Pancha-what? Our writer takes us along on a 10-day traditional Ayurvedic cleansing retreat, as part of her journey toward healing.
It started with ghee. Teaspoons, tablespoons, and jars of clarified butter. This not only prepared my tummy for a deep Ayurvedic cleanse, it won my affections. I’ve long been an “everything is better with butter” gal. Reverence for all things oil was one of the qualities that drew me to India’s ancient healing system. After living the lifestyle devotedly for several years—sipping warm lemon water at daybreak, lunching as my main meal, rising with the sun and setting with the stars—panchakarma was the next step in our relationship. This sensuous, full-body detoxification is one of Ayurveda’s most potent healing tools.
As with any courtship, it takes commitment. As in no outside relationships. My panchakarma practitioner forewarned I’d be unplugging when I arrived at the California College of Ayurveda in Northern California’s picturesque mountain town of Nevada City. I wanted that. I needed that. I figured that meant checking emails and texts, like, once a day.
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Inside a Panchakarma Center
“You ideally should give people the office phone number in the event of a true emergency, something you would actually need to leave here to handle, ” says Mark Halpern, president of the California College of Ayurveda. “That’s what it takes to get really quiet. If you have one ear on the rest of the world, you’re involved in the drama of the world.”
Drama may be a bedfellow in many relationships—but not with Ayurveda, which is a return to wholeness. To make sure my electronic devices don’t seduce me, the friendly spa staff promptly makes off with my iPhone and laptop. For the next 10 days. Halpern says we want all my prana directed toward healing. I came to find relief from an autoimmune condition that’s stumped allopathic medicine and flirted optimistically with Ayurveda. As a former chiropractor who healed from a crippling autoimmune disorder himself, Halpern understands its restorative potential. During my intake, he explains how panchakarma was once prescribed seasonally for prevention or anytime it was needed to cure an illness.
“Traditionally, if you went to a person practicing panchakarma, you went for as long as it took, ” Halpern says from The Ayurvedic Spa at the college he founded. “panchakarma hospitals were places people went to be nurtured for rejuvenation. This is your hospital!”