My First Time: Finding Balance with Ayurveda
In her new column for Just Bobbi, author, advisor and attorney Anjali Kumar is willing to try anything in the name of wellness (at least once).
My sister Avanti is a medical doctor who practices Ayurveda in Chicago, but for some reason she has never treated me. It might be because whenever she tries, I start making seventh-grade level jokes asking her to excuse me for passing a little vata (wind). This behavior swiftly results in a justifiable eye roll from her. (I am the younger sister if you can’t tell, and even well into our 40s, some things remain the same.)
So it might surprise you that for my inaugural column, I decided to give Ayurveda a shot. This is for a few reasons: 1. I have a lot of work and travel coming up through year end with no slow down in sight. 2. I’ve had a cough for the better part of two months with no obvious culprit to point to. 3. I see my sister looking balanced and bright eyed and I want me some of that. Also, with the inevitable addition of holiday season stress (as well as the inevitable addition of too much pie/alcohol), I figured I should try to get myself in balance now before things really get crazy. And from what I knew, Ayurveda is all about getting in balance.
Since my sister lives in Chicago and I am in NYC, I researched Ayurvedic practitioners near me. And the first person to pop up was Dr. Pratima Raichur.
Ayurveda is about understanding your core constitution which is unique to you, and then working to keep that in balance.
Dr. Pratima (as she is known) is a world renowned Ayurvedic doctor based conveniently (for me at least) in Soho, NYC. At 80 years old, she has been seeing clients for skin, health and wellness issues for 40 years.
Walking into Dr Pratima’s intimate Soho spa felt like entering a very chic Indian grandmother’s home. Shoes off in the entryway, tasteful dark rosewood furniture, the faint smell of incense, brightly colored silk pillows placed perfectly symmetrically. I was led to Dr. Pratima’s light filled office where I was greeted by the doctor herself. Dressed in a light chiffon sari in a Prince-approved shade of purple, she immediately got to work, beginning our session with a crash course in the science of Ayurveda.
According to Dr. Pratima, “Ayurveda is a holistic mind-body, nature-based healing system and medical science rooted in the fundamental philosophy of interconnectedness. The health of an individual includes the totality of their mental, physical, and emotional experiences and they are inextricably connected to the environment and all living beings.” What this loosely translates to is that Ayurveda is about understanding your core constitution which is unique to you, and then working to keep that in balance. So what is right for me may be different from what is right for you, but if attended to properly, we will each be properly balanced in a way appropriate for us.
My head was spinning from all of the information as I tried to take in every word. She was like a purple-clad Ayurvedic Yoda guru and I could sense I was in the presence of some serious wisdom.
She seemed so assured about her diagnosis of what was out of balance with my Kapha-Pitta (earth-fire) constitution that I decided to try it, despite the long list of pills I was committing to swallowing on a daily basis.
Dr. Pratima picked up a silver handled magnifying glass and took a quick look at my nails. Horrifyingly unmanicured, the first signs of cold weather doing a number on my cuticles, she said “You do have worry, and you’re low in calcium.”
Then she inspected my tongue and started writing things down: Fried foods, dairy, cheese, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, bell peppers, seafood, red meat.
She wrote the word “AVOID” in all caps to the left of the list. Crap. If this was a list of foods I could only eat, I would have been in heaven. I said this to Dr. Pratima and she looked at me, gently smiled and said, “This is your problem.” Well, that is probably true.
She then went through a list of herbs she wanted me to take. Aneil, Suprabhat, Liver Detox, Vitamin D. Three pills on an empty stomach of this one. Four pills before bed of this other one. This one with food. This one after dinner to help keep me regular. (“You have a lot of constipation.”) She said it was a detox plan (not a weight loss one, to be clear) and that she wanted me to do this for a month and come back to check in. She seemed so assured about her diagnosis of what was out of balance with my Kapha-Pitta (earth-fire) constitution that I decided to try it, despite the long list of pills I was committing to swallowing on a daily basis.
While her team prepared my herbs, I was sent in for my treatments.
I opted for an Abhyanga massage which is a centuries old Ayurvedic wellness treatment known as the 'liquifier of toxins.' I lay on a traditional massage table as customized, warm herbal oils were applied all over my body by a therapist, moving through a sequence of strokes that begin at the feet, through the scalp, for a full body experience, culminating at the heart center. It is possible I started drooling at one point when I was on my stomach (but if no one saw it, did it really happen?). The massage was gentle yet just firm enough to make me feel like I was doing something really good for my body.
The massage was followed by a Shirodhara, which involves the slow, steady and continuous pouring of warm herbal oil over the forehead center, or what Ayurveda refers to as the third eye and our chakra of intuition. According to Dr. Pratima, Shirodhara provides “measurable effects on balancing and grounding the central nervous system, lowering blood pressure and deeply lulling the conscious mind to a profound state of quiet, calm focus.” My therapist put a piece of damp towel over my eyes so that the oil wouldn’t get into them and then the thin stream of warm oil poured over my forehead and into my hair for about 30 minutes of sheer bliss. If I had an ounce of worry or stress coming into that spa a few hours before, it was all melting onto the floor beneath me during this treatment.
I emerged from my treatments loaded up with bottles of herbs and oiled head to toe with a faint scent of jasmine enveloping me. Blissed out from the past two hours, I stumbled out onto the bright Soho street with my oily hair tucked neatly under my cap (they recommend you not shower til the next day if possible to give the healing properties of the oils a chance to seep into your skin). I felt zen, if a little blurry eyed (I think a tiny bit of oil got in my eyes) but ready to take on anything. Just as soon as I took a nap...
The Verdict: Deeply relaxing treatments will leave you oiled up and blissed out. Don’t plan for too much activity post treatments, and ideally wait until the next day to shower the considerable oil out of your hair and body. Herbs and dietary recommendations: TBD. I will update you in a month!
PRATIMA AYURVEDIC SKINCARE SPA CLINIC, The Soho Building, 110 Greene Street, Suite 701, New York, NY 10012 (212.581.8136, firstname.lastname@example.org)