Many, if not most, of the students who complete the Axis Yoga Teacher Training program will describe how Yoga has enriched their lives. Often times in ways that were completely unexpected. This student’s story of performing panchkarma for the program’s Ayurvedic experiment is another example of attaining gifts other than those sought.
For the past year and a half, I have experienced various symptoms associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I have tried with limited success to use Western medicine, elimination diets, exercise, and stress management to alleviate these symptoms. In particular, at this time of year when we are transitioning from warmer to cooler months, I know that my pitta is aggravated from the summer’s heat as well as some of the foods I typically enjoy.
I chose to practice panchakarma for my Ayurveda experiment to help neutralize my seasonally aggravated pitta as well as to invite healing for my IBS.
Lad (1998) describes that traditional panchakarma includes five “actions”: internal oleation (daily ingesting increasing amounts of liquid ghee) while eating a doshic diet; external oleation and sweating (massaging oneself with coconut oil and then breaking a sweat before showering) while eating a monodiet of only kitchari and vegetables and drinking only cumin, coriander, fennel tea; and purgation (using triphala daily and then at the end of the cleanse, ingesting castor oil to invoke rapid intestinal evacuation). While I did indeed, follow Lad’s guidelines for these five cleansing actions, I also came to include several other components to my daily panchakarma routine. First, I added ten minutes of “prayer salutations” in the morning, that is, I practiced a prescribed asana sequence that invoked union with the Divine. At the end of the sequence, I paused and spoke my heart’s prayer for guidance for my panchakarma as well as the heart wish that my work would help relieve my and others’ suffering. I also practiced jala neti each morning and ate meals without distractions. In the evenings, I meditated for twenty minutes. Further, after completing the panchakarma process, I embraced a sense of rejuvenation, returned to eating a doshic diet, and took Shatavari daily for the week.
 Lad, V. (1998). The complete book of ayurvedic home remedies. NY: Three Rivers Press.
On the practical realm, after practicing panchakarma, I have noticed that my ears no longer itch (a sign that my seasonal allergies have diminished) and that I am probably five pounds lighter. Unfortunately, after the cleanse, I am experiencing more symptoms associated with IBS than I had pre-cleanse. (post continued on next page)
More significantly though, by practicing the traditional five components of panchakarma, I also came to embrace five attitudes that were vital in cleansing and rejuvenating myself spirituality.
This cleanse would have been much harder had I not had the support, encouragement, and camaraderie of my four classmates who were also practicing panchakarma. How helpful it was to get texts from each other reminding us of our purpose or simply lamenting together about the infamous ghee burps! As part of my job as a wellness clinician, I coach individuals in quitting tobacco. While I’ve always understood the research to indicate that social support is important with behavior changes, I now have a deeper understanding for how truly vital having several people rooting and empathizing with you can be. I’m grateful that I was able to practice panchakarma with a group of intentional women within the yogic community.
For me, this was not a secular cleanse but a three week spiritual retreat in which I used the practice of modifying my diet to help me connect with the Great Beyond. Further, when I experienced discomfort during the cleanse, I ascribed meaning to it as moving me towards the desired ends of greater health and spiritual connection. Simply beginning my day with the prayer salutations and a call for blessing and guidance during my day by the Divine brought a powerful shift in how I viewed the world and the challenges I faced. I continue to start my day in this manner as a result.
During the cleanse, instead of being burnt out on eating only kitchari, I enjoyed the opportunity to find new ways to add complimentary vegetables to the dish. I roasted and pureed winter squashes for the first time; I ate more vegetables than I typically do and intestinally felt good doing so. Likewise, when I needed to break a sweat during the external oleation component of the cleanse, I embraced the opportunity to practice jumping rope, something that I have been wanting to do for years but had put off. From within these prescribed situations I was able to find lightness and play. Instead of feeling hindered by the panchakarma process, I found it as an invitation to explore within a new regime.
One of my personal vices is craving, yearning for what might be, what I can imagine could be, or even what I know I enjoy. During the cleanse, I came to truly understand the Thich Naht Hanh (in Roberts and Amidon, 1996) poem which lies as a reminder on my kitchen table:
Our true home is in the present moment.
To live in the present moment is a miracle.
The miracle is not to walk on water.
The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment,
to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.
Peace is all around us—
in the world and in nature—
and within us—
in our bodies and our spirits.
Once we learn to touch this peace,
we will be healed and transformed.
It is not a matter of faith;
it is a matter of practice. (p. 367)
During the cleanse when I had difficulty maintaining balance during yoga or had achy teeth, I came to see that these experiences were a part of the cleanse and were sufficient in themselves. I had found perfection in being right where I was, with whatever emerged. There was no sense in rushing ahead to worrying about taking
increasing quantities of ghee the next morning, for, in that very moment, I was walking my dog on a lovely fall morning around Sloan’s Lake. During the cleanse, I came to be able to better observe when my mind wandered to craving and anxiety and to gently invite myself to celebrate the miracle in that moment, of being present with exactly where I was. I continue to be blown away by the majesty of the moment when I am able to be truly present within it.
 Hanh, T. N. in Roberts, E., & Amidon, E., Eds. (1996). Life prayers from around the world: 365 prayers, blessings, and affirmations to celebrate the human journey. NY: HarperSanFranscisco.
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