Thursday, December 22, 2011

is it hot enough?

is this hot enough? that is my burning question. what's going on here? okay, let me go back a little. hwubby and i are in an ayurveda ashram/hospital/retreat/resort in the depths of nature half an hour from coimbatore, south india. we are totally cut off from the city cacophony. the road that veers off the paved road and leads to this place is unpaved and winding and narrow. the one floor buildings are made of bricks that are pressed-earth and sun-dried. directions, forms and designs are strictly vedic feng shui correct. i can feel peace and harmony enveloping me in my room as well as walking through the roofed walkways that connect all the buildings.

i sort of digress. we are here for a comprehensive course of authentic ayurveda treatments. ayurveda is the body of knowledge on life and longevity in india that is five thousand years old. i'll have a little to say about 'authentic' in a little bit. to put it simply, as i am a simple person, at the time when i am in this box i'm going through the treatment 'sweating,' sweda in sanskrit. i have a vague sense of what needs to happen in the process. it is to draw toxins into the digestive tract. toxins from undigested food over the course of time, emotional toxins, mental toxins, chemicals ingested through breathing and processed foods, pollutants and so on and so forth.

by the way i already went through several treatments to bring me to this point. loosening the toxins by massaging the body with plenty of herbally medicated oils. and when i say plenty i mean half a glass, not like a smear. opening up the channels by pounding the oiled body with fist-sized balls of dry herbs that are wrapped in cotton and heated. drinking ghee. yes, i'm not kidding. for three days at six am, after invoking grace of the medicine buddha, i drink a glass of melted ghee. warning. full on ayurveda treatments are only for the committed. or one who has tried all other medical options in the west and nothing is working, like the guy who has been taking painkillers for thirty years and now not even massive amounts can do anything. on a side note, he's off painkillers after being here for eight days.

what does the ghee do? it floats the toxins so that they are ready for the next step. which brings me into the box.

here's the preconditioning that i bring with me. this is like the steam room in a spa. so it is supposed to be very hot. but i step into the box and the first thought i have is, this is not hot. the therapist is a 23 year old indian woman. i don't speak her language which is malayanam. she speaks english words. madam. sit. this side. straight. you okay? up. i say, not hot, no steam. she says softly, as everybody here do, coming, coming. then we look at each other, she standing in front of the box, chin touching the top, me desperately trying to feel hot and sweaty. but it is very difficult to tell since i am all oiled up head to toe. but, later, as i reflect on it, the mind is the real problem. i compare this with the spa experience. add to the  fact that i am just learning to listen to the body. when i was going through the ghee drinking the doctor comes to check on me frequently. the first question he asks is, hungry? i am stunned to realize that i don't know. i always eat either because i love to eat or it is time to eat or it is a feast so i have to eat.

anyway, there i am in the box. i don't feel hot or sweaty. instead i feel anxious. maybe the steam system is not working, just like so many things in india. it's almost twenty minutes already. i have to talk to the doctor. the mind is really going. then my therapist points to my forehead and says, sweating. i can't believe it. for a moment i think, you must be just wanting to get off work. my body is not hot at all. finally i decided i am not going to do anything that may cause this girl to lose her job. i'm just going to let this go and find a way to bring this up to the body. what could happen, really? maybe i'll have to get another day of this treatment.

after treatment i run to the room. i say to hwubby, i don't know if it was hot enough, i don't know if i was sweating. he says, you're like ant in a hot wok.

i call dr harikrisnan, the equivalent of attending physician in the west. he's not in his room. i run to evening prayer to catch dr omprakash who is a young ayurvedic doctor who takes care of my block. i say, i'm just beginning to know my body, i may be wrong....i pour out my burning concern. dr. omprakash listens calmly, as always, his head gently swaying. he says, it's fine. i say, how so? he says, in a nutshell, it's not like a spa, hot steam. it's mild. if your forehead has fine sweat, it's working. your body has oil, you can't tell.

aaah. this is not a spa. this is not about pampering on the superficial level and temporary effect on the body. in a spa steaming is in and of itself something. hwubby would say, i'm going to the steam room to relax. here, steaming is a preparatory step. it lead to something else. it has to be preceded by another thing. the whole process aims to have a profound effect on the person as a whole, body, mind and spirit. it is so radically different from western medicine. think about it. there's a doctor for almost every part of the body. even a doctor who specializes in treating the hand. to put it simplistically, western medicine is about drug and cut.

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