The Pancha Karma Experience: The comedy of detoxification
THE PANCHA KARMA EXPERIENCE: The comedy of detoxification
Ayurveda and its complementary therapies of Pancha Karma, for the health and integration of mind, body, and spirit, are relatively new to the West as compared to this 5000 year old “science of life” from the East. India is the birthplace of this healing tradition, and it was initially intended for the royal families to sustain their youth so that they could rule longer with continued health and vitality. This age-old but contemporary medical science is now becoming one of the latest alternative therapies to make its mark in West, for a myriad of ailments and illnesses, and also as a time tested way to detoxify and revitalize your entire being.
This is a story of my 2 week Pancha Karma experience at a beautiful, private retreat in Costa Rica, “Tierra de Los Mangos”. I was at the point in my life where I felt like I needed a deep cleanse, and as a Holistic health counselor and yoga therapist I had been interested in Ayurveda, being aware that it is the mother of these disciplines. I was having challenges with high levels of Mercury in my system and had been trying to rid my body and tissues of this poisonous toxic metal for a few years. After trying all types of alternative therapies I was referred to an Ayurvedic practitioner who informed me of their gentle approach to removing the Mercury. After receiving my initial consultation I decided to take the journey to a tropical retreat in Costa Ricawhere I would spend a week doing the royal treatments of Pancha Karma. I was advised that although the therapies could be very revitalizing, that there was usually side effects from the toxins being released in the body and typically some emotional distress. Since I had been living a health conscious lifestyle for many years including a daily yoga & meditation practice, I figured that I would be on the low end of the spectrum for harsh side effects and emotional imbalance.
The preparation started a week before my trip to Costa Rica with suggestions of a light diet (preferably only kitcheri, a mung bean soup) and to start taking a tablespoon a day of a substance called, “Tikta Ghee”, increasing the dosage by a tablespoon each day until I arrived at the retreat. For those who are unfamiliar, ghee is clarified butter and “Tikta Ghee” is an herbal infused ghee that starts the process of stripping away the toxic plaque on your intestinal tract from the years of undigested matter and toxic build up. The first cup of ginger tea mixed with a tablespoon of the substance was bearable but hard to swallow. It leaves you with a heavy feeling and coats your tongue with a fatty film, but chased with a lime it wasn’t all that bad. However, by day 3 with my dose of 3 tablespoons I could barely swallow the greasy tea. I had to imagine that I was taking a shot of liquor at a bar with my friends cheering me on, with a lime shooter to follow it as quickly as possible. After day 5 of the home-based preparation therapies and light diet I figured that the worst was almost over and I was ready for the luxurious body therapies and relaxation in beautiful Costa Rica.
When I arrived at the retreat I was assaulted by a dream world of rich colors, sounds and smells of the jungle, and an extraordinarily peaceful environment. The waterfall into the tiled pool with a dolphin mosaic and guardian statues set the tone of the center. The rich green color of the palms and foliage was in direct contrast to the vibrant sponged papaya color of the Euro/Colombian architecture. I was led to my room by the caretaker and pleased by the canopy bed and stylish teak furniture. The scenic views of the jungle immediately changed my mood from travel weary to complete relaxation, and I drifted off into a deep sleep for a mid-day siesta on my comfortable bed.
I awoke to a soft knock on the door and opened it to find my two PK therapists. I had talked to one of them on the phone, she had an attractive voice and we had had a nice conversation, but I was stunned by their beauty and immediately had mixed feelings about the situation. I was well aware of the possible pitfalls in the teacher/student or therapist/client relationship where an emotional connection with the other could take away from or jeopardize the therapy and/or teachings. I was single, but had the resources of a sadhana filled with tools to help transcend desires and temptations. Nevertheless, I was only human and not sure if I would be relaxed receiving Abhyanga, (the 4 handed oil massage and other intimate treatments), from two attractive women. They introduced themselves and explained that I would be on a soup based diet and also one last 6 tablespoon serving of the “Tikta Ghee”. I was just getting over being sick to my stomach from the last 5 tablespoon dosage, and I cringed in response, “Really?” The response with a smile was, “Yes, you don’t look oily enough,” and they further broke down the process and program over a cup of ginger tea where I became at ease with their joyous nature and authentic professionalism.
