Filed under: health, holistic, india, meditation, spirituality, wellness, yoga
last week in rishikesh- ‘the yoga capital of the world’- was incredible for me.
i’ve never felt so comfortable in such a holy, spiritual place before. there is a different feeling of connection i get in hindu and buddhist temples that i have never felt in a cathedral or synagogue, no matter how much i admire their beauty and power. somehow i never felt like i belonged in those places. as i yearned for a sense of spiritual structure throughout my formative years, i always came up emptyhanded and often felt left out of a club that didnt accept people like me, who were still trying to figure out how to carve out their place in this big, scary world.
this past week, living in an ashram and taking yoga and naturopathy classes, i felt a sense of peace and fulfillment that was never available to me in such a tangible way. i have to admit, the energy & vibrations there were intense. there are so many other seekers and students, monks and gurus. it’s overwhelming to hear the chanting all night, and to sit on the bank of the Ganges river and watch freedom wash over people as they soak themselves in holy water. there is this sense of truth setting you free that is beyond words. it is simply magnificent to be a part of.
every morning i woke up and took private yoga classes, after which i was served sprouted lentils and tea. then it was time for class. the dr. of naturopathy discussed all of the treatments they provide- including hydro, mud, and massage therapy, as well as nutrition and detox cleansing and yoga and meditation of course. i have to say, of all the treatments i’ve witnessed in india, the nutrition thing, no matter how basic, speaks to me the most. and i felt empowered realizing that this journey has taken me to the other side of the world and yet still, the things that matter to all humans are the same everywhere, and the secret to a healthy and balanced life is not a secret at all- in fact it is something i know well. eat alkalized, unprocessed food, limit toxins, do yoga, work your mind, breathe, and try to laugh.
in the evenings i would practice meditation and breathing exercises with my instructor and go for long walks in the expat village nearby, reading in cafes overlooking the Ganga and watching the sun set. i have been rereading the bhagavad gita, the ancient hindu text, which i last read in college. studying hinduism here has been valuable in my attempt to understand the culture of india. the deepening of perspective is a major theme, helping the reader to experience her own life in the context of a wider purpose.
the practice of the different yogas described in the Gita- including dharma, karma, and bhakti- enables you to value ACTION over thought and to learn to work with what you are given. we are instruments of the cards we’ve been handed and we must do the best we can in order to find peace. in other words- it’s about letting go. one issue i was interested in was the way karma is interpreted, especially in a holy city where it seems like people are cleansing themselves through a dip in the river or transcendental meditation with gurus. through some conversations with hindus and my reading assignment, i realized that hinduism looks at karma as a paradox- on one hand free will exists, but yet, so does fate. the thing is, they seem to exist on different levels. we all have to make daily decisions, but in them, we are merely playing a part. i guess i relate it to the idea of intuition- more often than not you just know what to do in your own life. our subjective relationship with the universe is based on something deeper than just knowledge.
so, can you change your karma? can a guru take it from you? technically, i think the point is that the design does not change- we are a manifestation of karmic laws from past lives, and in this life, as our desires turn to thoughts which turn to action, we create more karma for our next incarnation. it goes on and on. and so this moment is a sum of life waves that have always been flowing to bring us to this place.
the amazing vibes i have gotten on this trip have been mostly from the people of this country who, despite any circumstances, do their work, or there dharma, whether it be cleaning the floors, cooking meals, or delivering babies, with a smile on their face and peace in their hearts. they are ego-less. there is not a sense of jealousy or resentment distracting them from being the best at what they have been put here to live out. in the end, it comes down to perspective- to be able to see outside of yourself without judgment, and then turn in towards yourself and do the same thing. if we can see the universe for what it is, we can see that it is working perfectly and we can be happy.
there is so much less anxiety here, life is not such a struggle- in many ways it is a healthier place to be.
we tend to ruin everything with self-consciousness and judgment– i can’t believe i ate that cookie! i haven’t worked out this week! my friend has more money than i do!– just do what you do and be fully there and stop criticizing yourself. we turn our lives into our ideas about our own inadequacies and think that if one thing were different- my big thighs, or my small paycheck- then life would be ok. what is the point of the torture? although there is sacrifice in hinduism, it differs exponentially from christian models of sacrifice. there is no pressure. it is about learning to act in awareness of the possibility of brahman- oneness. there is no need for masochism- suffering is grace in itself. you throw yourself into the fire and purify yourself- and you are free. it’s really about not being a phony. you can’t “trick” anyone in these practices, as you often can in other religions, because the joke’s on you! there is no god telling you you will burn in hell, but you will make your life harder than it has to be.
