Read Panchakarma Part 1 here if you missed it.
Whenever people would ask me why I was going to India and I would say “yoga,” there’d often be this pause, like they were waiting for me to say something else, something about temples or enlightenment or The Beatles. If this pause was long enough, I’d throw in an addendum: “I also plan on drinking a lot of coconut water…from coconuts,” hoping this would appease them. On the surface, going to India to do yoga didn’t make a lot of sense. I live in San Francisco, after all. You can’t throw a bong out of a window without it landing on a yoga studio. The city even installed a yoga room in the airport. If there’s something lacking in San Francisco, it’s certainly not places to wear stretchy pants. So why was I traveling 8,000 miles to do something I could just as easily do at home?
Farmboy, fetch me that pitcher
If you don’t know this about me, I respond really well to people who order me around. It’s the fastest way to get me to agree to something (within reason). It’s how I wound up on a trapeze. It’s why I moved to San Francisco. It’s why I started doing ashtanga in the first place (It was also to impress a girl. I’m sure I really wowed her with my ability to fold myself into a sad parenthesis). So when my teacher, Magnolia Zuniga, told me to go to India, I said, Okay! And then I put it off for two years, because I’m not crazy.
This fall she brought it up again, when my stint at Mother Jones was about to end, and I was super bummed they didn’t hire me, and at the thought of being unemployed again in a city I couldn’t afford to be unemployed in. During this time, one of the few consolations was that I would finally have the time to go to India. I started saying this out loud to people, at first because it made my unemployment seem more glamorous than it actually was, which consisted of only wearing clothes with elastic waistbands and drinking things out of measuring cups. But then I started freelancing more, and doing social media for a few places/people, and the thought of going to India started to seem not only possible, but terribly exciting. “I’m going to India!” I would say, and shake my fists close to my chest, as if playing a set of maracas badly.
I told my parents last because they are worriers. If I sneeze more than three times in a row, my dad casually suggests that I go to the ER. When I told them, I didn’t mention the words malaria, dengue fever, intestinal parasites, or any of the other potential hazards that were brought up to me by a woman in a lab coat wielding a syringe, hazards that I promptly ignored because vaccinations are fucking expensive. Plus, I know lots of people who’ve been to Mysore, and they said it was probably going to be fine. So I said, Okay! (I have 4 days left, so knock on wood or pray to fairies or whatever, but I’ve yet to contract any weird jungle diseases this whole 6 weeks).
I have a pretty laissez-faire approach to health care in general, not just with vaccinations. Since I don’t have insurance anyway, I decided to do the truly American thing, which was to outsource my health care to India. Not just because it’s cheaper, though it certainly is that, but because I’ve also grown increasingly tired of Western doctors throwing pills at me regardless of the problem I come in with. I thought I’d see what Indian doctors would throw at me instead. I never dreamed the answer to that would be scalding bags of herbs.
Feeling the burn
As I mentioned last time, I tore my hamstring about 3 years ago, so part of my panchakarma was to specifically address that injury. This entailed the Indian version of Granny Clampet sauteeing my hamstrings for 20-to-30 minute intervals every single day for a week. The process is called kizhi, and it’s supposed to eliminate toxins and release pain from the affected muscles.
At first it feels nice. There’s a little massage bit that happens while the oil is heating up. Once the oil starts to crackle in the pan, however, the bags of herbs are coated and applied to the skin. The more times the bags were pressed to my skin, the more my legs began to flop involuntarily, like a poorly-trained circus walrus. “Holy fuck,” I said, trying to convey my pain to my masseuse, (whose name I actually don’t know because I’m deaf and you can only ask someone to repeat themselves so many times before you just give up and start calling them the word you think sounds like what they might have said, which in this case was Washcloth, but which seemed really disrespectful, so I started referring to her inwardly as My Sadist, which seemed like a truer reflection of our relationship anyway). Anyway, I politely swore at My Sadist, knowing full-well that she was probably not well-versed in the varied connotations of swear words. She knew a little English: Hello, How are you, Pain gone, and Is okay? But mostly we had to rely on body language to communicate. It was how I imagine playing charades in hell must be like.
So, My Sadist would burn me with herbs, and then afterwards, I would thank her, like a good masochist. This is how it went the first couple of days, until I finally became bold enough to ask her to turn the heat down on the portable gas stove. The reason it took 3 days for me to ask an old woman to please not treat my limbs like a bucket meal at Long John Silver’s is because I am terrible at that shit. I basically go through life trying not to inconvenience anyone, even if it’s their job to be inconvenienced. For instance, on the plane ride from Hong Kong to Bangalore I got really thirsty (because the Chinese TSA made me throw out my water, even though I got it ON THE PLANE I HAD JUST LEFT, which I tried to explain, and which failed to rouse any response from them other than polite bowing). Rather than push the button for the stewardess and ask for water, I simply went without. I rationalized this by telling myself that I probably wouldn’t die of dehydration in 6 hours. Besides, they turned the cabin lights off! Clearly that was a sign that water no longer existed on board the aircraft. So, obviously it took me several days to ask My Sadist, who was very sweet when she wasn’t near a skillet, to please stop burning me. Also, as I said, there was a language barrier. I eventually settled on “Less hot please!” accompanied by a wince-y face. And it worked! For about 30 seconds. Whereby she would resume her task of scalding me and I would resume my task of pretending that I wasn’t being scalded.
Coming up next: What does S&M have to do with ayurveda? A lot, if you’re me.