The healing power of food

It’s a foodie’s dream so why not make it a reality?

A proper Keralan lunch
A proper Keralan lunch

My second trip to India encompassed one goal and one goal only: Panchakarma.

panchakarma

I’ve always been drawn to Eastern methods of living, thinking and healing.  At age 14, I remember paging through my mom’s Redbook magazine and coming across an insert for a book club.  It was one of those thick rough pages that make flipping a magazine an arduous process.  The page advertised ten books for $10 or something equally as economical.  A deal that seemed ridiculously cheap even for a 14-year old.  I ripped it out, picked ten books and sent it away.  The only books I remember from that little experiment were The Tao Te Ching, and The Celestine Prophecy.

I had never actually heard of Panchakarma before I went to India for the first time, but as soon as my new Indian friend spoke its wonders to me, I was hooked.  I needed it.  Ten days later I was sitting at an official Ayurveda center speaking with my brand spanking new Ayurveda doctor.

“So, Darla,” the doctor begins to wrap-up our initial consultation.  “You want to do only Panchakarma this week?”

This was something between a statement and a question.

“Well,” I respond thinking through the list of treatable ailments I read while researching Ayurveda.  I don’t have Psoriasis, Sinusitis, Ulcers…“What else is there?”

“You should lose some weight,” he says matter-of-factly.

Huh.  Nothing like a little honesty.

And that is how my friend, the weight-loss treatment, joined me and my Panchakarma for our week of detox.

IMG_1793Each day starts with the same schedule.
Wake early.
Walk the gardens.
Morning cleansing treatment.
Yoga.
Breakfast.

“Good morning madam,” the server said as he approached my table with a smile, a pitcher of Jeera water and a plate of fresh fruit.  “It is fruit day.”

jeera

A glass of jeera with a view
A glass of jeera with a view

I don’t need to say this, but when a foodie goes on vacation a foodie expects to eat tasty local foods prepared in foreign ways with lots of ingredients one has never heard of.  So, you can imagine my disappointment when my diet the entire first day consisted of fruit.  Three meals of raw fruit.  Fresh, delicious fruit, but still just fruit.

The daily schedule continues after breakfast with the first therapeutic treatment.

IMG_1818“Change,” the therapist tells me as she reaches to pull the sliding wood door closed behind me.

I am standing in a 3-foot square room with a full-length mirror on one wall and a small dark built-in vanity on the other.

“Change?” I ask glancing around the room.  “Into what?”

To me the word change indicates that one takes one’s clothes off and replaces them with something else, such as a towel or a robe.  Looking around I am hard pressed to find something that seems likely of being changed into.  Was I supposed to bring something with me?

“There,” she says pointing to a white tube the size of a cigar sitting on the vanity.

“This?!” I exclaim.  My eyes growing wide as I pick the cloth cylinder up and search her face for an explanation.

She wags her head from side to side (the Indian equivalent to a nod) and starts to pull the door closed again.

“Wait,” I say grabbing the door and trying to gather all the questions I have into one.

“How?” I manage to stutter.

She leans forward and gently unwinds the cloth to reveal its full potential.  Unraveled the cylinder is four-inches wide and about two-feet long.  It has a string on each end of one of the short sides.  She reaches around me to show me how to effectively “change” into this thing and is out the door before I can protest.

I’m not a modest person.  I adore skinny-dipping.  I’ve had many a full-body massage where I was wearing nothing under a towel.  I’ve patronized Japanese baths in San Francisco.  A large Turkish woman at a public bath in Istanbul has even bathed me.  Even still, there is something disconcerting about putting on clothing that resembles a diaper and then heading outside the comforts of my dressing room, particularly less than 24 hours after the kind doctor informed me that I need to lose 8 kilo (yup, that’s about 17 lbs.)

IMG_1817The treatment that comes next quickly makes me forget the loincloth I have wrapped around my hips.  Following a head and face rub, two therapists administer a full-body massage using so much warm medicinal oil I could have slid across a surface covered in industrial-grade sandpaper.  Forty-five minutes later I am enclosed in a wooden box with an opening in the top for my head to stick out of.  A towel is wrapped around my neck as steam begins to fill the chamber.  I perch precariously atop a wobbling stool as the thick coat of oil drips down the sides of my body.  My loincloth is somewhere between a butt-cheek and China.

After adequate steamage my oil-laden body is gently lead to a shower.  Washed, changed (back into real-life clothes) and refreshed, I am sent on my way.

“Afternoon therapy 4 o’clock,” the therapist says with a smile and a wave.  The treatments in the week to come consist of so much warm oil that I begin to think I should buy stock in it.

Making dosas is difficult when you can't eat them afterwards
Making dosas is difficult when you can’t eat them afterwards

The daily schedule gracefully trudges along with adequate reading and resting time in between activities as well as regular batches of Ayurveda medications.  Morning treatment is followed by another yoga session and then lunch – if you can call my second plate of fruit for the day lunch.

Lunch is followed by meditation and afternoon treatment, which thankfully doesn’t require a loincloth.  An early dinner of, you guessed it, more fresh fruit, is served as a rainstorm floods the view from the open-air restaurant.  Monsoon season is upon us.

Before falling asleep I glance at the printout of my diet for the week.  In three days my entire caloric intake for the day will consist of eight small bananas and 12 glasses of water.  Two days after that is a day of as many tomatoes as my heart desires.  The days in between are mostly filled with steamed vegetables, vegetable patties, vegetable soup and more vegetables.

IMG_1697

The line typed under my breakfast for day two brings a smile to my face as I my head hits the pillow.  It reads simply “One boiled potato.”  Never in my life did I think I would be so happy to eat a boiled potato.

IMG_1718

The diet seems to pay off though.  Two nights before I leave I join a friend for an evening touring the city of Bangalore and the nearby hills.  As soon as he sees me he begins to exclaim excitedly about how good I look, how much I am glowing and how many kilos I must have lost already.

“Really?”  I say with a smile.  “I didn’t really notice.”

“Yes!” He calls out.  “When I saw you last you were fit, but definitely bordering on pleasantly plump!”

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4 Comments

  1. Lisa Brouelette said,

    July 26, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    This is the post that made me fall in love with your writing. I have read it so many times, read it out loud to my dog and to Junior. I laugh each time I read the section about the oil and the loincloth! Thanks for taking me there…that is a true gift.

  2. November 19, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    […] of a money tree.  I just have certain priorities right now.  Priorities such as a goal to lose all that weight my Ayurveda doctor prescribed way back in June when I was wandering around India (by the way Dr. […]

  3. December 31, 2009 at 2:14 am

    […] pch (thank you bff in san diego and sister in san fran). turkey at 28 (thanks ahmet). dubai/oman/india at 29 (‘nuf […]

  4. January 23, 2010 at 5:55 am

    […] 5. The food plan is too ridiculous to lay out in detail now because I will most likely jinx myself and not stick to it.  So, in the interest of toning my body to it’s absolute limits in one week I’ll just give the basics.  It looks something like this: green shake for breakfast, salad with animal protein for lunch and steamed veggies for dinner.  It’s starting to sound suspiciously similar to my week in Bangalore. […]


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