As a proud Canadian, I used to believe (as many Westerners do) that we have the best healthcare system in the world. Certainly better than wellness travel experience in India!
I used to believe in surgery and painkillers. When I had a headache or severe back spasms, two Advils usually did the trick. On really bad days, I needed a Tylenol 3.
When my father’s left knee could no longer handle a flight of stairs, his doctor suggested a knee replacement. After six months on the waiting list, he finally had the surgery and got much needed relief. But that too was short-lived. Two years later, he needed a hip replacement. Below the waist, he’s now 50% metal and so we call him Robocop! But he’s okay with that. He has paid his fair share of taxes and feels he deserves “free” health care.
For nearly a decade, I was on the organic and gluten-free bandwagon, egged on by my chiropractor who I needed to see at least once a week to keep my back pain in check! Both habits became unsustainable.
Oh, let us not forget the flu shot. My mother swears by it, as do most of her friends. But every year that I took the flu shot, I actually got the flu. And when I didn’t take it, I made it through the winter without a hitch. Go figure.
The above is a crude summary of my life’s experience with healthcare (before Ayurveda).
Don’t get me wrong: I love that we have a free and centralized healthcare system, available to every Canadian regardless of economic status.
However, as I got older, I started to observe that I was not getting any healthier – I was just managing different diseases through whatever medicine and popular philosophies were available to me in my Western bubble. I was self-medicating and justifying my lifestyle.
A trip to India radically changed all that. My notion of “health” expanded.
It all happened during, and after, my stay an Ayurooms retreat centre in Kerala, India. It was a place of immense greenery and beauty, earning Kerala the nickname of “God’s Own Country”. The air was humid but clean. The refreshing breeze carried scents from the ocean and tropical landscape. The vibe was peaceful, serene and tranquil. I have come to believe that this type of environment is necessary for transforming one’s health.
The Ayurooms retreat offered yoga alongside Indian traditional medicine, Ayurveda. Both were included in my package. Initially, I was deeply skeptical about the whole ordeal, having been a loyalist to chiropractic for years. But a friend suggested I go there because I loved long massages and was desperate for a solution to back pain. I also hadn’t had a proper vacation in years and was completely rundown from my job.
In India, I got what I sought. And more. My back pain didn’t go away overnight. It got better over time and I learned how to relieve back pain through yoga. My Ayurvedic doctor at Ayurooms told me that the benefits of Ayurvedic treatment would be seen in the months ahead, not immediately. Her prophecy came true.
Perhaps most important, I discovered or rather rediscovered my spiritual side.
But it’s not what you think.
I didn’t find a guru. I didn’t change my religion. I didn’t chant mantras all day long, but I became open to all of these things and more.
For me, spirituality is not some end goal. It’s a way of being in the world. It’s being open to different cultures, ways of life, value systems and medical systems. Giving up my old ways. Working on unhealthy habits. Giving up prejudices and strongly held opinions. Going with the flow. Living in the moment. Accepting what is. Living and let live. Avoiding confrontation, blame, faultfinding and argument. Constantly learning to live healthier and happier. Working towards an inclusive vision for humanity with hope, love, perseverance and passion. One day at a time.
All of the above was brought on by wellness travel experience in India. The habits of mind that I enjoy today were started on that glorious trip.
Now you might wonder: how can you develop good habits of mind through a wellness vacation?
To keep it short, there were two essential parts to my wellness journey: the physical and the spiritual. Ayurveda worked on my physical body. Yoga worked on my spiritual body. I made a commitment to practice both regularly.
Ayurveda is a system of medicine that is said to be over 5,000 years old. I still do not know exactly how or why my back got better through Ayurveda. It just did. There was no surgery involved and no prescription drugs. I just took certain herbal medicines that the doctor gave me and drank certain decoctions (some were quite disgusting). Everyday for two weeks, I received a hot oil massage or some other body treatment. Sometimes multiple treatments a day.
As I understand, Ayurveda places emphasis on detoxification. I was given to understand that the accumulation of toxins in the body was responsible for imbalances and pressure that were felt by me as pain. To rectify this, I was put on a vegetarian diet and given various detox treatments. On some days, I had to drink clarified butter, known in India as medicated “ghee”, followed by several bowls of a red rice soup known as “kanji”. All of this was intended to clean my inner body.
I believe that becoming free of chronic back pain has a lot to do with the peace of mind that I enjoy today. Ayurveda was the physical dimension of my transformational trip to Ayurooms. But in addition to Ayurveda, I was encouraged to participate in yoga and meditation.
Yoga was weaved into the daily schedule at Ayurooms. My Ayurvedic doctor said it would help my back but I was afraid it would do more harm than good. I was afraid that if I threw my neck or back out, I would have no way of finding a chiropractor in India! Despite my initial panic and reluctance, I gave yoga a shot.
Now I am not an early riser, so the late morning yoga class at 11:30 AM suited me best. The yoga teacher, Bijesh, would say some profound things that stuck in my head. Here’s just a few things he said during our yoga practice:
- Get control of the breadth, you get control of the mind • Breath into your muscles, send your cool breadth to pain areas • Think like that, feel like that
Through affirmations and maxims like the above, Bijesh taught me that there was a real connection between my breath and every part of my body, and that we just need to visualize that connection in the mind. He taught that the air was full of energy, full of prana or “life force”. He taught me to visualize that force and our breadth as a way of channeling healing energy through the nose or mouth to any areas of pain in the body. He taught me that pain was nothing more than heat and to get rid of it, I just needed to cool it down. He showed me how to use my saliva to cool the air entering my lungs and how to channel it areas of inflammation.
There were many, many other things that I learned on my trip to India. Too many to capture in this short blog.
Perhaps the greatest lesson of all was that I came away with the humble understanding that the Western world did not have all the answers when it came to health and wellness, and that the traditions of the East have something great to offer.
Through Ayurveda and yoga, I was able to heal not just physically, but also spiritually. Indeed India is a far place to go for healthcare, but the experience can be deeply rewarding.
Leave a comment and let me know what’s stopping you from a wellness travel experience in India.