By Santosh Sachdeva February 2006 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. Monsoon AchesSometime 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 CoimbatoreOur 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 AbhayangaA 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. Dhaara PizchichilThe 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. Hosting AnnadanamAfter 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. NavarakizhiNow 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 i
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