Saturday, April 25, 2015

Panchakarma with Dr. Sunil Joshi

This post details my experience with panchakarma under the supervision of Dr. Sunil Joshi assisted by his staff at his clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico from April 18-25, 2015.  Panchakarma can be though of as cleansing/purifying of the body and mind according using methods detailed in Ayurveda.

Booking

Normally, they won't let someone sign up panchakarma unless Dr. Joshi has had some success treating them with herbs and lifestyle.  The lifestyle part (see the bottom of this post for details) is particularly hard to follow because it involves a very restricted diet (almost no processed foods), specific meal times, daily oil self-massages, taking herbs, and breathing and physical exercises.  I had been consulting him for the last 9 months and had made 3 visits to Albuquerque just for consulting him.  I had already seen some minor improvements to my health over that time through just taking herbs and managing my lifestyle, although the improvements have been far from anything significant.  I had followed the prescribed protocol perhaps 50-60%.  

There were 6 or 7 others signed up during the same week as me.  Many of the people I have met at the clinic during my earlier consultations and during the panchakarma have been seeing Dr. Joshi for years (even 10+ years).  Folks had come for treatment not just from all parts of the US, but also from overseas.

Consultations and monitoring

One of the best things about all of the consultations at this clinic is that they involve no forms other than a consent form.  Dr. Joshi assesses out what is happening with the patient's body and mind by reading the pulse and performing a physical examination, and confirms his findings with the patient.

Before treatments are prescribed the he performs a thorough initial consultation in which he checks the pulse and does a physical examination.  Additionally, he performs the oil or herbal bastis daily on all patients, and also monitors the progress based on a brief daily report written by the patient before treatment each day.

Treatments

Treatments varied by day and by person.  The goal of the treatments is to loosen the toxins and eliminate them via peeing, pooping, and sweating.  The treatments last about 1.5 to 2 hours.

In my case, the following were the treatments for each day.
  • Day 1 -- Initial consultation, abhyanga, hand-steam, nasya, steam box, shirodhara, oil basti. 
  • Day 2 -- Abhyanga, hand-steam, nasya, pinda svedh, neck and lower back basti, shirodhara, herbal basti, left knee lepa. 
  • Day 3 -- Abhyanga, hand-steam, nasya, heart basti, shirodhara, herbal basti. 
  • Day 4 -- Abhyanga, hand-steam, nasya, pinda svedh, shirodhara, herbal basti. 
  • Day 5 -- Abhyanga, hand-steam, nasya, neck and lower back basti, herbal basti. 
  • Day 6 -- Abhyanga, hand-steam, nasya, pinda svedh, heart basti, shirodhara, oil basti. 
  • Day 7 -- Virechana (purgation) consultation, pizichil, nasya, steam box, shirodhara.  Virechana is performed during the night of Day 7 by taking some herbs.
  • Day 8 -- Exit consultation, rest.
Abhyanga - Full body oil massage by 2 practitioners.
Hand-steam - Steam applied to the body using an insulated hose attached to the top of a pressure cooker.
Heart basti - A trough made over the heart area with dough and herbal oil is poured in it.
Herbal basti - Enema done with herbal tea.
Lepa - An herbal paste is applied and the body part is bandaged up for a few hours. 
Lower-back basti - A trough made over the lower-back area with dough and herbal oil is poured in it.
Nasya - Face massage and herbal drops put in the nose.
Neck basti - A trough made over the neck area with dough and herbal oil is poured in it.
Oil basti - Enema done with herbal oil.
Pinda svedh - Warm milk massages over the body with a ball made out of a cheese cloth filled with cooked rice and herbs.
Pizichil - Oil massage with a cheese cloth filled with cooked rice and herbs.
Shirodhara - A steady stream of oil is dripped on the center of the forehead just above the eyes.
Steam box - Sit in a steam box with herbal steam for 3-5 minutes.
Virechana - Purgation to cleanse the small intestine.

During the initial consult, we are given herbs and medicated ghee.  The medicated ghee needs to be taken each morning and evening in increasing doses over the days.  The purpose of the ghee is to prepare for virechana.

Meals

For breakfast, only fruit is recommended.  Lunch and dinner were provided and typically consisted of rice, split yellow mung daal (sometimes cooked as a soup separately with or without spinach, and sometimes included in the rice), and a couple of vegetables from the following -- carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, red/orange/yellow bell pepper, broccoli, garnet yams, cabbage.  On Day 7, to prepare for virechana the dinner was potatoes and red bell peppers (with rice and daal).  On the night of Day 7, special herbs are given to induce virechana.  On Day 8, both meals were provided -- meal #1 was rice porridge and meal #2 was rice with some herbs.  The food on Day 8 is supposed to calm the system after virechana.

Accommodation

They do not provide accommodation so patients have to stay at a nearby hotel.  There are a couple of reasonable options within a 5 min walk from the office/treatment center.

Summary

The benefits of the treatment are harder to see immediately but I was assured that I had responded well to the treatment and that it would show its effects over the next few months.  I guess I'll just have to wait and see.

Diet & lifestyle recommendations
Update 11/26/15

I saw a reasonable improvement in my health and so I attended another session from 11/19 - 11/26.  The treatments were similar to the first session as was the food.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The mystery of life

I'm often preoccupied with thoughts around the question "what is the meaning of life?"  When I pay close attention to most people, I find they are all unhappy about one thing or another, but just keep flowing with life doing what "normal" people do -- go to work, have one or more hobbies, take vacations, have families, etc.  But in the end, everyone grows old, gets sick, and dies.   And along the way it's a constant struggle to keep one's vocation, relationships, and health working.  It appears we are doomed from the day we are born.  What could the purpose of such a game be?  Who would design such a game?

There is no diet, no spiritual practice, no religion, no vocation that will free one of the curse of sickness, aging, and eventually death.  No matter what one achieves in life, it will all be left behind.

Religions have their own way of addressing this depending on whether or not they subscribe to the belief of reincarnation.  If the path preached by a religion were indeed that good, then walking it, even for a short while, would yield very tangible results.  Yet, when we look at the followers of any path and we find many that are deeply unhappy despite following that path for years or even decades.  Recently, I have even started to question the veracity of the ancient texts because one never knows if they were edited through the years.  Transmission of these texts through the generations seems much like the game of Chinese Whispers.

Even if we just accept the reality of old age and death, what about destiny?  Is everything predestined or do we have free will?  If there is such a thing as destiny, I have not encountered someone that could predict outcomes with much accuracy.  If there is such a thing as free will, why is it that mythology has many examples of destiny that could not be overridden by free will?  And why is it that we cannot create the life we desire?