Ayurveda is an ancient medicinal tradition focused on the wisdom of life. Ayur means ancient system of life. Veda is wisdom. I’ve come to this Ayurveda healing center to focus on the healing that my Western medical team is not able to fully satisfy.
Cow. Cow. Cow. Another Cow.
This morning I went for my last walk before the “Ghee Days”. Stepping out the door of the healing village, I was halted by the sight of 3 beautiful cows with amazing horns, strolling down the road. They were followed by a cow herder giving them cues as he casually shifted their reigns. I began to step out to cross the dirt street when I realized that a baby cow was running to catch up with the first 3. Untethered but obviously dedicated, this baby cow was earnestly following the hoof prints of the bigger cows.
Though it was a baby cow, I waited. After all, a baby cow could do some damage if it knocked me over. I already have two concussions!
Cows are sacred in India. Once you see how elegant and beautiful they are, you’ll understand! Of course, their sacredness goes beyond their appearance. Ghee, made from the butter made from the milk of the sacred cows, is also revered in India. It’s used for rituals, for healing, and for cooking and baking. Check out the Powers of Ghee.
Once the Ghee Days start, the doctors ask you not to leave your room. You are encouraged to stay inside, to rest, to be inward. Since I came here with concussion symptoms that include brain fatigue and social apprehension, it was not hard to convince me to stay in my own space for the days ahead.
Not Golden Milk!
For those of you who love your Golden Milk beverage, with the ghee, warm milk, turmeric, cinnamon and a touch of honey…. THIS was not going to be that! I’ve drank golden milk many times. I love it.
“So, how bad is this going to be?” I asked myself.
The amount of ghee simmered in warm turmeric milk is a MUCH SMALLER amount of ghee!
This was NOT LIKE THAT.
This was what I would call a LARGE amount of ghee… and ONLY ghee.
Only the golden liquid.
I’m summoned at 5:48 am. I go to the ghee drinking spot and take my seat in the ominous treatment room - which was only transformed to ominous from its usual healing vibration due to the foreboding atmosphere surrounding the drinking of the ghee. Or perhaps it felt ominous and less radiant because the staff has to get up earlier than customary to provide this treatment. They’re wearing their pajamas and rubbing their eyes. Meanwhile, I have already been awake since 4 am doing my yoga practice. (Jet lag wakes me at 4 am.)
The ghee cup is held by my doctor and we sing a prayer to the black stone murti with the candle flame and the red hibiscus flower.
Now the drinking begins!
Oh gosh. It is much worse than I imagined. I don’t know how I could have prepared myself for this. I came in willing and eager based on the power of the healing of the ghee. Suddenly, I am willing and perseverant, but not eager.
I can only sip this liquid. I watch the faces of the staff shift when they realize that this could take me a while! Apparently other patients can gulp this stuff down. But, no, I can tell with every fiber of my throat that if I gulp, I will immediately gag and throw up this divine golden nectar.
I’m told I can have sips of hot water after I get this ghee down. And that I will be rewarded with a spoonful of jaggery (unrefined, fermented sugar). The spoon for the jaggery looks like the teeny tiny spoons of a childhood tea set that I played with at my grandmother’s house. Very tiny! Not a lot of jaggery is going to fit on that spoon.
With each disgusting sip, I stare at either the face of the murti, the stem of the flower or the tip of the candle flame and I apply my mantras, on rotation:
Healing my brain.
Healing brain and body.
The deepest healing.
Full and complete healing.
Cookies are in my future.
I can do this.
This is temporary.
This is shorter lived than the years of concussion symptoms.
I’ll regret not giving this its most complete opportunity to be successful.
Cookies are in my future.
Can cookies be delivered to Vaidyagram (without them noticing)?
As I complete, there is a sigh of relief from not only me but the doctor and the attendant. I am rewarded with hot water to sip - it helps to get the oily liquid further down into my throat and to keep it traveling on its course.
