As I write this, I am sitting alone in India on my last of 12 days of Ayurvedic treatment.
We’d begun our extended travel at a homestay in Bristol, England.
Our lovely host, a female Indian pharmacist, shared miraculous results she’d had with Ayurveda. A childhood friend from her hometown, Mangalore, India, had referred her to a clinic there.
As she spontaneously rattled off her symptoms, I mentally went through my personal checklist—we could have been symptom sisters. And after sharing that with her, she sat tall and stated, “The universe sent you here to me. You must look into this treatment.”
Separating from my son and husband to travel solo to India was daunting; I would miss them horribly and they had given me their horrendous cold virus just in time for me to travel what felt like light years away.
But now, to wind down over three months of travel, here I am.
Each day of my Ayurvedic treatment, I have gone in for both morning and evening sessions of Bahir Parimarjana Chikitsa body treatments that the gentle and kind doctor prescribed after assessing me. Treatment also includes daily ingestion of Ayurvedic medicine.
The body treatment portion consists of a hot and oily massage by two young women, and uses mainly plant medicine. In the morning, treatment begins with a head oil massage, then moves to a full body massage.
The sound of the hot, sizzling oil is one I must breathe through each and every time—I know what is to come. What looks like big muslin balls of potpourri (which are actually stuffed with medicinal leaves called Pinda Sweda) are placed in the sputtering oil and then, after a few thunks on the table to cool them a bit, they are aggressively pushed and massaged into my body.
The difference in my evening treatment is that at the end, instead of the medicine balls, hot, medicated milk is poured over my body and head.
A couple of days ago, when the evening medicated enemas and milk baths were discontinued, celebration ensued. I hadn’t minded the top end, but I was happy to discontinue my recurring date with the enema.
I have settled into a gentle routine between sessions with meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, some study, and soaking up the opportunity for rest and relaxation.
And I’m noticing positive changes in my body.
My joints are less stiff and creaky. The cold that was heading into my lungs—scary territory—turned around quickly, a lump on my sprained ankle that stayed injured for a full year is gone, and I’m told that I can expect positive changes to continue as long as I stay with the overall practice—nutritionally, spiritually, and physically.
Routine: an important word in Ayurveda.
I must have regularity with my meals and my practice—areas that have been lacking.
However, the most profound of the experience is the emotional work I was able to break through on that oily, milky, ancient wooden table.
You see, for the last 21 months, I feel as if I’ve been dipped and deep fried in a boiling vat of grief, having lost our three remaining parents and my dear brother.
Losing my two lifelong family best friends, cheerleaders, and spirit-connects has been the most difficult loss of my lifetime.
“Walking them both home” was an absolute honor, but I’ve since experienced daily, sorrowful flashbacks of seeing the ones I love most deteriorate. Their memory and the gifts from caregiving are so very sweet, but every once in a while, that nectar flows down the wrong way and it leaves me sputtering in disbelief—even still.
My first time on the table, I was oiled and asked to turn over. Suddenly, I remembered helping my brother turn in his bed. Midway through his yearlong illness of brain cancer, his body had begun to deceive him and he wasn’t able to control it well. Looking down at my long legs trying to negotiate those slippery oily and milky turns brought me straight to him, and how he must have felt as he struggled to control his own lengthy limbs.
And those memories have continued in every session.
Initially, I was devastated. Would this be my experience every day?
But slipping, sliding, and flailing like an uncoordinated baby seal has provided the gift of what it might have felt like for my brother—and it’s brought on deep empathy and heart-wrenching sadness. It’s so hard seeing your strong, able-bodied hero deteriorate.
More each day, I have accepted the memories of his pain, of having to go through so much disconnect between his mind and body—and through each treatment, I focus and breathe love to him.
As I lay on the table, with the young lady’s gentle hands rinsing my hair, wringing it out tightly, and wrapping it in a towel, I experience more overwhelming flashbacks to when I was little.
My mother would lay me on the counter with my head over the sink to wash my hair and squeeze it out in just the same way—all because I didn’t like the water getting in my eyes in the bathtub.
The care my mother took with me as a child came flooding back to me. My brother who died was the youngest before me but still seven years older. Mom and I had many years alone and our bond was strong. When she was able to come live her last two years with me, I was given the gift of caring for her during her journey to “cross over”—the words she’d used to describe the dying the process.
Again, memories of those last 24 hours of labouring toward her death came vividly flashing back. It’s hard to see your mother rapidly fade away.
All of these memories were the catalyst for some deep emotional diving.
In a mixture of disbelief and awe, the first day, I sat in my room and sobbed.
During the sessions, I attempted to stay in a meditative state and welcome healing, but I continued to experience flashes of the hard stuff.
The other day, during a particularly greasy session, I told myself to feel every level of grief I needed to, and that while it was okay to visualize those memories, it was also okay to let the deepest and hardest (of the post-traumatic variety) find a resting place in my heart.
I gave myself a cue to use—when I found the flashbacks troubling—that would kindly escort those memories back to their tender resting place. Then, I’d be more able to send pure love energy to and from my loved ones, envisioning them radiating in peace.
And during subsequent sessions, there was validation that the technique was successful and the treatments became an entirely different experience—one of choosing where my meditations and visions would go.
I’m calling this India experience my bridge:
My bridge to wellness.
My bridge from death to life.
My bridge from traumatic grief to gentler grief—for when you love someone deeply, the grief will never entirely leave.
Thank you, India. And thank you, Ayurveda, for the bridge back to my life.