Wednesday, April 28, 2010

my conversation with the vaidya

Sometimes there are stories that you're not ready to tell. I have tried to continue the narrative of my struggles with anxiety, but there's a block there.  I've decided to respect the block for what it is, but continue to interrogate it. I don't know when I'll continue to write that story, but I know that I will. Soon.

There is a story that I would like to share today, and it's inspired by the astonishing piece that Kate posted this morning. I'd like to speak more about my experiences with Ayurvedic healing and offer a kind of follow-up to my guest post on Kate's blog.


The first thought that enters my mind when I step through the door of the Maharishi Ayurvedic Health Center in Lancaster, MA is not particularly Zen-like.

"Oh, shit," I think.

The rumblings in my lower regions suggest that I ought to locate a restroom -- and pronto -- before beginning my consultation with the Vaidya. I'm not sure what to make of the fact that the most memorable events in my life are either proceeded, succeeded, or elicited by a trip to the bathroom. Lovely. 

Summoned into the Vaidya's office, I first notice the sumptuousness of the decor. Burgundies, golds, and rich browns abound. Heavy velvet drapes and a massive Oriental rug make an expansive room feel intimate and close.   The space reminds me of what I imagine Sherlock Holmes' apartment would feel like. 

The Vaidya begins to speak. I lean forward in my chair, his thick accent obliging me to concentrate on each word. My mother, seated beside me with a notebook on her lap, holds her pen at the ready. The Vaidya explains that living a life in accordance with Ayurveda principles simply means aligning your bodily rituals (eating, sleeping, exercising, etc.) with nature's own schedule. In the very early morning, before dawn even, the birds awaken, and as should you. Toward seven o'clock, the light grows dimmer, nature's activity begins to wind down, and as should you. To a woman who stayed up until 1 a.m. and slept until noon, this whole "getting up before dawn" scenario does not appeal.

I explain my medical history to the Vaidya, who quickly scribbles notes and frequently stops me to ask follow-up questions.

"So you don't know what this is, to vomit?" (Stomach surgery for reflux at eight months old left me with the bizarre inability to throw up. As you might imagine, this makes events like food poisoning rather uncomfortable. Additionally, during the month preceding the surgery, I was restricted to liquid nutrients. I struggle not to blame all of my current problems on that month of medically supervised starvation.)

"So when you are sad, you eat, and eat, and eat, no stopping?" (It felt awful to hear it spoken loud.)  

When I finish my narrative of woe (compulsive overeating, anxiety disorder, too-heavy body), he takes my pulse. Now, Ayurvedic pulse readings differ from those administered by Western physicians. For one, it takes about five minutes, which, is a. long. time. Eyes closed, the Vaidya puts varying pressures on different parts of my forearm as he accesses how well my organs are functioning and which doshas are out of balance.

As I wait for the Vaidya to finish the pulse reading, I squirm a little in my chair. The room feels very close now, and I'm concerned about what the Vaidya might be sensing. What is my body telling him? How I've been so sedentary lately that the right side of my hip has started to ache?  How I have consistently barraged it with heavy, greasy foods? How I have forsaken it? My body, the tattletale.

"Your pulse is good," the Vaidya says, to my surprise and relief. He recommends certain foods to favor (barley, leafy greens, and goat's milk yogurt since I'm allergic to lactose) and certain foods to reduce or avoid (fried food, frozen food, processed white flour). He tells me that I need to move, every day. "You need to participate in this. You must make the commitment, Elyssa." He has the rather unsettling habit of using my name. Frequently. Suddenly I become accountable for my own healing.

I smile and nod, inwardly groaning with displeasure. He seems to be privy to my inner thoughts as well as what my pulse has told him, because he looks at me as if he's heard the groan. "This will require a change in your thinking pattern, Elyssa." I try not to think any thoughts whatsoever in case he can sense those, too. Which is a good thing because it makes me entirely present for what he says next.