Following the hot water sipping, which provides tremendous relief to me, I am rewarded again… with a spoonful of jaggery. It is not a heaping spoonful. It is still a tiny spoon. But, the flavor melts in my mouth and I savor its wonderful ability to help me overcome the painful experience of the ghee*.
(*This might be a key observation about how people develop sugar addictions! The jaggery took the pain and tension away. Fortunately, it was also so satisfying that one of those mini-teaspoon size servings was completely enough.)
Read as above but … add mosquitos*. On day 1, I wore my mosquito protective socks to the ghee drinking emporium. Today, I forgot them. The teeny mosquitoes of the early morning are so small that they can’t be seen, only felt. The larger (regular size) ones can be brushed away like we do in the US. But these others… argh!! I listen to the chant while trying not to be disruptive as I rub one foot against the other due to the itchiness. I know you are not supposed to scratch these bites, but I apparently don’t have that superpower. I impulsively scratch using the two foot method.
* The mosquitos are only present in the morning like this before the fans turn on and before the fragrant smoke process that sends them away.
After the chant, I tried my same technique as yesterday.
Stare at the red hibiscus.
Sip what I can tolerate and not more.
I practice not pressuring myself based on the proximity of my doctor and the attendant. I am somehow reminded of the movie One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest (filmed in Oregon, where I am from). I brush that thought aside like the regular size mosquitoes. My feet are still dancing about due to the invisible ones.
I am too distracted to proceed.
I take off my shawl and wrap it around my itchy feet, reminding myself to wear my socks the next day.
I truly want to get through this process, so I persevere.
This is temporary.
There is a cookie in my future.
This is a healing activity.
One sip at a time.
Days 3 - 6:
Repeat as above, but with socks on and with the daily does of ghee INCREASING.
Meanwhile, in my room, my meals are delivered, as usual, 3 times a day. During the ghee drinking wonder days, every meal is the same. Congee rice porridge for breakfast. Congee rice porridge and overcooked bland squash (like a zucchini but with pale skin) for lunch and dinner. Every day. No flavor. No variety.
This is to give the digestive system a chance at healing. It is a resting diet for the small and large intestine and therefore allows the ghee to do its magical healing work inside of me.
I was told that the ghee days might be days when I could feel tired, grumpy, giddy, irritated, even hostile toward the doctors. My doctor told me he might wear a helmet for his twice daily visits to my room!
The strange thing for me was that my mood was actually quite stable and I did not experience any unusual tiredness. Until right after dinner. At which point, I HAD TO LIE DOWN. Or risk falling over asleep before I hit the floor. It was an amazingly deep kind of tiredness. A tired like there was no going on for the next hour. I tried setting my alarm so I would rest for just 20 minutes. It never worked. I hit the snooze twice and ended up with a dreamy bewildering hour of sleep. I woke up feeling disoriented but not unhappy. I felt like Alice in Wonderland or Rip Van Winkle. Or Gulliver with the Lilliputians.
I’d then be awake for an hour or so before “going to bed for the night”. Which meant, until about 3:30 am when I would feel completely rested and ready for my luxurious morning yoga practice. (With the darkness of morning, except for my neighbor’s porch lights. The subject of a different blog.)
The LAST DAY for the Ghee drinking.
At this point, I am used to it and the doctors are used to my pace. However, I had a fantasy that the last day was going to be a smaller amount. Not a bigger amount yet again!! I felt I had been a good patient. A good sport. I thought this would gain me some merit in having a reduced amount of ghee.
However, the healing powers of the ghee ought not be negotiated by the impulsive fantasies of the patient.
The doctors persevered too and served me the largest serving of the week.
