and assure me that it would be all right. When I was going through this process of purgation, I had felt nauseous with an urge to throw up. While retching, the only thing I brought up was sticky, slimy, transparent saliva. It was only then that I realized that the herbal concoctions had removed the sticky slime coating that had built-up over years on the walls of my intestines and the digestive tract. Once this process was over, my stools improved and my tongue began to clear and regain its natural healthy, pink color. From now on, I knew absorption of food would be better and the rate of metabolism would improve further.
Finally, once again I entered the abhyanga, which had been the first stage in the treatment, and which lasted for another seven days to complete the cycle. For abhyanga only one therapist is needed, who stays with you throughout the five weeks of treatment. At this stage, the patient is either given purgation or enema to clear out all the toxins released into the system. After each treatment, the therapist gives a hot, medicated bath with moong dal powder in place of soap, to soak up excess oil from the body and hair.
Seeing is Believing
When I began moving around the campus after my fourteen-day intensive was over, I was astonished to see a lady I had earlier seen leaning on a walking stick and getting out of the car with support from her husband, now taking a walk without the use of either the stick or her husband. It was so wonderful to see her happy and smiling, all traces of pain gone from her face and her posture.
It is also wonderful to see the joy the therapists feel when the body they work upon responds so well to their care. This unconditional service, performed with love and joy, is a part of the healing miracles that take place here. Here, I met people from different walks of life with different ailments; people who had been advised surgery but opted for treatment at the chikitsalayam; people who came in wheelchairs and went out walking on their feet, people who came with severe skin ailments and left with healthier skins and glowing complexions.
It is wonderful to see the joy the therapists feel, when the body they work upon responds so well to their care.
One of the big attractions, which I feel is also a big plus point for this Institute, is that it has, with deep devotion and insight, built a meticulously designed temple dedicated to Lord Dhanvantri. I was surprised to learn that this is the only temple to Lord Dhanvantri in the whole of India! A homam is performed every morning with 108 different ayurvedic herbs and the temple priest makes a sankalpa or commitment to the good health and well-being of every patient and member of the chikitsalayam.
The presence of the temple, the performance of the daily rituals, the chanting of mantras along with the rhythmic drumbeats, all contribute to the healing process. You are advised to just let go and allow yourself to be embraced by the peace and harmony that prevails in this environment. This way, you will immediately start feeling a big difference in yourself and a distinct shift will take place in your attitude towards life and all living beings.
Needless to say, my sister and I have greatly benefited from the treatment and have come home relieved of our problems. My sister, in particular, can walk normally and without pain.We were advised to go straight home after our discharge. We were also advised not to over-exert ourselves for the first three weeks and to get into the busy routines of our daily living, gradually. The results would start manifesting visibly after three weeks of leaving the chikitsalayam, and would continue apace in the following three months, before we could feel the full effect of the treatment.
We were also given a month’s stock of oil and medicines, and advised to complete a three-month course of medication. Further oils and medicines which we would need would be available at their center in Mumbai. So far, I have been following their prescribed dos and don’ts.
The five relaxing weeks spent at the Arya Vaidya Chikitsalayam have given me an exposure not only to another line of medical treatment, but also to another, more positive side of human nature linked to a different kind of lifestyle. So completely happy and satisfied are we with the chikitsalayam, and with each member of its caring staff, that before leaving to return to Mumbai, Raj and I booked ourselves to come back next year, if for nothing else, then just for detoxifying the body and to get away from the stress and strain of living in a big, bustling city.
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