the root of the gita seems to be love and devotion- to open our hearts and become love. i know it sounds esoteric, but being here, i can see it, and it’s contagious to want a part of it.
in terms of the losses i’ve suffered this year, it has been awakening to be in this holy place. there was not just the obvious loss of someone close to me, but the loss of everything that once defined my entire life. nothing is the same. suffering happens. and if you can suffer and still find a way to love, then i think that is the key to keeping the peace. of course nothing is the same- nothing is ever going to be the same! for anyone, ever! we are so silly to constrain ourselves with these ideas.
despair is important. we have to deeply suffer to open our hearts- that is where we find the grace. same thing the tibetan buddhists say. when we look at our little melodramas- our sadness, anger, loneliness- with some perspective, our understanding of these notions change and we can accept them as much as a part of ourselves as our happiness and joy. essentially we must break ourselves down from the structures our egos have created for us and find stillness in the rubble and disarray. this is where the freedom lies.
so, in conclusion to this messy way of explaining my minute understanding of hinduism and the people i’ve had the pleasure of being around for the past month, i will say this:
i don’t believe in randomness. i feel vastly connected to the plotlines of my life, even those that have been totally seemingly out of my own control. to have been brought here through the pain and joys of the past couple of years is something i am immensely grateful for. as i continue on the last legs of my journey, i am going to aim to keep allowing myself to go with the flow- not to worry about what my future holds or does not hold- all the things i’ve spent too much of my life anxious about. i am going to use my favorite mantra first instilled in me by my beautiful friend steph- EVERYTHING WORKS OUT,
and just keep believing it until it becomes my truth.
Filed under: food, health, holistic, homeopathy, india, wellness | Tags: holistic
this week in dehradun was quite a learning experience. i got well-acquainted with the city and was able to meet so many interesting locals. i split my time between a homeopathic clinic in the morning, with dr. nanda, a ayurvedic clinic with dr. nath (who is 94!!) in the afternoon, and an ob/gyn clinic with dr. gera in the evening. my homestay family was wonderful- mrs mehta cooked delightful indian food, and even got me some of my favorite staples- bananas and peanutbutter for breakfast. i learned my way around and felt more comfortable walking the streets alone.
all of the rounds were rewarding, and it was fascinating to be able to compare the different types of treatment that these doctors prescribed. my favorite, surprisingly, was homeopathy. i had expected to find ayurveda most appealing, since i had studied it before, but with homeopathy i was exposed to a completely different paradigm of health care and it was pretty wild to me.
dr. nanda is such a wonderful man- he would pick us up some days and drop us home for lunch after clinic on his motorcycle, and he was eager to share his love for this most profound science.
i explained a bit of homeopathy in an earlier post, but now that i understand it more, i will try to elaborate as best i can.
in allopathic medicine, doctors aim to cure symptoms by suppression. they find medicines that specifically target inflammation in an area and attempt to eliminate it. samuel hahnemann, the founder of modern homeopathy, discovered that perhaps this model was not the most complete way of ridding the body of disease. his homeopathic model actually uses the law of similars, that is, using a substance that would cause similar effects in a healthy person which are turning up in the sick person. he discovered that various materials found in nature- of the animal, vegetable, mineral, and even chemical form- in their purest state contain energy fields which can exert a healing effect on the body. these substances must go through an extreme dilution and shaking process, whereby their effects multiply and grow stronger.
for example, if a person is having a problem with teary eyes (this is just a simple example!), a homeopath might prescribe a medicine which is derived from an onion, and the energy of this diluted medicine after being potentized (or shaken) is given to the person in a sublingual form so that it is absorbed into the bloodstream immediately and does not need to be digested. after this occurs, it is understood that the energy of the onion extract disperses in the body, naturally allowing the teary symptoms to reverse and go back to where they came from. it is difficult to understand, i know. but think of it like this:
often times, we suppress things like headaches or we remove tumors from the body to rid ourselves of illness. what is actually happening, according to homeopaths, is that we are unnaturally trying to strip our body of something, and by doing so, more effects will occur in the form of other illnesses or side effects from the treatment. it is better, then, to naturally prescribe a substance which will almost take the aching or tumor and shrink it back to the place it came from, thereby eliminating it.