Unbeknownst to me, following this awful gag-threatening treatment, that is, the golden healing liquid, I was notified that there would now be a day of purgation. Though the staff continually called it purgation, all I could hear was the word purgatory! This day of purgation, according to my neighbor, a fellow intrepid yogi who had done pancha karma before, as have I, yet who was also new to this specific treatment, the day of the purgation beverage wasn’t terrible. We had been swapping trustworthy stories about our different treatments and experiences here with the PK, so it was on that good merit that I trusted that the next day could be a glorious healing experience. Afterall, this must be building up to something very healing!! Ghee has cleansing powers that are exponential. In this treatment it is said to be cleansing the brain and body of impurities, extracting those darned impurities and ushering them out through the colon.
I went to the same ghee drinking emporium, still ominous, the staff still wore their pajamas and rubbed their eyes. They smiled a bit less and looked a bit more worried. After the chant, I realized why their faces exuded apprehension. The beverage I was being given was not what my neighbor had. He described a very spicy tea beverage. He guessed it had lots of cloves. I could handle that! But, no, this was a way too large serving of medicated castor oil.
I was gagging just looking at it.
Over the last couple of days of the Golden Ghee, I had developed a technique to get through it (in addition to my mosquito socks, mantra, and staring at the red hibiscus flower). I alternated the hot oily liquid with sips of very hot water. I had to sneak this hot water in the first few times because you’re supposed to drink all of the ghee and then get the hot water. I suppose the staff recognized that I would have struggled much more and they took mercy upon me and allowed me these gracious - and illicit - sips of very hot water. They had to fill the tiny tea cup of hot water several times to help me get through the increasing portions of the golden ghee.
Well, I looked at this castor oil and I reminded myself that I had come thousands of miles to be here and I’ve been struggling with concussion symptoms for more than 3 ½ years. This beverage would take me about 15 minutes to drink.
Staring at the red flower, I took one healthy sip of the disgusting oil, and one tiny sip of hot water. I held my breath between sips so that I would not have to taste the oil so strongly. Fortunately, I was with the more affectionate doctor, of the 3 on rotation for this duty, and she could see these were big efforts for me. Partway through I had to request that they heat up the oil again because when it cools down, it feels more thick and disgusting.
When I finished it, I really wanted a COOKIE. I wanted a reward.
I was surprised at how satisfying the jaggery was!
I went back to my room mentally prepared for the day of purgatory. I mean, purgation.
I waited, and waited. Doctors came and went, each time asking me, “Did you pass the bowels yet?” Fortunately, I have a great fondness for the Indian accent. Everything sounds like a prayer or blessing.
Unfortunately, there was no purgatory - I mean purgation - on that day. Which meant, ONE MORE DAY of disgusting liquids….
I go again to the dismal drinking emporium with the single candle, red hibiscus flower, black stone murti, and the staff in their pajamas.
This time, it is a bitter beverage that on the first sip tasted like exotic hot chocolate in a country trying to create a hot chocolate beverage to serve to tourists. It was very bitter and had hints of flavor like cinnamon and cayenne. I dreamed of the dark chocolate, cherry and cayenne chocolate bar that saves the orangutans, made by Endangered Species. There was a time back in Portland when I was saving a lot of orangutans! Maybe dozens of orangutans each month!
(This link now saves the Golden Headed Tamarin. I suppose I must have helped save enough Orangatuns that they shifted the focus for this bar!)
At first I was okay with this beverage. Until I realized it needed constant stirring to stay emulsified and that there was actually a much worse tasting chalky, sandy powder that the medicinal drink was made from. Now we had another disgusting flavor AND a horrible texture. (I do not like drinking sand.)
I dug deep into my perseverance. Increased my mantra. Steadied my eyes on the murti. And, one bizarre sip at a time, I got it down.
I went to my room to now await the purgation (aka purgatory). Fortunately, the worst part was already over. The days of ghee, the awful castor oil, the confused hot chocolate beverage. And, fortunately, my body responded. The cleaning response that all of the doctors were eager to make sure happened, was underway. It was successful and by the end of the day, I slept with the joyful knowledge that the next day I would be getting breakfast of green garam soup and congee (more congee, but an additional flavor was coming!). I would then be getting other vegetables, like steamed carrots. And, the following day, I would be rewarded again with the “normal diet”. Blessed be.
