In our ‘new reality’ that we are still coming to terms with, one of the key measures that will help us fight diseases is building a strong immune system, which is the very foundation of India’s healing science of Ayurveda. It’s both ironic and befitting, that one of my last travel stints before our world went into lockdown, happened to be a brush with Ayurveda. Had I known then that our world was going to be turned on its head very soon with immunity being at the centre of it, I would have taken to Ayurveda as swiftly as bees to salvia bushes in bloom. But like the slow results of Ayurveda, my conversion from a sceptic too was an unhurried one. And like most results of Ayurveda, it has been permanent.
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On my first morning at Kairali, an ayurvedic healing village in the quaint Palakkad district of Kerala, I am up earlier than usual. My sit-out opens to a narrow, gently flowing canal lined with coconut trees and interspersed with foliage, spread across acres of a vaastu designed space. I pour myself a glass of warm water from my thermal flask, which turns out to be suspiciously pink. Dialling the reception, I request for ‘normal’ water, which is gently refused; the ‘strange pink water’ will only do me good, they insist. Steeped in medicinal properties that help flush toxins from the body, the bark of pathimukham or East Indian redwood gives the water its flushed colour, and not just at Kairali. On a busy afternoon at a local eatery I visit later, that’s all that the locals are downing with their meals. Being at the fulcrum of this ancient science, Ayurveda here is a way of life. With the threat of illness that we must learn to cohabit with, wellness does need to be embraced as a way of life. And for more reasons than one, Ayurveda seems to be the answer.
To begin with, the aim of Ayurveda is not just to cure disease, but to also protect the health of a healthy person; the entire philosophy of this 5,000 year-old tradition being a way of life works exactly around this principle. Everything in Ayurveda works towards its four major goals – detoxifying the body, incorporating a balanced diet, furthering physical endurance, and most of all, boosting immunity.
While weight loss seems to be the biggest draw for wellness treatments (I have been promised I will leave at least a kilo lighter in my three-day stint), it can also help heal a range of ailments. This is so because traditional ayurvedic treatments are not to be confused with ‘spa treatments’, complete with aromatic oils and soothing ambient music. Ayurvedic healing is pleasant by no means and involves pungent herbal concoctions, purging, and rugged massages. In the end, it phenomenally improves your metabolism and restores equilibrium in the body; any weight loss caused by toxins flushed out is a bonus. What stays with you ultimately is how any Ayurveda treatment makes you feel—cleansed and balanced.
The latter is created by an equilibrium Ayurveda constantly strives for in the human body, a harmony of three vital life forces that create optimal functioning—vata (ether and air), pita (water and fire), and kapha (earth and water). Combinations of these three create seven classic types of nature or ‘prakruti’, which determine the physical and mental constitution of a person, and accordingly, treatments if required, or preservation of ideal health. I go in for the recommended treatment, which is mild keeping in mind my brief stint, and step out recharged and ready for lunch. It is through the meals here that I realise that food is key in Ayurveda- what you ingest is what slowly builds your wall of resistance.
The number one tip is maintaining hydration of the body with warm water intake, as opposed to ice-cold fluids. ‘Kanji’ water, or water strained from boiled rice, is a great fluid to consume anytime.
Turmeric is an immunity-boosting spice, in vogue now in the west in turmeric lattes sold at coffee shops; add a pinch to your drinks, and your system is detoxified. Avoiding processed food and replacing it with seasonal, fresh, easy to digest foods like leafy greens, fibre-rich fruit, and immunity-boosting grain additives such as amaranth and quinoa is another decree. The bulk of your food intake should be during lunch when the sun is at its highest, just like your body’s digestion power. Ghee or clarified butter, considered by many to be ‘fattening’, is one of the backbone ingredients of Ayurveda. As long as it is not adulterated, it is vital to strengthening your system.
All of this is aimed at creating ‘ojas’, which is not just nourishment of our body tissues through the food we consume. It’s the overall process of transformation that creates resilience to any physically, mentally, and emotionally hazardous environment, which would create an imbalance in our body. Black pepper is a spice that aids ‘ojas’, and so do all sweet, juicy fruits like pear, mangoes, peaches, and pineapple, with pomegranate topping the list. Not for nothing is Ayurveda the oldest of medical sciences in the history of medicine, and since it works from the roots, the change is slow but enduring. Breathing exercises (pranayama), just like respiratory tract hygiene, and sound sleep, too should be incorporated in our daily lives. If a disease has made its way into our ‘new lives’, the onus to counter it is on us, and take healing and wellness into our fold even when we are on the move. With a pinch of turmeric incorporated into our daily living and travel ideology, we’ll be ready to navigate the brave new world when it reopens.
The Ayurvedic Healing Village is part of the Kairali group that offers a smooth induction into the ayurvedic way of life.