Day 1 of the luxurious PK therapies was amazing and just what I had imagined. I was treated to 8 therapies including in order: (Abhyanga) 4 handed massage with specific oils for your dosha, (Swedana) steam therapy to absorb the oils, then an herbal grain body scrub (Garshana) to remove the toxins, a shower to eye wash and Netti pot to cleanse the sinuses, and a throat gargle before going back to the table to receive (Basti) herbal enema. I had managed to meditate through the 4 handed massage even though I had felt a little tense, so I knew that I had overcome a hurdle and a possibly embarrassing situation. But the humiliation of oiling up and inserting a tube in my anus in front of the therapist wasn’t something that I had anticipated and my pelvic floor was now miserably contracted. She relaxed me with light conversation and suggested to breathe and release any tension on the exhale. Now with insertion complete, I looked up in horror at the gallon of warm liquid that I was to retain for 20 minutes! As I lay on my side feeling the oils penetrate tissues deep inside me, there came a point where I needed a break and had to practice mulabhanda with clenched teeth. In amazement, I had taken it all in and I was told to switch onto my other side so that the fluid would travel another direction. During the therapy a light massage of the abdomen was performed where there might be any obstructions, and with the 20 minutes being up I signaled that the dam was going to burst so she could vacate the room and I could release in the adjacent bathroom. I then returned to the table refreshed and thoroughly relaxed for (Shirodhara) where a stream of warm, medicated oil is continuously poured onto your forehead for about a half hour. This was said to induce deep relaxation and a meditative state, although after 5 minutes I thought that it was pleasurable but I was indeed coherent. Suddenly, I fell into a deep trance with visions of the past and was greeted by an image of my father who I hadn’t spoken to in 15 years. As the cotton was pulled from my eyes to end the session, Castor oil laced tears flooded down my cheeks. She had administered Castor oil drops to my eyes before the session, and I cried deeply for the first time in many years about my distant relationship with my father.
With day 1 of the PK therapies over and as the bright, orange sun descended into the jungle canopy, I retreated to my room to read and meditate, completely wiped out from a soup based diet and all of the days treatments. I wasn’t used to feeling so weak and depleted being an avid surfer with an athletic lifestyle, but I was told to rest and take it easy with lots of sleep, and to drink plenty of herbal tea to keep flushing the internal toxins. I had stopped sugar, caffeinated tea and coffee cold turkey when I arrived, as well as my nightly recreational cannabis ritual. As I lay in my bed with the first headache from caffeine withdrawals’, I craved my accepted addictions to take away the pain. I had no appetite and I kept burping up the foul “Tikta Ghee” liquid, and without my sweet tooth being satiated, my sugar loving intestinal bacteria screamed from inside me to feed them. With a building fever and agitated mind I slipped into a restless sleep, only to awake at 3am wide awake with hunger, thirst, and a contradictory nauseous feeling in my shrunken stomach.
Day 2 - 4 were the worst of it; my oiled body (internally and externally), felt loose and relaxed but I was feeling the debilitating weakness of an 80 year old man. The Tikta Ghee therapy had finally ended, but I was awoken and told to drink a purgative concoction that would further eliminate the toxins now circulating in my bloodstream and GI tract. Nothing could have prepared me for a cup of the most repulsive herbs I’d ever tasted, the horrible, bitter taste froze my throat and made my tongue retreat in shock. My just awake eyes watered and filled with tears, “Surely this was a poisonous substance and these witches were torturing me for their amusement”, I thought in my fever induced state. They had these little smiles as I coughed and forcefully swallowed gulps of the horrid brew, but they assured me that in a few hours that I would be having a delicious, purging bowel movement. I lay in bed in the early morning tropical heat drenched in sweat and what seemed seconds away from vomiting. The ones who became known as the PK angels cared for me and gave me secret remedies and pills that eased the symptoms. I sucked on a tiny piece of crystal menthol and in seconds the nausea subsided. They were extensively trained in the healing arts of Pancha Karma, and had treated hundreds of clients and well aware of every possible twist and turn of a clients condition. I started to feel better but the bowel movement never came and as it approached dark they advised me to drink another cup of the purgative. “Absolutely not,” I shrieked like a child forced to eat their vegetables! With a compassionate smile she knew that I was at my breaking point and agreed that I had had enough for the day.
The retreat house was very comfortable with 3 levels and a sky deck with ocean, jungle and mountain vistas. The property is private and secluded with only the sounds of the jungle beings to break the silence. In the early twilight at the conclusion of the first day, I lounged on the sky deck and looked into the heavens, spontaneously moving into pranayama and asanas. As I lay in sivasana and gazed into the starry night, a brilliant shooting star blazed across the horizon and I had a deep insight into a challenge that I was trying to resolve. I could feel the clarity of my mind from the PK taking effect, and this was the first sign of a comeback from a few days of feeling mentally sluggish.
