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Monday, August 30, 2010

My reflections from my time at Kayakalp, the Ayurveda and Yoga Centre in the Himalayas- Palampur, India ~ Umang Goel

My reflections from my time at Kayakalp, the Ayurveda and Yoga Centre in the Himalayas- Palampur, India ~ Umang Goel

We left for our much awaited India trip on July 2nd 2010, from San Francisco airport. We had a 2 hour 15 minutes lay-over in Seoul, Korea, and reached Delhi airport by 12:50 am, July 4th. At 5:15 am, we took an 8 hours train journey to a place called Chakki Bank and from there another 4 hours taxi ride to Kayakalp, Palampur in the heart of the Himalayas. Yes it was quite an extensive journey to reach there! But the destination was well worth it :)

Once there inside the Kayakalp grounds, the natural surroundings were very powerful. Many beautiful plants and flowers adorned the grounds taking my breath away. The weather was very pleasant. We could see snow on the mountain tops, which were in the very last stages of melting away. It was 52 acres of beauty that pleased my senses through and through, with solar panels throughout.

We took residence in the “Niket” residential block. It was not a very fancy place, but all the basic amenities were there. We had reached there on the evening of July 4th, had our first introduction to the Dining Block as we had our dinner, and we looked forward to starting the next morning when we would meet our doctor, about whom I had heard from my parents and siblings. Yes, my parents had made all the necessary reservations for our stay much in advance of our actual trip.

We had been given a schedule of how our stay at Kayakalp would work; and sure enough like clockwork, we followed the schedule. I was very jet lagged, more so than my children! I was up at 1:30 am the next morning (almost 12 hours, night and day difference proved to be difficult to catch up with!!). I kept my eyes closed for a bit, then got up and went about all my regular morning rituals. Spending time in self-analysis is always very fruitful. Then early morning sweet chanting sounds of Gayatri Mantra wafted through the windows drenching me in heartfelt peace even further. “What a way to start your day,” is all I could think of

As the schedule promised, there was a knock on the door exactly at 5 am; I was ready! We were handed a jug full of warm water. I woke up my son, and we both drank 3-4 glasses each. By 5:30 am, we were out walking in the fresh early morning air. We have been told to walk bare feet on the green grass, topped with morning dew; we admired the beautiful flowers and the green lawns as we walked – yes it was very soothing to the eyes and the feet. We walked for the next 25 minutes before we ended up in the Treatment Block. The strategically placed signs with words of wisdom on the lawns or the side walks were very appropriate and much appreciated reminders.

By 6 am, we were in the Yoga Hall inside the Treatment Block. This room could easily fit about 35 people on the already placed yoga mats (or rather hand made mattresses). The Yoga Instructor, Mr. Roop Lal came in, opened the windows for fresh air and seated himself on a raised dais. A round of introduction revealed the various people from the various parts of the world, but mostly from the neighboring Indian states. The next 1 hour and 30 minutes were spent in a very restorative yoga practice, pranayam, neti kriya (with the neti pot), the drinking of salted water and then expelling the toxins out of the body through the mouth. The last part really had my eyes watering; it sure needed getting used to. Another expert from the Naturopathy section came in to spread knowledge on health and sprinkled with words of wisdom – all well worth the effort. How quickly the 1 hour 30 minutes passed! I loved the way Sun Salutation/Surya Namaskar was taught facing the rising sun and starting with chanting. The rubbing of the hands together and cupping the eyes with the heated palms was very relaxing. Alternative Breathing practice/Anulom-Vilom took on a different meaning. Savasana pose was sprinkled throughout the practice. Echoes of the Ohm chant in a staggered manner were especially elating, relaxing and uplifting. Ending the yoga practice with “kheer-asana” /Laughter yoga was absolutely mind blowing. The way the instructor did it left me in awe. I felt completely uninhibited, and could not help but bring that into my own practice all the way back to the US! The yoga teaching was shared among two yoga instructors on different days, each bringing their own uniqueness into the practice. I learned a lot and my own practice was completely re-affirmed. During my own student days, as I was learning yoga myself and how to teach others, I had developed my own unique ways, extracting from others (teachers and practitioners) as I went along, modifying and adding what instinctively felt right to my mind, body and spirit. I had always felt that enough attention is not given to pranayam part of the yoga practice, and yet breathing is integral to the physical side of yoga. The mind-body- spirit connection is not complete unless pranayam is made an essential component of the full practice. I had learned pranayam in separate courses and had always included it in my own practice and this re-affirmation in the Himalayas was very heartening.