in homeopathy, it is not expected to really discover the root cause of disease. they believe that in fact, most diseases cannot ever fully be explained and that many modern doctors waste their time trying to fit puzzle pieces together and figure out the origins of disease. instead, homeopathic doctors aim to discover remedies that might be at the root of what ever disease is facing the patient, whatever that may be. i had a bit of a hard time accepting this fact, but as i learned more, i began to understand why this is such a major tenet. while it would be good to learn what the root is, it is not essential to treating it. it is more pertinent to simply find a medicine that has been proven to treat all of the various and very specific symptoms in a patients system. i will explain more of this below.
one of the most interesting parts of this practice is the way the patient is evaluated for treatment. many times, the doctor wants to understand the entire constitution of the person, asking questions about their emotional nature, their dreams, their sleeping habits, their fears, their weak physical areas, etc. once this evaluation is done, sometimes after an hour or so, the doctor takes the symptoms present in the patient and matches them up in his system with homeopathic treatments. usually if he or she is specific enough in their description, only a couple of treatments will show up as relevant. it is important that the doctor try to eliminate bias and let the patient tell their whole story. after this process, a medicine is given usually right there in the office, and a small amount is provided for the patient to take at home.
once a patient takes this medicine, it is often noted that they feel as if their symptoms naturally disappear on their own, and often times, over a period of months, many of their other imbalances- including fears or weaknesses not specific to their visit- disappear as well. the idea is to bring the whole body back to harmony. some critics believe this is really just a placebo effect and there is no way to prove that the medicine works. dr. nanda did not seem bothered by this, and he understood that energy healing is difficult to comprehend for the average person. but he has no doubt that it works, and he gave us an amazing book to read, called “impossible cure,” which tells the story of a mother curing her son of autism through homeopathy. it describes many studies that have been done on the accuracy of this medicine, and i found it pretty convincing.
dr. nanda also did a full comprehensive analysis of my constitution and discovered that i matched up with a form of cobra venom! he administered it to me (diluted of course in homeopathic form) and gave me some to take home. we’ll see what happens!
there was a big dichotomy between dr. nanda and dr. gera, a lovely woman who practices women’s health medicine out of her large “nursing home,” as they call it. dr. gera’s patient turnover was very quick, and she prescribed antibiotics and other medicines to almost everyone who came into her office. i enjoyed watching all the women come in with their beautiful saris and big pregnant bellies. it was quite a sight. i have great respect for the work that dr. gera does, and i asked her a lot of questions about the system in india. it seems to me that she charges about the same amount of money that dr. nanda charges, which amounts to about 200 rupees (5 DOLLARS!) per patient. i thought to myself, if i lived here, i would probably take advantage of both types of medicine, as i still strongly believe there is a need for western practices, especially when it comes to surgeries and emergency situations.
there were a lot more medical issues in both practices than i saw in Patti village last week. as i predicted, the rates of heart disease, thyroid disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses plagued many of the patients that sought treatment. i suppose there is no escaping that anywhere in the world, but i really appreciate the accessibility in this country of all types of medicine. the choice is left to the patient seeking care, and that’s the way it should be.
i just arrived in rishikesh, and will begin my work at the ashram tomorrow. i’ll be sure to fill you in.
i made it!
sorry it’s taken me so long to post, i have had quite an adventure so far, and no time to get to an internet cafe.
my first couple of days in india were a whirlwind…by the time i arrived via train into dehradun i had been traveling for 38 hours. to my surprise, my coordinator told me upon deboarding the train that i was to spend my first week in india in a tiny village called Patti, up in the foothills of the himalayas. i knew i would be going there, but because it is so remote, i thought they would ease me into it. guess i thought wrong!
there were two other students, which made me very happy, since there was to be barely any electricity and absolutely nothing to do for the week outside of our clinic. i figured at least i could make some conversation.
