Once upon a time, I was just like everyone else. I would get a problem, go to the doctor, pick up a prescription and then take the course of treatment prescribed. That is what we all did and I had no reason as a young child to question this or even consider that there might be another way.
That all changed when I was 19. Up until that point, I’d had chronic chest problems and pretty dreadful eczema on my face and legs. Every so often I would head to the GP and get some steroid cream, apply it and the red, scaly blotches would go away. It was a miracle.
However, whilst at the university on the South Coast of England, a friend suggested that perhaps I had an allergy to dairy. It was an interesting idea so I gave it a go and cut out the cheese, milk and eggs I was eating. I didn’t realise how much dairy I was actually consuming until I tried to cut it out! It was hard, cereal with water, black tea and jam sandwiches weren’t quite the thing and this was before plant-based milk were what they are today. But I stuck with it for a week and a miracle occurred. My eczema went away without the steroid cream! I haven’t had any dairy since that time and fortunately, I haven’t had eczema or chest issues either.
The reason I tell you this story is that that was the moment that I finally got the link between what we eat and drink and how we look and feel. Writing those words with the knowledge I have today, it seems bizarre to think that there was a time when I didn’t know what I know today, but it was the very beginning of my awareness and interest in the holistic nature of wellbeing. I spent the next 20 years learning and adjusting my lifestyle and creating the beginnings of my own RAW Energy model.
It wasn’t until I trained to be a health coach that I first came across Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of healing. Ayurveda looks as people as whole people and seeing illness as a symptom, indicating that something in the body is out of balance. As soon as I learnt about the system, it made intuitive sense to me and was exactly what I was looking for. Auyerveda looks at different body constitutions and I found out my constitution from a wonderful Ayurvedic practitioner in London, and had some treatments and did a mini-detox which comprised of taking loads of herbs and lots of mung beans which were less pleasant, but I persevered!
It wasn’t until 2016 that I got the opportunity to experience Ayurveda in India itself. I’d had a yearning to go for a long time, but had never managed to make it work. However, in 2016, the opportunity presented itself as I had to go to Chennai on business. It was just before the Easter weekend, so I took the opportunity and hopped on a plane and flew to Kerala, the home of Ayurveda.
The early part of 2016 was a really stressful period in my life as it was at that time that we were going through the difficult process of making a big decision: should we stay in the UK, or move to Australia? So it was a perfect setting to contemplate this big, life-changing decision. Having never been to Kerala, I had no clue where to go as there were so many retreats to choose from. How do you chose? Rather than just take a chance and play pot luck, I drew on the experience of Cousin Victoria, who highly recommended Dr Unnikrishnan’s (let’s call him Dr U) hotel and hospital that offers Ayurvedic treatment.
It was an excellent choice and an amazing experience. The word ‘hospital’ no doubt conjures up a particular image which is quite different to what you’d imagine.
Dr U’s is set in lush grounds, right near the beach, 14 km from the airport.
Kerala is the most tropical part of India, so it was very humid and I felt slightly anxious when I landed at the airport, not quite knowing what to expect.
I remember the moment i walked out of the terminal building, feeling the hot sun on my skin, and taking in the sights and sounds of India. Finally, I saw a little white van with a big red cross on it. Out popped a very small man, about half my height, who was carrying a sign with my name on it. He was super friendly, so I followed him and got into the mini-ambulance and we set off on the windy road to Doctor U’s. Outside the window, I looked at the motorcyclists with four people clinging to each other, hooting frantically. None of them were wearing helmets!
Finally, we arrived at Dr U’s. It was very dark and I was led to the hotel room in a hotel which felt half built. I had no clue where I was, so I asked my guide if there were any shops close by. I was relieved to learn that I was was just a short walk from the Kovalam beach which was lined with restaurants and shops.
I was scheduled to have Ayurvedic treatment every day, so with some caution, went along to meet Dr U on my first day.
As soon as I walked into the ‘hospital’, I was greeted by a VERY strong smell of incense and herbs and oils. I looked around and couldn’t see anyone, so about to turn around, when out of nowhere appeared a very attractive Indian lady called Shira who beamed at me and welcomed me. Her English was poor, but she handed me a form to complete, gave me a pen and beckoned me to sit down and write. The form asked me details of my health history and current health problems. At that point, I’d been having quite a few migraines, so made a note of that.
Finally, after about 15 minutes of waiting, I met the man himself, Dr U who invited me into a tiny room which fit a table and two chairs only. We both squeezed in and Dr U went through my health history and made some mutterings, looked a bit concerned and made some notes on the sheet. It was different, but not wildly different to my experience of going to see the GP in London. I described my symptoms, and the doctor then attempts to make a diagnosis and then prescribes some interventions.
This is where the two methods separate completely.
In the UK, the intervention would likely be a referral for an x-ray, pills of some description, and some lifestyle advice if you’re lucky. However, given that Dr U is an Ayurvedic doctor, his whole philosophy was therefore very holistic in nature. He explained to me that he looks at the whole person and sees disease as a symptom for something being out of balance. In other words, just because I had a headache didn’t mean that there was something wrong with my head!
Dr U considered the treatments and asked if I wanted something ‘gentle’ or not. I chose the gentle option which turned out to be an Ayurvedic treatment massage, followed by a milk bath!
Well, the massage was like no other I’d ever experienced. It was a very strange experience at first. I was greeted by a wiry Indian man who spoke little English and told me to undress completely which I did, but felt very uncomfortable. After oiling my hair, I then lay on the ground where he poured a bucket of oil over my body and then massaged me quite aggressively with his feet, whilst holding onto a pully rope.
It was a very interesting experience, and after I adjusted my mental model of what a massage is, I started to relax and did experience true mindfulness, a period during the massage where my mind was completely blank and just focused on the present and the experience I was going through.
After the massage, the wiry man left the room, covered me with a cloth and told me to rest. I lay on the ground thinking about the experience and wondering where the milk bath was. I could hear people preparing on the other side of the bamboo wall. Finally, a round face appeared with an enormous smile beaming at me and beckoned me into the next room.
I’d imagined that a milk bath would require me to sit in a bath of milk. But again, my mental model needed to adapt, as that wasn’t the case at all. Instead, the milk bath required me to lie on a big black, solid massage table where a man and a woman rubbed herbs all over my body, whilst heating up mil that they then threw all over me! It was a very strange experience, almost like I was there, but not there.
After the massage treatments, I checked in with Dr U who prescribed herb pills for me, and also instructed me to take Ghee and hot milk first thing in the morning, which I did.
That night, I went to one of the local restaurants and ordered boiled vegetables and rice. Plain and simple food was all that I wanted. I spent the evenings chatting to the local tradespeople and ended up buying five pairs of shorts that were replicas of the ones I was wearing.
The massage treatment was repeated every day for four days. It’s funny how you can get used to anything by the fourth day, I was very used to the process and by the end of the treatment, I felt more relaxed than ever before and much more youthful. In fact, it was only when I was waiting for the taxi to take me back to the airport that I realised that the niggly aches and pains I’ve had in my shoulders from too much computer work over the years had completely gone!
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of healing. It’s a holistic method that sees the body as being controlled by three forces: Pita, Vata and Kapa, and we all have a predominant force depending on our body type.
To find out more about the three Ayurvedic body types, download this free fact sheet.
The good news is that you don’t have to travel all the way to India to experience the wonder of Auyerveda. In Sydney, I have found some great practitioners including The Medicine Man Sydney who brings the magic of Kerela to Sydney.