After the yoga practice, we walked again and then went for breakfast in the Dining Block, which was right next to the Treatment Block and the residential area. The first day was a little different for us though, since we had not met the doctor yet and we did not know what exactly we were supposed to eat. We met Dr. Garima Thakur, the “Nabj Gyan” / Pulse Specialist at 9 am, as scheduled for us. There were 4 specialists there and ours, as known to us from before and as desired by my parents, was Dr. Garima Thakur, one of the most amazing doctors I have ever met. She is a two times gold-medalist, awarded for her excellence in her field. She is a rare human being, one of a kind. Such human beings are definitely hard to find and when combined with the skills of a health professional, it sure is a rarity. I felt immediate connection with her, and as I was told it was the same on her side. Dr. Thakur’s family consists of her husband, her 2 year old lovely daughter and her patients! She was always smiling, always beautifully dressed in her Indian fineries and always ready to help and care. The aura around her was dazzling. We became very comfortable with each other and it was clear how much we did have in common – our absolute faith in the Almighty, our reverence for education, our passion for writing both prose and poetry, our enthusiasm for yoga and our desire to impact those around us in the most wonderful ways and most importantly our positive attitude towards life and living. She shared her poetry diary with me and I gifted her with my book. She is a friend for life.

Dr. Thakur studied our pulse. I have never had this experience and I was curious about her finds. She knew about our personalities, our body types (vata, pitta or kapha), and what our bodies “lacked” from a health perspective…all just by studying our pulse for a few seconds. She prescribed our treatments accordingly and the food we were supposed to eat during our stay at Kayakalp. It was quite an experience and one that left us awed. She had no prior information about us.
Our treatment was supposed to start right after we had our delayed breakfast (scheduled breakfast time between 8 am and 8:30 am), for Dr. Thakur reads the pulse the first time on an empty stomach. So we went to the Dining Block to satisfy our hunger. The person in charge of serving our food looked at the individual diet plan created by the doctor, and served. The quantity of food, as expected was “limited” and each one of us had a little different food to suit our body types and needed for our treatment. The food was delicious, even though more on the bland side. Freshly squeezed pomegranate or watermelon juice was the norm. I always got “dhaniya pani”/roasted coriander boiled in water every day. There were sprouted “methi seeds”/fenugreek served every day as well. Soaked big golden raisins, almonds and walnuts as well as roasted “ajwain” seeds and “gur”/jiggery became our sweets! Warm milk was prescribed, which we sweetened with “gur,” and that tasted pretty good too. Herbal tea was present, but it was never a part of my prescription! Yes, I went without any form of tea or caffeine…Each day the breakfast was different, a complete Ayurvedic way of eating, and we sure looked forward to this morning ritual; we were hungry!

After breakfast we went to the “Panchkarma" (Ayurveda primary purification and detoxification treatment) section of the Treatment Block for our individualized treatments – for my vata body type and my son’s pitta type. (My daughter was not participating in the treatments; she wasn’t ready for these experiences).

The treatments went for almost 4 hours each day; sometimes waiting in line made it go after the lunch hour as well. The treatments I received were typically a form of massage, with Ayurvedic jari-booti/Ayurvedic herbs either like a scrub or acupressure kind and always done by two masseurs at a time in a completely synchronized manner. This experience I will never forget, for it was so relaxing and rejuvenating. The massages were either followed by Ayurvedic tub-baths, where you were spoilt completely by the masseurs; or a sauna in an enclosed space with just the head sticking out, and again kept hydrated with freshly made lemonade literally put to your mouth by the care-takers! Shirodhara/pouring of oil or milk and water combination through a machine in a simple harmonic motion on your head as you lay with your eyes closed was also a regularly prescribed treatment– very cooling, nurturing and relaxing – also a new experience. Mud treatments on the entire body or on the stomach was also very cooling and rejuvenating. One of the last treatments I got was the application of a mask on the whole body from the head to the toe – yea, looking at yourself in the single mirror in a wet, marble floored enclosed spacious hall was quite fascinating. The application is while you are standing. Once dried, the care-taker takes you to a bathroom in this hall itself, with the offer to scrub you clean! Of course I refused in spite of her insistence…This is one experience I am never likely to forget. All in all the “treatments” were so relaxing, so wonderfully done that they did not feel like treatments! You just enjoy and relax like never before…By the third day, we felt a big difference in our desire to eat, drink, walk and even how we relaxed! My son, who had been facing headaches for some time, was throwing up toxins by day three – Dr. Thakur’s response was, “Finally the body is ready for the real treatment, it will now accept what is being given internally and externally.” What she meant became very clear when the headaches disappeared as though it had never been there in the first place! His “pitta” had normalized, and he was enjoying the treatments as much as I had been.