"There are five things you must do. Forget and forgive: forgive the old things, accept them. Find a new interest and commit to this interest. And surrender: surrender to this process and to the changes that will result." 

My eyes sting when he tells me to forgive my past. By the time he says "surrender," tears are threatening to fall. Speaking with this man at this moment feels as if I'm conversing with the truest part of myself, that part which is comprised only of love. Seated in that velvet-lined chair, I feel as though my heart, my organs, my guts are exposed. I feel vulnerable but not fragile. Examined but not judged. Cared for. It exhilarates and exhausts me.

Walking through the front lawn of the Ayurvedic Center as we head to the parking lot, I tell my mother that I feel like I've been hit by a truck. My head aches, and I can't be sure if it is intensity of the session or the incense that permeates the Center. It takes me some time to process what has happened, but even as I do, I can sense a change.  A shift in consciousness. I feel in my heart that I have been preparing for this shift for years, and now, finally, desperately, I'm ready to commit.


For approximately two months now, I've followed for the most part the eating guidelines suggested by the Vaidya, and I feel like my body has been revived. I no longer suffer from the physical manifestations of poor digestion. No more gas for this gal (Hooray!).  I'm also happy to report that, as David Duchovny might say, thanks to eating more mindfully, I'm officially an optimum pooper. Joy!

I did the ayurvedic massages for a few days and then, well, I got lazy. I have some massage oil coming in the mail this week, though, so I'll try to jump back on the wagon. Those massages made me feel incredible: loved, fleshy (in a seriously wonderful way), and utterly embodied. I need to keep reminding myself of this.

What appeals to me the most about this Ayurvedic lifestyle is how very à la carte it can be. You can pick and choose whatever guidelines you want to follow. Like Geneen Roth says, eventually, doing anything other than following the guidelines designed to care for your body will seem unthinkable. So far, I have been following the eating guidelines but not getting in as much physical activity as I would like. Even so, I can still experience the benefits of a healthier digestive system. I know that reintroducing massage will increase my good feelings as would meditating more consistently. But Ayurveda is not a diet that you either stick to or fail. Part of the point is the journey itself, I think, the working through of the issues that have blocked us from treating kindly our mind and body in the first place. 


In case you'd like to do some reading on Ayurveda, you might try these: for an explanation of the science behind Ayurvedic medicine, I'd suggest Deepak Chopra's Perfect Health: The Complete Mind/Body Guide (full disclosure: I've only read parts of this book); for an absolutely fabulous cookbook (and where I got the chapati idea), Miriam Hospodar's Heaven's Banquet: Vegetarian Cooking for Lifelong Health the Ayurvedic Way is a must-check-out; and for a focus on women's health, I like Robert Svoboda's Ayurveda for Women: A Guide to Vitality and Health.


  1. He sounds amazing. Did he give you any specific recommendations for your meditations? Are you planning to go back to him again (or is it a one-time sort of visit)?

  2. He really was amazing, Karen. And such a sweet man, too. He did recommend that I look into Transcendental Meditation, which is apparently super expensive to learn. That's one of the main issues I have with Ayurveda,'s seriously cost-prohibitive for most people.

    I'm planning to go back next month when my sister goes for her consultation. I do hope that he finds that my doshas are a bit more in balance. I feel like they have to be because I'm off my anxiety medication now and even though I've been getting some pretty frequents bouts of it, I'm able to accept that the anxiety's happening and not flee the scene (Geneen Roth's book has been amazing in helping me with this...her reminder to resist the "inclination to bolt" has been a life-saver.

  3. Suddenly I become accountable for my own healing.

    That sentence is like this beautiful little crucible or mantra.

    Love the instructions he gave you and his find an interest and commit to it reminded me of a blog posting that I have coming on finding a passion. Sometimes, when we fall in love with something outside of ourselves, we're more able to love and forgive ourselves.

    Thank you for sharing this journey.