That night I lay in my bed feeling like my mind was clear but my body still very weak and depleted of its life force. In the privacy of my room I went to let out an innocent gas bubble, and that’s when the anticipated bowel movement happened! For the first time since I was a little baby I had crapped my pants. The purgative had taken full effect like a silent ninja in the middle of the night, and a gallon of sludge poured out of my disturbed colon and down my legs. “Oh my God, how disgusting,” I whispered as I ran with clenched thighs to the toilet. Sounds only heard from a stuffed up vacuum machine erupted from deep within as I slumped over in relief. I took a shower and changed the sheets and lay back down for some needed sleep. After I quickly passed out, I awoke to the tranquil sounds of a flowing river. “How nice,” I muttered sleepily. It was around 3am, my new wake up time, and I half awake went to use the restroom. Shockingly, I put my foot down into a puddle of water that had a blue tinge to it? “Was I hallucinating”, I wondered? I soon found out that my bowel movement had clogged the pipes and the soft sound that I thought was a river was unveiled as an overflowing toilet with a blue cube in it. Being a handyman I knew to turn off the water, and I begrudgingly cleaned up the mess. The gigantic mosquitoes’ that had gathered over the stinky overflow seemed to attack and bite me everywhere, and the nightmare continued as I lay in bed scratching and fighting off the blood sucking demons into the sunrise.
The last few days of the treatments I was in a really bad mood. I wasn’t used to being told what to do, what to eat, and to just rest all day. And to make matters worse I couldn’t go surfing during one of the best swells in years at the world class surf spots in front of the center. Although even if I had been cleared to surf, I wouldn’t have had the energy. I was also cautioned that it takes a lot of energy for the body to go through this healing process, and that it was best to refrain from strenuous activities including my vigorous asana practice. Also, the bond to one of the PK angels had intensified and I was starting to fantasize in the prana-rich environment. It was a challenging situation that I seemed to be relearning over and over again in my life. Thankfully because of past mistakes I had learned a technique to transform this energy that often takes place in such a bonding atmosphere, and this practice calmed my misdirected feelings and put me into a mind-set where I was only grateful and appreciative of the care I was receiving.
Now after nearly two weeks of preparation and PK therapies I was finished! My mind was clear and focused even though my strength was yet to return. They informed me that the next 2 weeks would determine how strong I would come back and to keep up the soupy diet and to take it easy. I had lost 10 needed lbs. on my 6’3” lanky frame, but I was introduced to the fact that new tissue would return with a new-found strength and vitality. I then made the mistake of sneaking off to go surfing a few days after the treatments ended. I was still weak but the waves were perfect and a surfer’s heart is always being beckoned by the ocean swells. The waves were big and I became caught inside during a close-out set. My strong paddling arms had been reduced to powerless sticks, and for the first time in 20 years of surfing with my good friend I almost called out for help as I was unmercifully thrown into the rocks. Bobbing up and down in an eddy in the reef as 8-10’ waves crashed on my head, I had the feeling that death was nearby. Miraculously, the set stopped and I crawled onto my dinged up board and got washed onto the beach in the turbulent whitewater. Laying there on the sand, cut and bruised from my thrashing, I thanked the powers that be that I was not seriously injured. I had learned another dramatic lesson on the path that I had chosen, and to pay attention to a therapist’s advice and cautions when embarking into such profound therapies.
As I waved goodbye to the PK angels and departed in a red taxi to the airport, I pondered the shift that had taken place in all layers of my being. I truly felt that with all events considered, it was the best thing I had ever done for myself and another chance to grow and evolve on my spiritual path. Although people have been known to eat ribs in the steam box and talk on their cell phones during the treatments, you will get the most out of your PK cleanse if you follow the advice and lifestyle suggestions offered. If you’re ready and have the time, and have a heart felt desire to experience these revitalizing therapies, it is highly recommended as a seasonal or annual program after getting a consultation from a certified Ayurvedic practitioner.
Christopher Lane is a published freelance writer, as well as a holistic health counselor and certified Yoga therapist (E-RYT). He resides in Northern Californiaand enjoys the path of self-realization as a humorous way of life. Contact: email@example.com