Normal diet is Ayurvedically prepared and individualized meals to support our healing. Look for a future blog where I will describe how the center runs, who is a part of the village, and how the morning prayers encourage me to walk in the jungle on the stone pathways. I’ll also share with you how a harmonium got delivered to my room and how the Indians responded so joyfully to my harmonium practice, insisting that I practice MORE because they felt such benefit from it. (This is the first time I can recall being told to practice more because of the joy of listeners. When I was a kid learning the trumpet - also a very LOUD instrument - I was told to practice more because of my mistakes.)
Was It Worth It?
You might be wondering if all of that misery was worth it? What was the outcome (besides the purgation)?
Concussions influence myriad vital systems in our bodies. For example, the gut-brain axis is disrupted. This can cause changes in digestion and even the gut microbiome.
In 2018, I had a mysterious blood cell infection, potentially from a spider bite. Though there was a very painful sting on my ankle in the middle of the night, we never found the puncture wound. I ended up in the ER with swollen feet and hands, and limbs, a fever, and red dots starting at my periphery and moving toward my heart. This infection was treated with multiple forms of anti-biotics, anti-virals, anti-parasitics, even anti-worming. Yes, I took Ivermectin during this time! The doctors, including my naturopath, chose this protocol since we did not know if the infection was from a spider (and, if it was a spider, we didn’t know what kind), or from international travels to India and Mexico just a few months before the infection. I was medicated in such a way that my gut microbiome was really a disaster.
I’ve been committed to a healthy diet and food as medicine for decades. I committed to healing my gut through diet and supplements and all of the most contemporary SIBO protocols. Yet, the disruption to my gut was still easily flared. When I was run over by the cyclist on the walking path in October 2019, the impact that led to my concussion re-activated those gut issues. Now we had a name for it. SIBO. (Look it up if you don’t know what it is. If you do know what it is, and have experienced it, I’m sending you empathy right now!)
Again, multiple visits with doctors, new protocols, old protocols, eat only these 3 foods, not those foods, take new supplements, look for solutions. I’d finally settled down the SIBO condition when, oh darn, I was in a car accident in a sleet storm in April of 2022.
Again, the concussion exacerbated the gut issues. SIBO has different manifestations and while there is no good form of it to have, I found the forms that I cycled through to be confounding and frustrating. It’s hard to eat when anything can disrupt your gut, even healthy food picked off of the vine in your own garden. (Yes, snap peas, grapes, and green beans were now dangerous!)
So, was this treatment worth it?
YES. After years of suffering, even while eating a healthy diet, after years of intermittent brain fog from both my gut and my concussions, and after years of difficulty concentrating, being overtaken by bouts of misery**, navigating digestive issues while also teaching and living my life, and while still using all of my practices to cultivate an attitude of equanimity and perseverance… YES. The treatment was worth it.
The depth of cleansing hopefully means that the microbiome disruption has been ushered out. For the days to come, each meal is a chance to now rebuild a healthy gut microbiome. Life is far better with a healthy microbiome! In Ayurveda we say your health begins in your colon. Mental heath too! I’m on my way to rebuilding the microbiome community within me. I’ll update you on this at the end of my PK!
You might be left wondering…. Did I ever get a cookie?!
**You may not have seen me as a person who was living with bouts of body-centered misery. It’s not something I felt like discussing publicly. Whatever joy or generosity or radiance you may have attributed to me when I am teaching yoga, that is all genuine. I am fortunate to have a baseline of higher vagal tone that allows the joy I feel when teaching to be in the foreground. Personal misery moves to the background (and is actually often improved by the act of teaching). I love teaching and being in the shared practice space so much that it is also a healing act for me. (This is one reason I am so excited to be leading a retreat at Breitenbush in August!)