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October 21, 2019

How I Cured 15 years of Chronic Back Pain in 90 days (& How I unwittingly Caused It).

*Editor’s Note: Elephant is not your doctor or hospital. Our lawyers would say “this website is not designed to, and should not be construed to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment.” But we can’t afford lawyers, and you knew all that. 

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For more than 15 years, I suffered from chronic back pain that no Western doctor could resolve—and that left me unable to walk for a week of every month.

Frustrated, depressed, and pissed off, I tried everything from acupuncture to physical therapy, but would only experience temporary relief. I knew there had to be a reason for my pain, so why couldn’t anyone explain to me what the hell was going on?!

Here is what was happening: I would get episodes of lower back spasms, where my back would completely lock up and if I moved too suddenly or at the wrong angle—pain! It was terrible, totally unpredictable, and took control of my life. I became fearful of riding my bike or hiking or doing any activity that could leave me vulnerable to the wrath of the back-pain gods. MRI’s, X-rays—I did it all, and nobody could give me a definitive answer to the root cause.

Until I found Āyurveda.

Āyurveda did what Western medicine couldn’t, and simple dietary changes combined with a 90-day herbal protocol cured my seemingly “incurable” condition—for good. Not only did the science of Āyurveda cure my back pain, it was able to simply and logically explain to me what the root cause of my pain really was, in contrast to the guess work of “advanced” medical professionals using modern equipment.

So how did this all come to be?

Rewind to my first trip to India, a 103-degree fever, and two days sick as a dog on a train with my partner at the time. We were heading to Vaidyagrama, an Āyurvedic hospital, not for treatment, but as a rendezvous spot with a driver who knew how to get us to our meditation spot in the middle of nowhere, Tamil Nadu. As we wearily hauled ourselves and our bags in for the nights’ stay after our feverish train travel, the head physician, Dr. Ram Kumar, took one look at us and told us we needed to stay.

Thus began my first real journey into the world of panchakarma and Āyurveda. We began our protocol the next day, beginning with daily oil massages, herbal medicines, and a restricted diet. I was grumpy, hungry, and didn’t understand how all of this was going to make me feel better. Thank god for the patience of these wonderful physicians, whose grace led me to the path I am on today.

When I told the doctors about my back pain, they didn’t ask me questions about slipped discs or physical activity. Instead, they asked me about my diet and digestion. Huh? I thought to myself, “These people are crazy and have no idea what they are talking about.” Little did I know how wrong I was (and thank god for that!).

You’re probably wondering, “What was the cause of your back pain and how does that relate to digestion?” Allow me to explain.

The colon and small intestine are semipermeable membranes through which nutrients and water are absorbed from the bolus, or mass of food, that passes through your body after eating. When we don’t digest our food well, we develop a layer of undigested food in the gastrointestinal tract that we call āma in Āyurveda. This āma, or gunk, can actually pass through the membrane and lodge into deeper tissues, causing intense pain and inflammation. I was incredibly active as a student of Capoeira, Tai Chi, and drums, so was constantly creating a centrifugal force that pushed āma out of my G.I. tract and into my tissues, and this turned out to be the cause of the constant chronic pain I experienced.

However, the real cause of all these issues was actually my diet and digestion. To be frank, I used to eat like crap. I spent many years living off of fast food choices like pizza and burritos, not to mention that I partied, smoked cigarettes, and in general took sh*t care of myself. I made a lot of poor food combining choices and would do things like eat half a jar of peanut butter in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. This was my body trying to ground itself to stave off insomnia, another thing I learned from studying Āyurveda. All of these bad habits led to poor digestion, which caused āma to form, which was then pushed into my deep tissues, making my life miserable.

That’s right. I had unwittingly caused my own pain—for over 15 years. Damn.

So how was this cured? The herbal protocol essentially dredged my G.I. tract, as did the panchakarma therapy I underwent, and cleaned all of that undigested food gunk out of my body. I continued this protocol for 90 days after my 17-day stint in the clinic, and the end result?

I was cured! Not temporarily, not for a week or a month, but have now spent the last seven years living a brand new life, free of the back pain that had controlled so much of my life starting at the tender age of 14.

It took work. It took responsibility. It took cleaning up my diet. And it was worth it.

The changes that have happened in my life as a result of this experience are multifaceted, but all overwhelmingly positive. I started to become happier. I could move my body again without fear. My energy levels increased. I could sit in meditation for longer periods without wiggling about.

I gave up my life in Seattle and moved to Albuquerque, sight unseen, to study with the one and only Dr. Vasant Lad so I could deepen my knowledge and share the power of Āyurveda with others. I started my own company, Siddha Labs, using the technology of Āyurveda to create targeted herbal supplements that actually work.

Most importantly, I now have the privilege of sharing a message of hope and inspiration rooted in science. Don’t give up on your health. Keep moving forward and learning about yourself, your constitution, and what you need to thrive.

I know Āyurveda can help you, because I’ve been personally transformed by it and have witnessed that transformation in countless other friends, clients, and peers.

Keep striving, little caterpillar, and know that you, too, will one day become a butterfly.

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author: Sarah Otto-Combs

Image: Hanna Postova/Unsplash

Editor: Nicole Cameron