Panchakarma at the ashram – bringing balance to my life

Ayurveda means ‘the wisdom for longevity ‘ and today Grandma has decided to follow this path of wisdom and see what it offers a weary traveller. Ayurveda is a 5,000-year-old system of natural healing that has its origins in the Vedic culture of India and is today one of the country’s traditional health care systems. It’s based on the holistic approach of looking at the individual as a whole: Mind Body and Soul.

We’re staying at the Art of Living ashram outside Bangalore. It has a huge modern hospital, and a nearby medical college where doctors and therapists are trained in Ayurvedic medicine. In the ashram itself there is a purpose built medical centre with doctors who assess, diagnose and accordingly prescribe treatments.

My attention is caught by the brochure, which begins, ‘Treatments include herbal formulations along with aromatherapy and various forms of massage’. My eyes light up at the thought of remedial massage although I make a mental note to decline the “enema and supervised fasting” and yes, I can handle the ‘yoga exercises and meditation’.

Since we are only here for three days this is just a ‘taster’. Ayurveda deals with all the illnesses and diseases that we in the West suffer from, including diabetes, cholesterol, eye problems, heart conditions and gastro intestinal complaints. People with serious illness come as in-patients for one or two weeks on a program known as panchakarma.


I have been suffering from a stiff neck throughout the trip, even resorting to a foam neck support on rough car journeys (following grandma sometimes means dealing with odd ailments and strategies to cope). My daughter, Jennie, suggests that I offer up my neck for the consultation. She’s happy to take pot-luck and see what the doc diagnoses!

Before the consultation I do a little homework and discover that  “Ayurveda describes three fundamental energies that govern our inner and outer environments: movement, transformation, and structure. Known in Sanskrit as Vata (Wind), Pitta (Fire), and Kapha (Earth), These primary forces are responsible for the characteristics of our mind and body and each of us has a unique proportion of these three forces that shapes our nature.

 If Vata is dominant, we tend to be thin, light, enthusiastic, energetic, and changeable.

 If Pitta predominates, we tend to be intense, intelligent, and goal-oriented and have a strong appetite for life.

 When Kapha prevails, we tend to be easy-going, methodical, and nurturing.

 Each of us has all three forces, but most people have one or two elements that dominate.

 The goal of Ayurveda is to identify a persons ideal state of balance, determine where they are out of balance, and offer interventions using diet, herbs, aromatherapy, massage treatments, music, and meditation to re-establish balance.

The Consultation 

NADI PAREEKSHA – The Pulse Diagnosis

Pareeksha is an ancient ayurvedic technique of diagnosis by reading the pulse. It can accurately diagnose both physical , mental and emotional imbalance as well as diseases. It forewarns of potential health risks. It gives you an insight into how to optimize your heath in accordance with the elements which are predominant in your body’

 Our doctor greets me and asks me to remove my watch, relax and close my eyes. She then begins her diagnosis by reading my pulse. She then examines my skin and outstretched hands and finally sits back and says I am Kappha predominant with Pitta. I can go along with that.

She observes I have a stiff neck – not too hard to miss – and goes on to say that this stiffness is a result of a digestion problem. I apparently need clearing out. I laugh nervously and hope to dismiss any thoughts of colonic irrigation. However, as she looks at me rather encouragingly I make it perfectly clear that I am happy with the way I am. I might have a slight digestion problem but ‘m not sure how this could affect my neck. It all sounds a bit vague, but I listen to her, go with the flow (avoiding enemas) and see what treatments she suggests.

The prescription includes Ayurveda (herbal) tablets to be taken before meals. In addition there is some pungent smelling oil to be warmed and then massaged for 20 minutes into my neck and joints. And then she writes down the magic words on my sheet:     Four sessions of prescribed massage.

ABHYANGA – a full body massage with light rhythmic strokes. Described as ‘Very effective in general relaxation’

This to be followed by a steam in a large sarcophagus.  Followed by

SHIRODHARA a wonderful relaxation process in which the scalp and forehead receive a caressing massage with a thin stream of medicated warm oil.


PINDA SWEDA – herbal muslin bags, dipped in warm oil and liberally applied over the body on aching joints

I think I have died and gone to heaven and the treatments are to start now.

In due course my notes and experiences will find their way to another blog, but for now, the massage table waits for me.

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