Sunday, December 19, 2010
Doing the Body Good
I just posted on facebook: “castor oil bath works! Joints lubricated, check!”
My cousin Peebles posts back, “like C3P0, Kaz?”
And actually she’s right. Totally! For the last few weeks, I’ve become something of a rusty robot, motor skills seizing from hard labor (well, 2 hours of it a day anyways). My body, though strengthened and stretched by nearly 2 months of deep asana practice is also tired, worn out by the daily grind.
Certain muscles are tight. Joints are rickety. Like everyone else subjected to the daily practice and deep drop backs: my shoulders and neck are tight, my lower back is strained, the hips feel unhinged from being hauled into supta kurmasana by Sharath’s strong-armed assistants (to whom I am eternally grateful, regardless). During the last week, it’s almost as if I could hear my hip joints popping uncomfortably during the first few sun salutations.
I’ve been bad. I admit it. Before this last week, I’d had a total of one massage, a coconut oil rub down by two industrious ladies at Iora salon right across the shala. I had an appointment with Harini and her magic feet for a castor oil bath, but then I had to cancel due to my lady’s.
Then I got carried away, doing this, doing that, busying myself during my free days. After the first month of non-stop activity, the fatigue set in followed by pure laziness/procrastination. By last week, there was no denying it: I had neglected to take care of my tired bones and moaning muscles.
Luckily, last Wednesday, my long awaited massage with Aimee Echo was due. Aimee is also a student at the shala. She is a yoga teacher and a massage therapist back home in Southern California, specializing in deep tissue massage. She’s been booked up with needy students like me for weeks. To top it off, Aimee is an absolute sweetheart.
Aimee’s strong hands put me back in touch with the deep down parts of my body, which were both irked at being poked at and overjoyed at feeling release. As she proceeded to try and work out my kinks, which she said was pretty much shared by most of the shala students, I knew that I’d managed things badly. I hadn’t invested the time and effort to take care of myself. It was lovely and too short—as I had to run to another appointment with Ayurvedic specialist, Dr. Kumar.
In an attempt to know more about my constitution, I was off to visit Dr. Kumar of the Dixit Health Clinic & Research Institute, who is known amongst the yoga community here for his Ayurvedic treatments and for being able to prescribe the correct lifestyle advice for one’s particular dosha.
It’s easy to like Dr. Kumar. He has big, kind eyes, a straightforward face, and a bulbous bald head, which bobs side to side with a smile as I sit and introduce myself. There’s something comedic about his countenance and it is easy to be comfortable in his presence. He sits up straight and attentively listens as I explain to him why I’ve come to visit him: 1) to hasten my slow digestive system so I can enjoy a light practice and 2) to know more about my dosha.
I prattle on. When I am done, he asks for my arm, takes my pulse and asks me whether I’ve always been of slight build, how regular is my menstrual cycle and whether I have dry or oily skin. He pronounces me predominantly Vata as he writes “Vata +++” on my sheet.
I had answered a questionnaire once to try to ascertain my own dosha. The result was evenly vata/pita. So I ask him, about my pita side.
He says, “Only a little Pita,” writing as he says this “Pita +” on my record book.
“How about Kapha?” I ask.
“Very little.” His head bobs. He doesn’t bother to write kapha down in his record.
I’m baffled at how he would know all this at this point, so I go ahead and ask, “How do you know?”
“It’s very clear. You have all the signs,” he assures me as both hands gesture at my person. With his head confidently see-sawing from side to side, he seems sure that such signs are totally apparent. Well, he’s the expert.
I suppose he does have a point. Slender, check! Enthusiastic, check! Airy, check check check!
He then rattles off a list of things that are good for me and things that are bad for me, which kinda make sense.
Things that are bad for me: bitter vegetables, refined flour, refined sugar (jagery is an exception, thank goodness), anything cold, chili peppers (which though spice on the outside are actually supposed to be cooling—at least that’s what Doc said when I tried to contest), cheeses which are channel blocking, and chai (mon dieu!) which is constipation causing.
Things that are good for me: mong dal, white or brown rice, fruits, milk, ghee (everyday, he says), butter, all kinds of vegetables, all sorts of fruits like papaya, bananas mangoes and pomegranate, and generally all things warm. And pranayama.
He also suggested I curb my coconut water consumption, which was averaging at 6 a day, to at least half. And that I could continue to indulge in my most beloved food: chocolate—but with moderation, his eyes laughing at my question. Drats! Double drats!
I also consult with him regarding a criticism I get from some of my friends about how I am overly active and can get really really busy—a very vata trait. I ask, “Should I do something about this? Should I change? Or should I just embrace it?” Again, his head sways from side to side, this time in disagreement.
“You cannot change your nature! Embrace it. You can still do the things you do, just try to do them s-l-o-w-l-y,” he lets the last word drawl for emphasis. It feels good to have him say this.
To top off the week of wellness, I finally decide to self-administer a castor oil bath, which Sharath recommended at conference over a month ago. I’d put off the sticky process long enough. On Saturday, with the guidance of yoga teacher Mozart Reina (a top bloke with a wealth of knowledge that he is happy to share with others; we also have a Philippine/Alex Medin connection), who showed me how to mix the soap nut powder and instructed me on the proper procedure, I dove into the treatment.
The castor oil bath is supposed to have a variety of benefits that are good for yoga students. It detoxifies the body, pulling away toxins that are being released by deep asana stretches. It releases the heat in the body (the practice generates a lot of heat). And it lubricates joints. People say their practice improves with regular castor oil baths.
As I spread the gluey liquid from my scalp to the rest of my body, I wasn’t so sure if it was all worth it. I wondered how in the world the bowl of mushy soap nut water was going to rid me of the goo that enfolded me. I poured hot water over my head a few times then rubbed the oil deeply first into my scalp then eventually (after much milking the oil from my hair) into my muscles and joints, spending longer on my troubled hip joints. After the second round, I applied two bowls of the soap nut to scrub away the oil. I was pleasantly surprised as the soap nut really works wonders as it scrubs the castor oil film gently away.
After drying myself off, I bundled myself up in a shady area in the room as Mo instructed. Sun and heat of all kind is not advisable post castor oil rubdown. Sitting still, relaxing, my body still recovering from the sticky oil bath, I started to feel quite heavy headed. Throughout the day, I felt a variety of sensations. I felt out of it pretty much all morning. My limbs felt quite loose by mid-day. I felt very hot and tired in the mid to late afternoon, almost feverish like. And I slept like a baby that evening.
To top it off, led class the following morning may not have been easy but at least my hips didn’t feel unhinged not even during the first sun sals. I’m definitely sold on castor oil baths and have now purchased my own liter from the 3 Sisters.
My body feels improved somewhat from the trilogy of health treats. More than anything, I’ve woken up to the need to be good to my body, to support this amazing yet exhausting asana practice with things that will re-energize and nourish me. My body has served me well thus far, and it too needs and deserves tender loving care.
Castor Oil can be bought at Loyal World, as well as Soap Nut Powder. The castor oil I used, however, was from Three Sisters. Harini has it made special and Mo says it’s the best. Three Sisters: 08212522788
For Dr. Kumar, and the Dixit Health Clinic, visit www.ayurvedamysore.com or call 0821 424 4620. They also have a wide range of treatments and courses for those interested in Ayurvedic medicine.