The scheduled lunch time was from 12:00 – 12:45 pm everyday, the doors were shut after, unless special permission was granted by the doctors due to treatments. Cabbage, lauki (bottle gourd) juices or in the form of vegetable, spinach, whole wheat roti, lentils were invariably a part of the diet. Aloevera juice and gooseberry juice were also prescribed. Certain foods were never given: banana, potatoes, eggplant, okra, kidney and garbanzo beans, rice, yogurt, pickles, urad dal, arvi. The reminder to drink minimum 8 glasses of water a day was constantly given. Also the reminder to not drink water during a meal and to drink 30 minutes after a meal was also honed in. I am still trying….
After lunch either there were treatments that needed to be completed, or we met he doctor for a quick exchange around 3pm (yes the doctors were residents, within a few minutes walking distance), and always followed by walks on the beautiful grounds of Kayakalp. We certainly photographed the mountains and the natural beauty of the surroundings, which always drew my breath away. I had fun with yoga poses in this natural beauty.

Snack time was from 4 – 4:30, offering freshly squeezed juice or fruits. We followed this with meditation in the Meditation hall, an absolutely beautiful small hall with “Ohm” painting adorning the entire back wall. The experience of meditation here was unique.

By this time my jetlag would completely engulf me and I headed straight to my room, and wonderful sleep…

Dinner was from 6:30 – 7:30 pm. It was pretty amazing how hungry we felt at all these meal times and looked forward to these. More walks, more pictures and we headed to our room…Jetlag drove us to sleep early and wake up extremely early throughout our stay at Palampur!

We met several people who were registered there as residents and those who were there as locals. I found it very sad that most people who came there as patients were over-weight, and everyone was suffering with some illness or another – joint pains in the knees, back, hips; digestive issues, eye issues, blood sugar… They were equally surprised that I was not there for any illness; they would all question me, “Why are you here? You look so fit!” and my answer always was that I was there because I was so fit! Yes, I was there to enhance my fitness plan, to relax and rejuvenate from daily routines, to enjoy natural surroundings, to observe and learn from the yoga experts there.

I have gained an invaluable experience during the week I was there. My 18 year old son has benefitted tremendously – evolved in his lifestyle, his way of thinking. My daughter was more of an observer, not quite ready to try out this experience. We all left on July 10th, very pleased with what we had achieved in the beautiful Himalayas, ready for our journey towards Delhi on the way to my parents.

I would gladly repeat this experience again. My future plan is to bring my yoga students on a planned yoga retreat to Kayakalp. It is very well worth all that it has to offer in the magnificent Himalayas. 

I found some wonderful information on some of the rituals that we did at Kayakalp:

1. Information on Kayakalp, Palampur India:

2. Benefits of drinking warm water in the morning:

3. Benefits of walking barefoot on grass, especially in the morning:

4. Benefits of an Ayurvedic Diet:

5. Benefits of Methi seeds/fenugreek:

6. Benefits of Ajwain/Bishops Weed:.

7. Benefits of gur/jiggery:

8. Benefits of Ayurvedic Massage:

9. Benefits of Yogic Kriyas/Purification techniques (Neti kriya, Tratak Kriya, Kapalbhati, all of which we did at Kayakalp:

10. What is Kayakalp?

11. What is Panchkarma?

12. All about body types/Doshas (vata, pitta, kapha):

13. Benefits of Turmeric/haldi:

Ayurvedic treatments invariably used the following:
Ashwagandha, Prashanti, Triphala, Cold formations, Castor oil, Almond oil
Enjoy :) Umang