From Here to Serenity
To that end, this first phase of panchakarma starts with dietary restrictions: no meat or dairy the week before treatment. That's easy for me. But oleation—the lubrication of the inner body—is a bit harder to swallow. I have to eat two, four, and then six tablespoons of ghee, or clarified butter, before meditation for three consecutive mornings. It is strangely filling, and I can barely eat the rest of the day. But according to Lad, the ghee provides internal lubrication, "which is necessary so that the ama or toxins begin to come back from the deep tissue of the gastrointestinal tract for elimination." The third night brings relief...two tablespoons of castor oil. These home therapies help liquefy the toxins at the sites where they've lodged in my body, loosening them and moving them out through the digestive tract.
Finally I'm set to start my five days of panchakarma. Early Sunday evening, I assemble with four others for an orientation at the Ayurvedic Institute. Besides our daily treatments, we will see Dr. Lad on Monday and Thursday, and check in daily with the panchakarma coordinator. In addition, we can attend yoga classes during the day, sit in on optional lectures, or take a cooking class in the evening. Our food is restricted to one dish, kitchari. This easily digestible, lightly spiced one-pot meal of basmati rice and mung dal can be adorned with a little ghee, fresh cilantro leaves (our only vegetable), lime, and a pinch of salt. We are advised to eat according to our hunger (which will be less than usual due to the toxins accumulating in the stomach) but not less than an hour before treatments, and preferably not after dark. Pots of herbal teas aid digestion and purification.
Monday is my first day of treatment. It begins with yoga which is followed by a meeting with Dr. Lad. I present him with a long list of complaints, primarily things I would never confess to a medical doctor, who would surely think me a hypochondriac. But in Lad's patient presence, I spill everything that concerns me. The release alone is therapeutic. Dr. Lad is not confused by my apparently unrelated symptoms. Reading my pulses, he identifies my prakriti and vikriti, the core of Ayurvedic diagnosis. Both prakriti and vikriti are expressed by the interaction of three doshas, and a reading of all of these factors helps him tailor a program just for me. He'll not only evaluate my current imbalances and ability to withstand panchakarma, but also monitor my condition daily through pulse and tongue diagnosis, adjusting the treatment as we go along.
That afternoon, two sunny, smiling women welcome me at the panchakarma lounge. They are the massage therapists who will give me daily warm oil massages. These massages are clearly choreographed and synchronized so that each woman mirrors the other's movements on either side of my body. With four hands moving as one entity, warm rivers of oil soothe tender spots. Every moment is celestial. Aromatic nasal drops deepen my breathing. My mind softens. Warm oil is poured in first one ear, then the next, moving me deeply into silence. Eye drops burn intensely for a moment, then leave my eyes remarkably clear. Renouncing concern about messy sheets, I float away in a pool of warm oil.