I cannot tell a lie, India was never high on my list of places I wanted to visit. But one day, I received an email from my meditation teacher, Light, that he was hosting a meditation retreat in India. And suddenly even though the thought petrified me, I knew I couldn’t NOT go. So I signed up.
The retreat was over the course of 10 days in Rishikesh, a city in the Himalayan foothills beside the Ganges River. The river is considered holy, and the city is renowned as a center for studying yoga and meditation. As I am sure anyone who has visited India will tell you, you are never prepared for the sensory overload that is India until you get there.
And all things considered, my foray into India was pretty tame. We stayed not at an ashram but at a five star hotel (Indian five stars but still, we had a bathroom and shower with hot water). The retreat consisted of daily knowledge talks from our teacher and a focus on rounding which is a more intense meditation where you incorporate movement and breath work. Instead of our typical 20 minute meditation, one meditation can be as long as an hour, and at my peak, I meditated there for six hours a day.
Our hotel – and pretty much every hotel in the area – offered Pancha Karma to unknowing tourists. I have since learned through my Ayurveda studies that Pancha Karma is no joke and a serious detox treatment that is done under the care of an Ayurveda physician for about 30 days to expel deep rooted toxins from your system. But here, it was positioned as a seven day spa treatment.
I was vaguely familiar with Ayurveda at this point in my life after being introduced to it at the yoga retreat and taking a few Ayurveda cooking classes in NYC so I was eager to sign up. First of all, I love trying out any kind of cleanse, and second of all I was eager to find out the state of my doshas from a real Ayurveda doctor. The doctor overseeing us did not stress the importance of the detox diet so many of the girls got sick and dropped out – we were on vacation after all and while Rishikesh did not have meat or alcohol they did have naan, French fries and surprisingly good chocolate cake.
The first three days were the most spa like. We had to start each day by drinking ghee (yes, drinking clarified butter. For me this was the worst part) and then get a shirodara treatment which is the full body oil massage that drops down from your temples. And again, this is where I was hooked. After my first shirodara treatment, I went to the dining room to meet my group for dinner and everyone noticed a difference. I was glowing and my entire countenance had changed.
The ghee is supposed to draw your toxins out of your tissues and the shirodara is meant to move it all around to get to one place so you can get them out. I won’t go into the detail about what went on the four days after the daily ghee and shirodara to get those toxins out by drinking castor oil, receiving enemas and getting ghee poured into my eyes, but the moral of the story is everyone else on my trip got sick and I got a glow – and that was when I knew there was something in Ayurveda for me.