A couple of years ago, I made a life-changing trek to an Ayurvedic spa called The Raj, located in Fairfield, Iowa. I made the trek to undergo ‘Panchakarma‘, a cleansing therapy, but left with so much more.
I recently found a journal I kept that chronicle a few days during my stay. If you’re interested in Ayurveda and are thinking about Panchakarma, you might find my experience interesting. The visit was incredibly valuable to me and if I could afford the cost, I would return at least annually.
October 3, 2013 (Thursday)
This day is finally here! I’m at The Raj, in Fairfield, Iowa, a premiere Ayurveda health spa for a 9-day Panchakarma experience. It’s a 9-day treatment designed to help my body eliminate toxins and create more emotional, spiritual and physical balance.
I decided to keep a log of my experiences to help me reflect on my stay.
I woke up at 4 at home this morning excited to get going on my drive to Fairfield, Iowa. I made myself stay in bed until 5, willing myself back to sleep…. My plan was to shower and eat before leaving, but I was so excited I skipped both, got dressed and was out the door by just before 6. I hugged Rob and know that as the days go by I will miss him more and more, but will just keep telling myself that this is an important thing for me to do.
I got in the car and soon was on my way. I missed the worst Chicago traffic—but then it started to rain. It poured hard through the rest of Illinois until I left I-80 onto the smaller highways that led to Fairfield. What did I see? Huge corn and wheat farms, cattle, industrialized pig farms (smelled one from a mile away!), rolling hills, farmers harvesting corn, grain trucks, more grain trucks…and did I say grain trucks? Heavy cloud cover made it difficult to see the rolling countryside and big skies until I got to within an hour of Fairfield. I stopped only twice during the 8-hour trip.
I arrived at the Raj at around 1:45 Central Time. I walked in with my bags and was greeted and immediately checked in, then given an orientation tour.
It’s now 6 pm here, a half hour before I go to dinner and a good time to start writing. It’s a beautiful evening—sunny, mid-70’s. I have the windows open and I hear crickets chirping outside and see that the trees in the front driveway are just beginning to change to an intense red. The shadows fall away from me, which means my room faces east, which will give me some lovely morning sunshine.
I’m happy to be here, but tired from the drive. I napped for an hour, then hung out in the room, drinking this awesome sweet Vata Tea until dinner at 6:30. I went downstairs, eager to meet some other guests. I arrived a few minutes early and sat in a chair in the dining room, then remembered that there was a button to push on the table for service. When I pressed the button, a server came, bringing out some delicious vegetable soup, followed by a plate of spiced veggies (zucchini, bok choy and okra), quinoa and a mung bean pancake. I liked all—yes, even the okra—except for the pancake, which was just weird and greasy tasting.
Soon some other guests began arriving—a Kazik psychologist from New York with 12-year old twins at home and many food allergies, two women (a mother and daughter?) from Russia, Jeremy, an elderly pharmacist working as a grant writing consultant, and Suzanne, a long-time Ayurvedic practitioner from San Jose who comes here twice a year and is leaving tomorrow. Everyone had a story. We had pleasant conversation—the Russians shared a recipe for zucchini pancakes in broken English, Jeremy told me about his grant writing job, we had discussions about food allergies.
Now I’m getting ready to go to tonight’s 8 pm evening lecture—“The Day Before the Night Begins” about the value of sleep.
October 4, 2013 (Friday)
The day is starting early for me. As an early riser anyway, being on Central time means being an early-early riser. It’s 4:50 am here as I perkily sit here writing this, sipping happily on my Vata tea.
I slept well. I didn’t get any exercise yesterday—With yoga, walks around the grounds and the treatments, I should start sleeping longer. One indicator that I am relaxing is better sleep. Breakfast isn’t until 8 am, so I may go out for an early walk. Yoga’s at 9, then I meet with the Raj doctor at 10:20, so it will be a busy morning after breakfast.
The talk last night was all about sleep and the value of good sleep hygiene. In bed by 10, no heavy meals at night—bigger meal at noon, followed by something easy to digest at night. She explained in all in the context of the 3 doshas, which are more active in 4-hour increments around the 24-hour cycle. It made sense to me–I wish I had taken a photo of her notes on the board. Here’s some information about Ayurvedic sleep philosophy.
Meditation…. I’m not a good meditator–I just cannot quiet my mind. I’ve tried twice since coming here and keep trying twice a day with no success. You have to train your mind to be successful and I guess I just need to keep practicing. Sigh.
It’s been a day of learning. I went downstairs for breakfast (soupy cream of wheat and cooked apples with cinnamon. No sugar—bland!). Again, I was the first person there. Jeremy soon came in and sat down with me. He is brilliant and very well-versed in Ayurveda. He’s co-authored a book on Ayurvedic treatments for heart disease that is in the gift shop.
