Last week on “It’s So Not Sexy”…
Mo finally broke her silence and revealed where the hell she had been for the past several months. Turns out she was roaming the streets, down on her luck, at the end of her rope. Lupus was being a real pill. The chemo wasn’t working and she had lost all hope, thinking it’d got her beat… until she met a nice dame who showed her the way to a strange new joint called Ayurveda, where no-good bums like Cytoxan couldn’t double-cross her no more.
And then Mo totally left you hanging right when she was getting to the good stuff and then tried to make up for it by doing a recap in a sad, half-assed old timey bit and then tried to distract you with the words “last week” but what she really meant was “two months ago” and then continued to refer to herself in the third person.
I really didn’t mean to leave you hanging like that. I’m sorry. Now that I’ve been feeling better I’ve been grabbing life by the balls, you know? I’m living yo! Like a fairly normal person lives and it’s pretty fucking cool. I’m no longer too immunosuppressed to be on airplanes, so that’s great. Jed and I were able to celebrate our three-year anniversary in NYC. Hanging with friends, eating ridiculously good food (low-sodium style) and seeing awesome Broadway shows. And making sweet sweet love of course, because duh, that’s what married people do, right? Like, all the time.
Seriously we do it all the time.
Living it up! We even have some international travel plans in the works. Clearly I’m milking this Being Better phase as much as I possibly can. I’m working out every other day. I’m going to parties. On party buses. Seeing blockbuster movies in crowded movie theaters. Look at me! Zoom bam pow! Pizzazz! Those are the sound effects that accompany me gallivanting around without a care in the world. Pew pew! Arriba! With a Mexican laser gun apparently.
So yeah, happy days are here again. But (there’s always a but isn’t there) if I’m being tooootally honest? I’m still having those days when shit just… ain’t right. Adjusting back into the real world can be a whole other kind of mess. When you’re sick, the world keeps going, with or without your participation in it. Lately I find myself putting serious psychoanalytic effort into figuring out that no, 2011 was not a complete waste and no, I have not been left behind. I was just on a very necessary break. And during that break, my only focus was getting back on my feet. Literally. Now, my focus is, well I have many focuses (foci?) it seems - like my work, catching up on what I missed, the next steps in our marriage. Determining whether or not my body can take such steps. Yet with all these new concerns, I am constantly grateful. Grateful that I’m even here right now, thinking about all this other stuff. I just have to remind myself that feeling adrift every once in a while is part of the process of Being Better.
And I’m better because I’ve integrated Ayurveda into my life. Which brings me back to where I totally abandoned you a few months ago. Panchakarma.
At this point you’re probably wondering “What the hell is Panchakarma?!” I think for the sake of clarity (and to avoid the possibility of me screwing up in any way), I’ll let the most mainstream icon of Ayurveda explain it to you. Say waddup to Deepak Chopra and his definition of Panchakarma on The Chopra Center website. After perusing the site, you’ll get the gist - it’s a deeply detoxifying cleanse, both physically and emotionally. And I was very fortunate to have Martha Soffer and the beautiful wonderful women of Surya Spa guiding me through it all.
The emotional, dare I say spiritual aspect of Panchakarma makes it an experience like no other in my opinion. Which also makes it difficult to explain. Especially since it’s part of a health care tradition that was established over 5000 years ago, full of Sanskrit terms and beliefs that connect us to nature and to the universe. And to each other. In Ayurveda, health is not just the absence of illness. It is the balance and integration of the mind, body and soul. And the interconnectedness of those three things is undeniable. As I’ve said before, I am not an expert on any of this, so please bear with me. As you read further, just try to wrap your Western scientific brains around the old school science of Ayurveda. It took me a while to do so. But I’m a believer. The proof is in the pudding, as they say incorrectly. And this pudding tastes bomb right about now.
In Ayurvedic medicine, imbalances in the body are caused by imbalances in our doshas. What are doshas? Good question. Well. They’re invisible… but they govern the physical processes in our bodies… and uh, whoa, hey! Look who’s here! It’s Deepak again! And he’s here to tell us what doshas are. Isn’t that nice of him? He’s such a good dude. And so generous with his time.
During my first consultation with Martha (I’m going to assume that you just checked out the link to doshas and keep plowing through), it was determined my dosha was Vata-Pitta with a Pitta imbalance. The excess Pitta was the deeper cause of all the inflammation in my kidneys and body in general. That’s why she kept saying, “Too much fire, too much heat,” as she checked my pulse.
“All the fire in you, it’s there because you hold too much inside. Why do you do that?”
When Martha asked me that, I didn’t have an answer. If anything, I wanted to tell her she was wrong. Tell her that she didn’t know anything about me. That over the years I’ve grown into a very strong woman, perfectly capable of communicating my feelings whenever I felt it was absolutely necessary, and NOT when it might be something I’d regret because it really wasn’t that big of deal, or because I wasn’t going to see that person who upset me again anyway, or because I never really liked confrontation or thinking about things that made me sad or angry, so I’d rather just smile and nod and say nothing at all like a good Asian girl, and keep whatever’s bothering me festering inside until – whatever, YOU hold too much inside, Martha! Stop taking my pulse, you’re freaking me out.
She got me thinking. That’s for damn sure. About everything. Suddenly I was rummaging through my entire existence, remembering the parts I thought didn’t matter to me anymore, the parts I had buried for good. My first conversation with her already had me going “what the…?” and I hadn’t even started the actual cleanse yet.
