On the Eve of Panchakarma

As I write this, I am in an airplane high above the deserts of the Middle East on my way back to India after three years away. Outside, the huge moon glows in the daylit sky like a light bulb, thankfully still several hours shy of full, as at the moment of fullness on Tuesday the moon will be shadowed by the earth in a dramatic lunar eclipse – decidedly NOT the most auspicious time to be traveling, according to Vedic tradition! 

God willing, by that time I will have reached Vaidyagrama, home of my teachers and a second home for me, after another short flight and an hour-long taxi ride with my favorite driver, Ramaswamyji. I should have several hours to settle in, to rinse the road off, and to find myself in meditation or prayer during the eclipse itself. 

The following day, I’ll begin the beautiful and rigorous protocol of panchakarma, a 21-day process of letting go (in more ways than one) and then building back up.

Considering I wasn’t aware of the eclipse when I planned this voyage, it’s remarkable to me that I’m avoiding the most inauspicious window by such a narrow margin. Yet the fact that an eclipse is heralding my return to Vaidyagrama seems apt. Eclipses are said to be times when karma makes itself known, secrets are revealed, and truth comes to the surface. 

I WAS aware in booking this voyage that something momentous continues to unfold in our pandemic-focused world – and that something is stirring in my own little corner of it. I am eager to be back in India, reconnecting to the heart of Ayurveda and opening to the teachings of panchakarma

Many people describe panchakarma as a “detox,” which seems too familiar and simple an explanation for this deep – and deeply personal – treatment. First I’ll meet with my physician Dr. Ramadas who will assess my current condition physically and mentally and design an appropriate protocol for me. The initial 7-10 days will be the purvakarma phase, preparing the body and mind for what is to come. 

Next is the actual panchakarma phase, marked by the strongest treatments, where the “detox” moniker arises. The final stage is paschatkarma, the rejuvenation and rebuilding phase as one prepares to return to external life. 

As I approach this physical ritual of moving inward and letting go, I’m leaning into the support of the tradition, the community of doctors and friends, and even the eclipse, to help me digest the past 2 and a half years and to make room for what’s ripening. 

These recent years have taken much from us, whether we see the cause as the pandemic or our collective response to it. It’s the subtle internal changes I feel that I’m most concerned about. I feel the habits of “distancing” solidifying within and around me, and I know it will take active resistance and discomfort to reestablish the embodied interactions that individual and communal health require. 

Indeed, our view of what’s “me” and how I’m separate from “you” is ripe to shift. We have been focusing these recent years (and many before that) on keeping “safe,” which is ultimately an illusion of control. Which is more risky, the virus, or the disconnection, despair, and loneliness of isolation? 

I’m starting to chart my particular path back to risky communal life. In my experience, while panchakarma is built on rational, medical logic, it also enlists a mysterious, unpredictable power to catalyze both tangible and subtle changes.  While I may think I know what I’m ready to digest and let go of, I welcome panchakarma to midwife me into the next year, to open doors I haven’t realized I closed. 

May we all find our way forward with self-compassion, patience and always great love.

4 thoughts on “On the Eve of Panchakarma

  1. Jake Ingram says:

    Happy travels, dear Ivy. Thanking of you this beautiful moon-lit evening and hoping you have traveled and arrived well and safely in Vaidyagrama. Much love and kisses to you,
    Pops and Pam.

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