After breakfast, I found the psychologist sitting in the lounge and we decided to go for a walk. There are miles of trails to walk here. She and I found a map and started exploring. She told me about the severe tension that led her to find the Raj and about her moves—from Kazikstan, to California, to Battery Park in New York City.
After a storm drove us back inside, I went to see the Vaisya—The Ayurvedic physician. He took my pulse and interviewed me and then told me that my Kapha and Vata doshas were high and my Pitta dosha was low. In Ayurveda, balance between the doshas is important. He said my metabolic fire is low (hence my extra poundage…) and so the plan is to increase it. He gave me some Hinvastak and Elim Tox tablets—both of which I take around mealtime. He also told me what teas would be better for me and prescribed the treatments I will be receiving over the next few days. These treatments are designed to get my metabolism going again. In addition, I will be on liquid meals at dinner with no grains for most of my time here. He also strongly recommended learning Transcendental Meditation because of its well-known benefits to both mind and body.
Lunch: Artichoke hearts, bok choi, squash, chapati and mung dahl soup, with two chutneys and some yogurt drink as an apertif. There is also this ginger cumin drink that you are supposed to drink at every meal before you eat anything else. It is really sharp and you just have to gulp it down. So I’m not going hungry. The food is wonderfully flavored and delicious.
My treatment today was at 2 pm. I had a Udvarthanam treatment first. This treatment involves massage with greasy, warm thick sesame oil infused paste. It was luscious, warm and smelled like peanut-butter cookies. It is supposed to be good for obesity and slow metabolism. After this, I had a Svedana treatment, in which they put me in a sweat box with my head outside. Periodically, the therapist would massage my forehead and hair with a frozen coconut oil ice cube. That made me smell like a coconut peanut butter cookie, but felt GREAT.
So I’m about to go to dinner – Seems like I’m eating a lot, but all veggies and tea. Tonight’s lecture is entitled, “You and Your Brain”.
October 6, 2013 (Sunday)
My writing time yesterday was taken over by a 2 hour nap, so I have lots to write about today. It’s 5:30 am and I’m enjoying a nice cup of Vata tea. I’ve checked out FB, so I feel connected to my peeps, my favorite blog, RV Sue, hasn’t updated and CNN has lots of gloom and doom. The Wolverines won and the Tigers lost, and I didn’t get to see either game, but that’s the only down side of being here, besides missing my sweet Rob.
So what happened yesterday? Let’s see—I woke up at 4:30 (and today at 5, so I’m gradually decompressing, even with a 2 hour nap yesterday!). Breakfast was necessarily minimal because I’m on a liquid diet today—juice from the stewed apples and warm milk, followed by sips of rice water for the rest of the morning. Again, I was the first to arrive for breakfast, but Jeremy soon joined me. He spent most of the meal reflecting on last night’s speaker and how TM affects the neurophysiology of your brain. Sometimes I think he thinks too much, but then I reminded myself that I have had neurophysiology and he hasn’t…He was really intrigued by neuroplasticity and the effect that TM practiced over years and years has on so many dimensions of the self—physical health, social interactions and your own feelings of well-being. He’s been meditating for over 40 years, so I can see why this is particularly interesting for him.
After breakfast, the Kazik psychologist and I borrowed a couple of umbrellas and went for a walk through the fields over to Vedic City. We were looking for the Observatory—I saw this on Google Earth and wondered what the heck it was. Now I know. She shared more about what has happened to Kazikstan and how it has affected her personally (grandparents killed by Stalin because they had too many goats/sheep, father imprisoned for 10 years, etc.). Despite all this hardship, she has had some success in life (when the USSR broke up, she had some money, and bought property from the state and sold it to embassies).
We returned from the walk and I had an hour before my treatment, so I read my book in the library, enjoying the spacious room comfortable furniture. I’m reading another book in the adventurous Outlander series. There are lots of details and I find myself re-reading chapters—Some events are tied to other events that happen later in the book, or in other books. My brain is a bit mushy right now.
My treatment yesterday was Patra Potoli. Here is the way it is described, “A special bolus massage treatment using specific herbs and oils for reducing inflammation, pain and blockages from muscles, joints and bones. The massage is done with a gentle pounding action that allows the intelligence of the herbs and oils to penetrate deep into the tissues for maximum effectiveness.” Intelligent herbs? It was a very relaxing treatment, with 2 therapists working in concert on either side of me. The herbs turned the oil a bright olive color, so I was green when they were done!
I felt exhausted afterwards, which led me to take yet another 2 hour nap! I can’t believe how much I am sleeping.
I was groggy when I woke up, but felt restored. I was a few minutes late for the intro to TM lecture that they had scheduled for me. The lecture was led by a gentle, older South African woman named Diana, who is gifted with the ability to tell stories. I’ve been trying to meditate while here and am not getting very far, and Diana seems like she might be a good teacher. So I think I’m going to go ahead with the training.
