My live feed...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

An Ayurveda Escape

Ground herbs to be used for medicines. 
The vice-grip clenches down on my funny-bone and I can't help but exhale a little yelp. The grip doesn't relent but tightens further as if goaded on by my guttural feedback, and now begins to move up and down my thigh squeezing with increased rigor. I'm pinioned between two masseuses who are bent on identifying and decoupling knots and other abnormalities they find around my body. I'm compressed, kneaded, pulled and manipulated with skilled hands as they methodically scour my entire body. There's nary a stitch of clothing on me and there's little that they miss. While the session on my upper back and traps was excruciating, the one on my thighs is singularly tormenting. I'm tickled (it's my funny-bone after all), and squirming in agony, all at the same time. As a grown man, my little cries feel embarrassing. Chakrapani, one of the masseuses, assures me that my reactions are quite normal. I'm hardly comforted and plead with them to slow down. This is after all my first day at the Ayurveda center and I'm supposed to last for the next two weeks. Soon the discomfort recedes making way for deeper sensations of tranquility and well-being. The depth of which I probably couldn't experience had I not been subjected to the suffering first. How did I end up here? I was on a surf discovery mission after all.
After lapping up the Cyclone Phailin-borne swell in the the ancient and exotic, if mucky, beach town of Mahabalipurm, we had made our way to Pondicherry, an erstwhile French colony that was reputed for culinary excellence, both for an avantè garde blend of French and Indian, as well as exquisite traditional Tamil Nadu fare. In particular I was on the hunt for the best thali - a bottomless platter of fragrant curries, pickles, and stir-fried vegetables served with papadam, rice and/or roti that is usually served at lunchtime. We found an excellent one at Surguru's, and for about 2 USDs we gorged ourselves silly. With the eye of a fussy grandma, the servers hover around tables persistently refilling empty bowls, forcing me to err on the side of gluttony. I personally ate enough for lunch that dinner was a moot point that day. We also found good bakeries for breakfast and eclectic street food to cap off evening walks in the Pondicherry promenade. We also explored Auro-beach and visited a surf-school run by two friendly Auroville-raised Spaniards. It slowly dawned on me that I needed a break from surfing on account of open skin wounds that refused to heal with daily and prolonged exposure to aquatic elements. While being a general tourist can be fun on occasion and there were plenty of promising sights in South India, i was looking for something profound and longer-lasting. I reverted to the notion of calling on to a cleansing / nature care facility, an idea that I had entertained at the beginning of my travels last year. It felt like it's time had finally come. I was close to Kerala, the center of Ayurveda - an alternative system of healing based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. The primary focus of Ayurvedic medicine is to promote good health, rather than fight disease. I wasn't suffering from any serious malady and felt that an Ayurveda escape would be sublime to align and reset my systems from the past year of sports and travel induced gluttony.
The left at Auroville
Another couple of days of research and planning, and voila, i found myself at Matt India Ayurveda, deep in the heart of rural Kerala, in the village of Turavur, and on the banks of the famed Keralan backwaters. Without the hazards of modern telecom it would certainly feel like a place that time forgot. The facility itself is organized more like a hospital than a retreat and they take patient care rather seriously. They have space for many more, but refuse to take more than a dozen patients at a time. In fact there were only four others when I arrived here mid-October. It is still Monsoon here which is apparently also the ideal time for Ayurvedic treatment. The herbs used in the medicines are in bloom, and the moist air promotes healing. The Keralan rainstorms are awe-inspiring certainly. It's poured almost every day of the past week that I have been here and the thunderclap is loud enough to be startling. 
The Matt India campus
The backwaters right behind the center.
Getting a tour


The clinic was different than what I imagined. Actually I had no right to expect anything, having no experience, and my knowledge of Ayurveda being next to none. It was not the kind of cleansing getaway popular in the West where they attempt to detoxify you by restricting to an exclusive diet of limited raw foods and juices, and flushing the hell out of your colon with daily enemas. Instead here they nourish with fresh, mouth-watering South Indian food (albeit cooked with minimal fat), herbal juices, and seasonal fruits, but also pummeled you with intense massages, hot oil baths and several other types of focused therapy. I suppose Ayurveda doesn't believe in starvation but instead seeks to bring you in balance with providing clean food complemented by various external ministrations. I had mixed feelings initially as I did entertain the goal of a colonic cleanse, however I realized I could (with some determination) administer my own cleansing diet back home, but wouldn't find this kind of Keralan program anywhere else in the world. 
The verandah outside my room. Daily sunshine!
Half-way into my two week stay, my daily routine is something like this:
6 am: wakeup, exercise and yoga. Hatha style focusing on pranayama
9 am: breakfast with fruit, raw herb juice, South Indian cooked treat (pitta, idli, iddappam etc). 
11-2: treatment time. usually consists of a combination of a deep oil massage, hot oil bath, kiri (massage with herbs in a sponge), sauna with herbal steam. I usually have 2-3 therapists devoted to me. What an indulgence! The doctor peeps in his head with specific instructions for the caregivers.
2:30: Lunch. Usually sprouted lentils, salads, rice/roti, a curry.
7: Dinner, light food. Herbal juice, some veggies and maybe a roti.
10: Bedtime!
The rest of the day i read, go for walks, spend on the Internet etc. Aside from planned trips to Fort Kochi, and walks around the backwaters, there isn't much to recreate with. Just as well as i needed to catch up with my reading and writing.
Every meal freshly made, often with herbs and veggies from the garden outside 

Others currently at the center consist of Renè from Switzerland, Carmela from Brazil, Dennis from Russia and Babubhai, a Gujarati from Mumbai. They are all older than me and came here with grave joint issues and now report remarkable progress. Babubhai for example, couldn't lift his arms above his shoulders, but is now finding breakthroughs during morning yoga. Renè had severe back and neck pain that has receded rapidly. While nothing serious, I have weak knees that abhor running and am hoping that my legs can find some alignment here. With all that pain, they better! I also have chronic sinusitis, the treatment for which begins tomorrow. I expect it will be face massages and jal-neti. 

The Matt India team. Love these guys despite the pain some of them inflicted on me every day :)
I'm quite amazed by this facility though. It's the sort of place that makes you feel good all over. I marvel at the kindness and care lavished by Joy, the director, the massage therapists, and all the way to the kitchen staff. It's evident that they are doing it with love, to help and heal My stay here is very inexpensive. The cost is all-inclusive - accommodations, food, diagnosis, medicine, the treatments, et all. In the US you would have barely afforded a cheap motel at this price. They don't discriminate between foreigners and Indians and make it very reasonable for everybody. Prices aside, they listen to everything you have to say, learn your habits so as to provide better care, and not the least, cook really well! I'm known to be an exacting skeptic, but here I can happily say that I've genuinely felt like family and am so glad that places like this exist. To help others without ulterior motives, and to find joy in your work, is another reinforcing message that I'll take away from Matt India.

No comments:

Post a Comment