the ride up to patti was unbelievable, four-wheeling it up these winding mountain roads. pretty scary, but thrilling nonetheless. we passed by many other villages along the way, which would end up being villages that the doctor, dr. paul, told us he visits each month. in total there are about 28 where he sets up clinic. they each consist of about 15-20 families, very tight-knit; primitive and rural. it looked like a movie set in another era.
we arrived in patti to find a small compound with screen doors which opened to little rooms with cots. there was a cook living there, a pharmacist, and the doctor, who comes in every week and leaves his family to treat patients in the villages. his clinic was attached to our compound and in the mornings, after being awoken with hot chai tea, we would go upstairs and watch him go to work. at night we would enjoy our dinner and listen to them play us music using only their voices, an indian flute and a bucket as a drum. it was actually quite beautiful.
the people were so warm, but culturally they were quite an extreme for me to witness. they have absolutely nothing, but somehow they make it look beautiful. the women in their bright colors and beautiful nose rings and bindis, and radiant skin! they seem happier than any people i think i’ve ever met. there is no such thing as materialism, only bare essentials and everyone, mostly the women, spend their days tending to crops, feeding their families, and doing the work of the village. apparently the men stay at home and relax most of the day!
watching dr. paul at work was extremely interesting. patients do not need appointments, they just walk in and sit down, not shy in front of anyone who is watching. it’s fascinating to see how they do not complain about ailments- they calmly state what is going on, and he doesn’t do invasive exams. most people have acute medical issues that he helps by giving them dietary advice, ayurvedic treatment, and sometimes an allopathic drug such as tylenol or an antibiotic.
everything is FREE. patients are not charged at all, which is the result of the money students pay CFHI to attend the program. it funds the medications and supplies needed to address the needs of all the villages.
one thing that was really amazing was the lack of drama in life. it is simple yet purposeful, no complaining because there is no other way. we all laughed so much up there and found a way to enjoy our time so completely, even without the comforts we are all used to.
the food that our cook made each day was some of the best indian food i’ve ever had. i felt so energized and satisfied eating in such a balanced way. it was all vegetarian and homemade, right down to the flour that came from the wheat grown outside my window. nothing is processed; it’s prepared in quite a primitive way. i found that none of my food allergies acted up because there are no preservatives or additives. the dairy i ate came straight from the free-grazing cows, and it was raw, unpasteurized- which is illegal in the US! the purity was appealing to my body. it was totally the way food should be.
every other day, we would leave our clinic and hike to surrounding villages, sometimes up to 2.5 hours each way, in order to bring them care. we were joined by one of dr. paul’s 9 health promoters. these are all women who he trains to carry out emergency care and first aid since he only visits heach village once a month. the women are also trained to teach their own communities about sexual education and preventative health. it is community organizing at the most basic level and so amazing to be a part of.
on our hikes, we would meet women and school children who hiked those roads sometimes multiple times a day, carrying baskets on their heads and often wearing no shoes. when we arrived in the villages we would set up a table with medications and the doctor would just start seeing patients right in front of everyone. they were so kind to us, and the kids were adorable. they prepared chai for us, and invited us into their homes.
as i stated above, people there do not really seek health care for chronic diseases most of the time- diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, colitis- or even cancer. they don’t suffer from primarily western ailments. it will be interesting to see how that changes just 45 minutes down into the city when i start working with doctors in dehradun.
they have many fast food chains down there and processed garbage available, and they seem far from understanding caloric and nutritional content. i’m sure a lot of them think it’s amazing to taste western food, as bad for you as it may be. good job globalization!
i am kidding, but in all seriousness, up in those villages people are living into their hundreds and they are feeling pretty good! it’s all simple and fresh and there is less suffering. there is a reason they don’t have a need for an ER, as they don’t live in a way where invasive treatments are necessary. everyone performs manual labor, they are strong and moderate in their lifestyle. they eat just enough, they don’t smoke, and they rarely drink.
and the things they do need, devoted people like dr. paul provide for them, and that’s just the way it is. very practical.
it was an amazing experience, more rewarding than i could ever put into words. i am back in the city now, and in an hour i begin with dr. nanda, a homeopathic doctor in dehradun, and from there a reiki/ayurveda master, and a women’s health doctor. this rotation continues throughout the week, so i’ll be sure to keep you posted.