So in true Maurissa fashion, I put a pin in all that, and instead, focused on my four days of “home prep” before Panchakarma. Ohhh home prep. Home prep entails eating easily digestible foods - cooked vegetables, whole grains, soups, cooked fruits. No meat, no dairy, sugars, caffeine, or any processed foods. Many glasses of plain hot water or herbal tea a day. And teaspoons of ghee butter. Then I had to top off day four with some castor oil. So. We have the easily digestible foods, the hot water, the ghee butter and castor oil. I think you’ve probably guessed what the desired outcome was. And HOLY MOLY OUTCOME.
Keep in mind, I was only a month out of doing all that chemotherapy so there were moments that were fairly unpleasant. My body was chock full of toxins at the time and the ghee butter apparently binds to toxins in the tissues of your body, pushes them to your gastrointestinal tract and therefore… the outcome. And by the end of home prep, I felt like a brand new woman. I was ready for Panchakarma.
For the next ten days, I was at Surya Spa every day. The peaceful sanctuary nestled in the hills of the Palisades I told you about, where it smells like Mother Earth’s kitchen? It’s not a bad place to be every day is my point. I was greeted with warm hugs from Martha, and a lovely woman named Sonya, who helps her with all the treatments. My treatments would start with an abhyanga everyday. Hindu chants played in the background as they doused me in a customized hot oil, infused with herbs specifically for my condition. I’m talking from head to toe. Covered in this amazing oil and it is glorious! They would massage me simultaneously in unison - working the medicinal oil into my muscles and joints, their touch and movements in perfect sync. Every move aimed to stimulate the release of toxins throughout my body. Then they’d take these boluses of warm herbs, again specifically customized for me, and rub them rigorously everywhere, opening the pores and driving the herbs and oil even deeper. These treatments would last for, oh I don’t know, two hours maybe? Seems like I’m bragging, right? Well I am.
After the abhyanga, I would do additional treatments that involved steaming or lying under these crystals that aligned my chakras. Yes, my chakras needed alignment. I’m not kidding, my energy flow was all out of whack. Then came the basti. When you hear the word basti, you may think it’s something cute and sweet. Like a tiny, rare, tropical bird. Or a term of endearment. Or like a pastel-colored scooter that’s not a Vespa.
A basti is an enema.
So it’s probably very clear at this point that Panchakarma is about elimination. The diet, internal oleation (the ghee butter, etc.) during home prep, the external oleation (abhyanga) during Panchakarma, the steaming, the bastis - every aspect of Panchakarma aims to loosen toxins throughout your body so that you can eliminate them. And you do. Yes you do. It is crazy how much there is to eliminate. Mind-blowing. But the most mind-blowing part of Panchakarma, is the emotional release. In Ayurveda, the toxic residue from lingering anger, sadness, guilt, any of that, can be the most damaging, causing imbalances in the body and eventually… disease.
Every day after the various heavenly treatments (and bastis), we’d end with a shirodhara. I would lie on my back as a thin stream of warm oil flowed over my forehead. For how long, I have no idea, because I was transported somewhere else every time - not necessarily dreams, but memories. And sometimes there was nothing at all. Just peace. Since I was a child, my mind has always been in overdrive. Obsessively thinking, worrying. I still bite my nails. It was during shirodharas that I finally experienced my mind truly quieting for the first time. Either Martha or Sonya would watch over me as my breath deepened. Sonya told me I was experiencing what it was like to transcend. All I know is, that kind of quiet, that stillness, felt like bliss.
I did this for ten days. Some people, depending on their health needs, will do Panchakarma for up to a month or even longer. It does make sense. A child with an overactive mind developed an overactive immune system. On day two, I remembered something I botched when I was ten years old. I was punching pillows - embarrassed, guilty, and afraid. I cried on the table and Martha comforted me and told me to let it go. On day four, I thanked god for Jed. I don’t know who or what I meant by god, but I needed to give thanks for bringing to me what truly matters. By day five the edema in my legs and feet began to disappear. By day six, I finally embraced forgiveness. By day seven, I understood that being sick was not my fault. By day eight, the edema was gone.
On day nine, during shirodhara, I saw myself at fifteen, performing at the Orlando Amphitheater. It happened as I remembered. I watched myself stumbling down the stage ramp and then fall to the ground. Out cold. Only this time, this fifteen year old girl sat up on her own. I approached her and gingerly placed my hand on her shoulder. She turned around and I saw her face. The red rash spanned across her cheeks, along her neck, down her arms, covering her fingertips. But she didn’t seem afraid and she wasn’t in any pain. She looked up at me and smiled. And I knew she was going to be okay.
On day ten, I had hope again.
In Deepak Chopra’s book, Perfect Health, he says, “The guiding principle of Ayurveda is that the mind exerts the deepest influence on the body, and freedom from sickness depends upon contacting our own awareness, bringing it into balance, and then extending that balance to the body. This state of balanced awareness, more than any kind of physical immunity, creates a higher state of health.”
I meditate every day now. I still eat according to what’s appropriate for my dosha. My doctors have used the word “astounded” when it comes to my progress. Was it a combination of the months of chemotherapy and the Panchakarma that kicked my body back into proper gear? I have no idea. Now that I have Ayurveda in my life, will I ever be able to abandon Western medicine completely? Probably not.
Have I achieved a state of balanced awareness? I’m working on it. I’m working on it.