***image1***Just about the time the winter blizzard hit the northeastern states of America, I was in India luxuriating in the comfortable surroundings at Soukya, a Holistic Health Center near Bangalore.
Having recently finished a five year course on Tamoxifen, a drug that prevents the recurrence of breast cancer, I had gone to Soukya to get rid of the residual toxins, and restore my body to its pre-cancer balance.
My friend Stephanie and I arrived late in the afternoon, after an eight hour drive from Hampi, the site of an ancient Hindu city, where we had been exploring the ruins. Since driving in India is a hair raising experience both Stephanie and I were exhausted; to make matters worse I had food poisoning.
The director of the center, Dr. Mathai, took one look at my ashen face and prescribed a hot stone massage. Ten minutes later I was lying in a treatment room, with hot stones on my back, and warm lavender oil soothing my body. The day ended with a delicious vegetarian dinner, I then returned to my room and fell into a dreamless sleep.
***image2***I was woken by bright sun pouring through the window: all was quiet, save for a bird singing in my private garden. Perversely my first feeling was panic; what I was going to do for a whole week? Having come so far shouldn’t I be looking at more ruins? To distract myself I went for a walk around the grounds. Outside the air was cool and soft; I followed the path from my room through a eucalyptus grove, passed orchards filled with lemon, orange, mango and banana trees, coconut palms, and swathes of wild grass.
Two women watering the vegetable garden behind the yoga hall waved as I walked by. Dr. Mathai had told me that, where possible, all the food and treatment oils were made from ingredients grown on the property. Hens and ducks were kept for their eggs, and in a pasture beyond the fence cows were raised for buttermilk and yogurt. Juice, so fresh it tasted like nectar.
***image3***The dining room was open on two sides, ensuring we ate every meal in the fresh air. As I waited for Stephanie to finish her yoga practice a waiter brought me a glass of fresh pomegranate juice. I declined Indian breakfast in favor of fresh papaya and yogurt, caffeine was not banned so I also asked for chai. My peculiar panic lifted and never returned; the day would prove to be busy I didn’t have time to look at the books I had brought with me.
Breakfast was followed by another consultation with Doctor Mathai. After reading the questionnaire I had completed and talking with me about the reasons for my visit he recommended an ayurvedic treatment called the shirodhara. To be completely effective the dhara had to be done over seven consecutive days.
Dr. Mathai said he would monitor me lest the effects turn negative. During that time I had to keep myself warm, avoid vigorous exercise, and remain calm. I then met with a specialist who determined my body type, according to the principles of ayurveda, and prescribed the particular oil to be used.
***image4***Treatment began at once. With a morning raga playing in the background two motherly women gave me a vigorous massage with lemon grass oil to get my energy flowing, this took about forty five minutes. The music was then turned off, my eyes and ears covered, and the application of warm oil to my forehead began, it ran through my hair and over my skull in gentle streams.
Dr. Mathai had warned me that the initial experience might be disquieting, and he was right. My life rushed before me, “I saw images from my childhood, teen years and first marriage and then I saw my parents and grandparents, my husband as they were in life although all are now dead. Suddenly peace, my brain seems to expand and my sinuses cleared…”
To complete the treatment I was placed in a steam cabinet with only my head exposed to the air; as the eucalyptus scented vapor heated my body my pores opened allowing the lemon grass oil to seep into my skin.
I felt shaky and had to be helped to the shower where one of the masseuses gave me an Indian style bath, and rubbed me all over with special soaps that removed every particle of oil.
When it was all over I felt cleansed and fresh, my mind was unusually clear, to the point of feeling high and lightheaded. This was the routine we followed every morning; the length of the dhara gradually increased from twenty minutes to half an hour.
***image5***At the end of the morning I was ready for the traditional southern Indian lunch; small helpings of vegetables arranged on a banana leaf, served with a hot curry soup, and a buttermilk drink flavored with kari leaf and ginger. There were root vegetables cooked in coconut, spiced beans, eggplant, radish, and pencil squash cooked with cumin and coriander. Dessert was pumpkin pie and dal-lentils with sweetened with honey that came from hives in the eucalyptus grove.
My afternoon treatments varied. Sometimes I had a castor oil pack applied to my stomach to get rid of the last traces of food poisoning, or a mud pack to help my liver. On alternate days I had reflexology on the feet and hands and at the end of our stay I had an ayurvedic facial that left my skin glowing.
“Close to sunset we took a walk across the railway tracks to a nearby village. We were accompanied by a male therapist who came from the area and spoke the local dialect, Kannada. He explained we were in one of the silk producing centers of India where the mulberry leaves are harvested six times a year.
***image6***We stopped at a farmhouse and watched the fat silk worms being placed on a huge cane wheel, fashioned like a circular maze, where they take hold and spin cocoons from the silk thread that is then cleaned, sent to the factory and the threads unwound and made into cloth.
As the sun slipped to the horizon the countryside glowed pink and gold: it was the hour when animals and men returned to the village. Dozens of sheep and goats, with kids trotting at their side, cows swollen with milk, women carrying huge loads of feed and water on their heads. One slender woman carrying a tin pot, and a bale of grass led a cow while her small son, no more than three or four, lost his cow who pulled away and trotted to tuft of tempting grass.
***image7***This area is more affluent than Hampi, both animals and people look less wretched. Parakeets swarmed back to their home tree where they gather at sunset and cackle, our guide explained they like to be near cow dung.”
Over dinner that first night Stephanie and I agreed that being at Soukya was a unique experience, we felt both privileged and fortunate to be there. Within two days I began to feel benefit of the dhara; my energy increased, my perception sharpened, colors looked brighter, and I felt as if I were seeing the world more clearly. My memory began to improve as did my ability to concentrate.
At night my dreams were vivid and cleansing. When it came time to return to New York, I felt I was leaving home. Dr Mathai told us, with some amusement, of guests who did not want to go back to their lives and had to be gently persuaded they could not stay at Soukya forever.
Now that I have been in New York for almost a month the positive effects of the dhara have continued: I feel calm, my body lighter my mind more focused. I rarely eat meat, and pay great attention to the quality of my food. I have even abandoned my Starbucks habit. My weight is down although while I was at Soukya I did relatively little exercise. I feel as if my mind has been vacuumed and my body cleared of every last particle of toxins. Would I return? Absolutely.
*** Entries from the diary I kept during my stay.***
“Soukya, ” derived from the Sanskrit word for harmony, is about ninety minutes from the center of Bangalore, the state capital of Karnataka and the center of India’s tech industry. Although Bangalore is a polluted sprawl of a city, the high elevation and temperate climate make life in the surrounding countryside extremely pleasant. Soukya is about an hours drive from the airport. All visitors are taken to and from the airport in a chauffeur driven, air conditioned car.
For more information visit www.soukya.com