Dinner was again a liquid experience—mung beans and the evening’s vegetables whipped into a delicious creamy soup. The Ayurvedic physician told me that he was going to put me on all liquid dinners to reduce the stress on my metabolism. They teach you to eat smaller meals at dinner and larger meals at lunch, when your digestive fires are stronger. Interestingly, I’m not hungry right now as I sit here. I’ll know tomorrow if I have lost any weight (Note: I lost 15 pounds during my 9-day stay).
Last night’s lecture was led by one of the male treatment technicians about how to get the most out of panchakarma. It went too long and wasn’t very good. I think the only message I got out of it was to try to stay in the moment when you are having a treatment—if your mind wanders to other things, pull it gently back to what you are experiencing. I left a few minutes before the session ended (it went over 50 minutes late, so I didn’t feel too bad), read for a while more and was sound asleep by 10:15.
October 7, 2013 (Monday)
Today is a special day. At 3:30, I have my instruction in TM with Diana. My treatment is at 10, I see the Ayurvedic physician at 2:30, followed by my instruction. It’ll be a busy day if I add a walk in the morning after breakfast.
The offering I gave to Diana as I began my instruction
Yesterday was yet another interesting day. I was up at 6, ate breakfast, then went into town. I thought I’d walk around, but it was 41 degrees and they really don’t want you outside if it’s less than 50. So I drove around until I found Everybody’s–the local grocery store. I found myself in a wonderland of healthy food and everything needed for an Ayurvedic lifestyle. It was a combination of Whole Foods and the Ann Arbor People’s Co-op, but with some additional spices, oils and foods that will be hard to get, even in Ann Arbor. I will go back on Saturday and buy some things to bring home.
I arrived back at the Raj in time to read a bit before lunch. When I walked in, delicious smells were coming from the Raj kitchen and I absolutely couldn’t wait until lunch… But when lunchtime arrived, we had our normal menu. As it turns out, The Raj hosts a Sunday brunch for the community. It is a fancy affair and cars were lined up all the way down the drive and people arrived in their Sunday best to eat there. The food for the non-Panchakarma (PK) people must be really good.
My treatment yesterday was another Udvartana—I call it the ‘peanut butter cookie treatment’ because it feels like they are massaging warm, oily peanut butter cookie dough into your skin. Here is it’s description, “Udvartana is a stimulating circulation treatment using herbalized paste to enliven and revitalize the skin, smooth away fat deposits, and improve circulation and digestion.” I think they should just call it the peanut butter cookie dough treatment. This was followed by Shirodhara, “a relaxation treatment, is a soothing continuous flow of herbalized oil poured slowly and gently across the forehead. This treatment settles and balances the nervous system.” It sure does…I felt very relaxed when it was done and had to pry myself from the treatment table after the 10 minute rest period.
After treatment, I showered but left the oil in my hair covered by a turban, then went down to my liquid supper. At the table, I found Jeremy, a local guy named Steve, a Vedic astrologer named Charlie Heath, and two new women from Russia, who were very critical of the food, sending plate after plate back to the kitchen. That made supper a bit more interesting…
I got to know Charlie better. He lives in East Lansing so he and his wife can help care for his mother, who has Alzheimer’s. He works connecting people who want their Vedic Astrological Chart read to people who read them in India. He has been active in the TM movement since 1986, used to live in Fairfield (was the head of the Chamber of Commerce), so he knows lots of people here and seems very much at home. He’s here all week to receive PK. I haven’t seen much of my Kaki psychologist friend in the past couple of days—her boyfriend came and they seem to be spending lots of time in her room ☺ She is glowing and it is nice to see her so happy.
The other Russian women, a couple from Chicago and a woman from Nashville went home. The Raj seems to draw a continually changing and very interesting cast of characters.
Charlie gave an interesting lecture on Vedic astrology last night. He is a dynamic man and an excellent speaker. It is a very complicated system that is based on your birth date and time as well as some other factors. It tells you what is coming if you don’t make any changes, so lots of people want to know their ‘fate’, so they can either take precautionary measures or take advantage of good karma.
It’s been three years since my visit to the Raj.
In a short time, I learned so much at the Raj beyond the body treatments–Meditation instruction, ways to cook, eat, sleep, meditate, astrology, etc.. I enjoyed meeting and talking to the other Raj clients too, which added to my stay immensely. I’ve integrated many of the practices into my daily life and I’m still reflecting back on all I gained from the experience.
It was quite a leap for me to decide to visit the Raj. I worked in the American medical system my entire career and Ayurveda is very different from traditional American medical philosophy. I find it to be very empowering–By how I choose to live my life–what I eat, when I sleep, how I spend my time–I deeply influence my health. Ayurveda is all about PREVENTING disease. So much of modern American medicine is about treating disease, not preventing it.
Here’s the biggest lesson I learned: Sometimes you just have to step out of your comfort zone to grow.