I spent most of May at an Ayurveda hospital in India, located on the grounds of a former resort and geared more to Westerners than domestic patients. Since medical tourism is a growing field and I’ve had so many friends in the industry ask me about my experience, I thought I should share a few thoughts about my sojourn at CGH Earth Ayurveda’s Kalari Rasayana.
The main reason for seeking medical treatment in India was my 21-year-old daughter, who suffers from a rare, food-related autoimmune disease. An Indian tour operator friend highly recommended this clinic as a possible complement to the medical treatment my daughter was already getting in the U.S. Please note that we did get approval from her gastroenterologist, who said the Ayurvedic treatments would certainly do no harm and it might actually be helpful to my daughter’s health.
Rather than just sitting around and waiting for my daughter, I signed up for Kalari Rasayana’s weight-loss treatment program. But during my initial check-up they doctor decided to treat me for inflammation and slight arthritis. Some weight loss would be an added benefit, but my doctor and dietician (also an Ayurveda doctor) thought it was more important for me to address other health issues.
Much of premise of Ayurveda — a tradition more than 2,000 years old (written texts, from the Atharavaveda https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydP3EKGTtGY )— is that food is medicine and that it’s vital that mind, body and spirit must all be in harmony to achieve good health. Hence the team at Kalari Rasayana approaches patients from a holistic point of view, considering not just physical ailments but also a person’s mental and emotional health.
Basic meditation sessions and Hatha yoga are also part of the daily routine. But it’s certainly no ashram: medical treatments and strict dietary requirements are the key components, not sitar music and Bollywood dancing.
Among our takeaways:
- It’s not easy. Don’t venture to Kalari Rasayana if you think you’re going to a resort. First and foremost it’s a medical facility. The entire staff — including the cleaning people who keep an eagle eye on patients to make sure they’re doing okay — know what phase of treatment you’re going through.
- The accommodations are lovely, as are the grounds. But this is a hospital and they want you to rest — another huge part of their treatment regime. There’s no television and internet is only available in your room. A friend remarked it sounds like a POW camp. It really wasn’t. But it is hard to be confined to just eight acres and not leave for 18 days! The world became very small for this international traveler. But I did learn to relax a lot more.
- Ayurvedic medicine considers the whole person — body, mind and spirit — with integrated treatments and programs that take all three into account.
- They’re not kidding about the relaxation — there’s no heavy exercise and mental distractions are kept to a minimum so your brain can slow down and you can be totally present in the moment. That was very difficult for me, a person used to almost constant stimulation. The yoga nidra and meditation lessons helped.
- No question goes unasked. The doctors at Kalari Rasayana want to know about every aspect of your health. How you sleep, do you dream? What’s your most active part of the day? Cholesterol, sinus questions, bodily functions. They compile a very th-orough profile. And they take everything seriously. That joint in your hand hurts? Your knee is having problems, etc. They truly are looking at the body as a whole.
- Typical day: 5:30 AM yoga session followed by breakfast, treatments, juice break, yoga nidra, another treatment, feeding the fish at 5:30 PM (favorite part of my day), dinner and then sometimes a short activity such as meditation training, cooking demonstration, documentary film, etc in the evening. Everything is normally finished by 8 PM. It sounds very active, but really isn’t and the days seemed very long.
- There’s something very liberating about wearing the same clothes every day. The hospital provides three pairs of pajamas and we wore those at all time. They don’t want you to wearing makeup, deodorant etc. (and when you’re showering two to three times a day, the latter really isn’t necessary). There’s daily laundry service and they provide soaps, shampoos, toothpaste and even a copper tongue scraper.
- Treatments — usually just two a day, unless you’re getting extra things like medicated ghee. Sounds pretty easy. But these are medical treatments and can be really tiring. For instance, medicinal herbs and spices (cumin for instance) are rubbed and pounded into your skin. After every treatment I had to shower and use special soap to get the oil off my skin.
- After a few days, modesty becomes a thing of the past. While women only work on women, it takes a few days to get comfortable with the lack of bodily coverage during treatments.
- They truly treat food as medicine and sometimes that was the hardest part. Portions for me were very small and were basically vegan — no caffeine, cooking oils, alcohol, dairy, meat or fish. Portions are decided by the dietician. Extra portions are allowed and depends from case to case. It does take a little while for the body to adjust. My nutritionist explained the hows and whys of what they were feeding us and we learned a lot. They even suggested that once we get back home, we should change the time of day that we eat certain foods (for example, salads only at lunch and sugary snacks or fruit between 3-5 PM).
- Treatment programs are further customized after consultation and are according to what you need. My daughter’s experience at Kalari Rasayana was completely different from mine, since she has a much more fragile system.
How do I rate the overall experience? I like to compare it to boot camp — they clean out your system and then build it back up. The first few days can be very tough, especially if you have a lot of caffeine and sugar in your system. I had already cut back on my caffeine intake before the trip, but the sugar detox was tough for me.
Here is what my daughter, Samantha, had to say about it, “My experience in India was nothing like anything I have experienced in my life. The Ayurvedic routine is unique, especially compared to my past experiences with Western medicine. Western medicine generally doesn’t look at the body as a whole entity and will diagnose symptoms separately instead of looking at the body like the connected system it is. By practicing holistic medicine and diagnosing the patient based on symptoms on
my entire body, I was able to feel better physically within the first couple of days. This is experience is great for people who have trouble sticking to a medicine or food routine at home. It really forces you to have healthy practices and nourished every part of my body!”
As I write this, I’ve been home for two full weeks and I do think the India trip was worth it. The doctors at Kalari Rasayana said we wouldn’t really feel the true benefits for three weeks or so. My daughter discovered new medicines that she says are much better than the Western meds she was on. (FYI — she’s a pre-med major and examined the biochemistry aspects of a lot of her treatments and said it made a lot of sense.) I lost 11 pounds and a lot of my cravings for sugar, meat and fats has decreased dramatically. As of now, I simply don’t want big heavy meals.
CGH Earth also has a dozen or so resorts and boutique hotels around southern India, as well as six houseboats to explore the scenic backwaters of Kerala state. It was the vision of one of the founders son who decided that Ayurveda wellness might a good addition to their more traditional tourism offerings. Because the facilities started as resort hotels, they were already used to dealing with the travel trade and do pay commission to agents, with special emphasis to those who are into health tourism.
Contact Royal Expeditions at tours@royalexpeditions to book.
* please note – because this is a medical issue, I probably need to do a medical disclaimer. We are not responsible for medical treatments there!