Whole Life Magazine

June/July 2013

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about retaliatory tortures for Dr. Soumya after her seven nasyam treatments of sesame oil nose drops made my head-splitting sinus pressure utterly disappear. The doctor also took me off prescription Adderall, admonishing that I think too much and should try meditating, and gave me packets of capsules bearing the decidedly un-ayurvedic name Stress.com. Online I looked up the main ingredient, ashwagandha, and learned it is a plant in the tomato family believed to improve memory, reduce depression, stabilize blood sugar, enhance sexual potency and boost the immune system with "the vigor of a stallion"—perhaps the reason its name in Sanskrit means "smell of a horse." After reading this I felt healthier and allowed myself a coffee. Well, two. The next day Dr. Soumya glanced at my wan complexion, then shook her head. "Why seek treatment you don't follow?" Did she have spies on the beach? Yet she was right. My digestive system was now so clean that when I dumped in something harmful, say, a café latte, immediately my finger stiffness returned. My final treatment was sirodhara, rhythmic dripping of oil on the forehead, rumored to cause hallucinations. Later, wading in the Arabian Sea, I saw a man with his tiny daughter discover a mama dog nestled in the cliffs, the little girl laughing as its puppies pulled her dress. I couldn't stop crying but it was tears of joy at the wonder of life. I watched a white heron above the cliffs and believed I was soaring. I could breathe clearly and fold the tips of my fingers to touch my palms for the first time in ages. My brown eyes still hadn't turned blue, but surrounded by beautiful brown eyes, I didn't care. Ayurveda is not about self-denial but self-worth. During our farewell meal, Dr. Soumya prescribed a return to a normal, albeit healthy diet, adding that if I really ached for ice cream, it would be okay once in a blue moon. Otherwise, she explained, the stress from avoidance could release cortisol and toxins. Indeed, at dinner, Dr. Sreejith, ostensibly a vegetarian, ordered chicken. That evening as I walked home, I turned the corner to see the silhouette of a gigantic mound. I gasped—a huge elephant munched foliage mere yards away. Beneath a street light in a narrow alley I watched this peaceful creature. Instead of the gentle chanting of om that I'd anticipated before arriving in India, the night air was throbbing with music at dance-club decibels blasting from nearby temple loud speakers. While previously I might have felt annoyed, now I felt transformed—healed—and celebrated yet another maddening contradiction of this intoxicating land. Photo: Kamala Lopez Photo: Tommy Rosen Dr. Soumya took my pulse and had me stick out my tongue, noting ridges along the edges, evidence of not absorbing nutrients. "Are you often hungry?" she asked. I'm always hungry. "Hunger is a sign of bad health," she chided. When she inquired as to my typical breakfast, I proudly reported it was Greek yogurt with pineapple and berries. Doctor Soumya looked grave as she told me that dairy eaten with fruit causes fermentation and can lead to autoimmune conditions, such as my arthritic fingers. Her diagnosis: digestive disaster. Anyone who knows a bit about ayurveda is aware there are three governing elements, or doshas—vata, pitta and kapha, in greater or lesser proportions depending on your pulse and body type. I was diagnosed as vata—lean, dry skin and hair, cold hands and feet, with classic vata ailments of anxiety and arthritis. The doctor prescribed panchakarma, a therapy of diet and therapeutic massage, for all three of us, and for me, healing modalities—although they seemed more like healing attacks—on both ends: nasal treatments and enemas. But first, she placed me on a strict detox diet: no dairy, coffee, alcohol, meat, sugar, beans, eggs, potatoes or spices, and no yoga, swimming or sun. Aside from black grapes and sweet oranges "for energy," and plain grilled fish, I was to dine solely on dosa (not to be confused with dosha), idly and idappum, all variations of water and rice flour. Murderously boring—especially when surrounded by so many exotic cooking smells—but easy to digest. Each morning diminutive women rubbed me with oil from pots that looked designed to contain genies, and peppered me with questions: How old was I? Married? Why did I wear only one anklet (two are customary), and how many rupees did it cost? Afterward they sent me to a rudimentary bathroom—not that I cared about black ants after having found a hairy spider the size of my hand in our apartment—and gave me a bucket of warm water to rinse myself, a far cry from the de rigueur scrubbing by attendants at upscale resorts. But upscale therapists don't make house calls. Our doctors stopped by regularly with medicated ghee and herbs to treat Kamala's mom's nascent cataract. And when they sought modern technology to rule out skeletal issues in Kamala's back, the doctors themselves drove her to a hospital for an X-ray. The cost? Two hundred rupees, about $4. By week's end I still craved caffeine, but I'd stopped fantasizing june / july 2013 FINAL REDESIGN WLT-5-27-11pm.indd 25 25 5/28/13 11:12 AM

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