Treatment as a mantra
By Bilyana Savova for EVA magazine, Bulgaria
22th September 2012
I get off the plane and for the eleventh time I step on Indian soil. After flying for 15 hours, the hot brush of ocean and moist tropical forests in the air of Kerala, the southernmost state of India, makes me dizzy. I see my name on a plaque held by a smiling young Indian. We leave in a taxi to one of the many Ayurvedic clinics in India, but this is the only one that specialises in treating Multiple Sclerosis. The diagnosis I have been fighting for the last 5 years. I feel tired. Not from the fight, but from the long trip. While colourful houses, forests, rubber plantations pass in front of my eyes I remember how I fell in love with India 12 years ago. How I dreamt of coming back here again and again... As they say "Be careful what you wish for because it may come true".
Four and a half years ago
I thought I have my life under control. I was planning the changes in it. I worked hard, sometimes to exhaustion. One beautiful May morning everything fell apart. I was sent to an MRI examination to get my pituitary gland checked. I received a folder with the results and was asked to discuss them with the doctor. I opened the folder feeling something is wrong, and started reading the unfamiliar terminology. Finally, I found the sentence that changed my life: "More than half of the macromorphological factors for MS presence are flagged."
MS, MS, MS ... I kept repeating it in my mind trying to recall what that was. It is Multiple Sclerosis, I remembered terrified! The doctor began explaining something, but I only saw his lips moving, refusing to accept this is my story.
More bad news followed afterwards. Different doctors half-heartedly admitted that medicine is powerless against this disease. Searching online day and night I tried to figure out by myself how other people handle MS, how they treat themselves; I was looking for every little piece of information I can find in order to plan how to fight the illness. The real shock came when a doctor told me my MS is progressing rapidly and within two years I will be in a wheelchair. I couldn't believe it. I would have never thought I could be helpless, that I wouldn't be able to move.
There were some honest doctors. One of them explained that the disease is different with different people; that the medicine knows almost nothing about what causes it or how to treat it; that the medicaments prescribed only ease the symptoms but have many side effects. He also told me that unless I become part of a Government organised MS list, I will be paying at least 2000 leva per month for drugs. "By the way, he told me, I know some people with MS who go to India. I do not know what they do there, but they feel good!" At this moment I saw light in the darkness, suddenly I could see and breathe again. I took a deep breath and saw an exit. I saw the choice I had to make. India!
You might think my decision was irrational and made in a state of shock. No, I tried to analyse my life and see what path I chose to follow – whether I prefer to be an obedient patient given no promises for improvement, stuffed with drugs simply suppressing the symptoms; or I want to change my life, get to the cause of the illness and chase it away.
A month later I was already on my way to an Indian Ayurvedic clinic. I knew very little about Ayurveda, but I could instinctively feel this was my path. For Ayurveda doesn't simply see me as a set of organs that can be attacked with certain drugs; but as a personality where the emotions, the soul and the body are inextricably linked.
In Sanskrit Ayurveda means Science of life. After five years of Ayurvedic treatments I draw the line: step by step I learned how to live truly, fully and with love. I learned how to preserve my energy and how to eat properly. I learned that changing my eating habits can affect my health. I learned how to practise yoga without being a yoga myself. I realised few things in life are really important and nothing is a matter of life and death. Now I believe there is no need for fate to put you down on your knees to arrange your priorities. Once you start from the beginning everything is possible.
Just 6 months following the "sentence" I've been given by medicine I was already reorganising, rearranging and emptying "the closet". I turned my life 180 degrees around. Not just my own but the lifes of the people closest to me; my children – my greatest support in the decisions I've made.
The path of self-treatment requires going through many changes – both external and internal. I'm glad I was able to realise that sooner rather than later and had the courage to go through with it.
Thus the fight began. First – with fear because it can lead to many and "unexpected" problems. I accepted the diagnosis as a friend and as a part of me. I shared it with everyone. It was not easy! I was worried people will feel sorry for me. But now I realise that without the support and the love of my children, family, friends and colleagues I would have not survived this fight. My diagnosis has become the gift fate gave me at the right time.
Ayushprana Clinic, Kerala
Curious glances follow me on the way to my "house" where I will be spending the next seven weeks. Some patients are on wheelchairs, others use walkers. They are all smiling at me. I not smiling back – I'm too tired. The room is spacious, the bed – canopy. The bathroom itself is as big as a room in the last two clinics I would go to twice a year. There is hot water in abundance – an absolute luxury for India. I take a shower and fall asleep. For 24 hours.
My house is surrounded by rubber plantations and a river, behind which there's a jungle in all shades of green. My eyes tired of the greyness in the city greedily swallow the bright colours.
I'm part of the clinic now and one of the 10 patients with MS. Doctor Prasanth and I had a two-hour long conversation about me, the diagnosis, my lifestyle, my work, rest, nutrition, childhood illnesses and treatments applied so far. Then he made me a program for the next three days – relaxing and adaptive therapies (oil and hot water body massages, and for the head – Shirodhara, but with cold herbal water). After months of working and hardly ever resting, these few days allowed me to hit the brakes. But not to stop, just to step on the brakes. Stopping takes terribly long and it drives me crazy.
On the third day I got a crisis. My type of crisis – a terrible pain pulsing throughout my whole body. They tried to help me with some special massages oil and herbal powders for pain relief and sleep. After many hours of keeping wide awake, the pain suddenly stopped just as unexpectedly as it began. Like there is an invisible on and off switch. I slept for nine hours straight and woke up feeling better.
I eat balanced Ayurvedic food here, mainly rice and lentils in different variations. Vegetables as well, but cooked on fire, rarely raw. Hot spices are almost absent from the menu. On the side of the path to the dining table I find black pepper growing freely and from now on every time I walk pass it I'd pick up a few grains, even though it is not recommended. However, I keep it within limits.
We eat three times a day and are allowed 30 minutes on the Internet (the Internet is only available if there is no rain or thunder) and 60 minutes of reading. I'm in despair. Will I have time to speak to my children and friends; to read the books I brought? It's only been a week and I am already dreading the following six, I am even considering leaving early.
It's 10 am. After having my pulse and tongue checked on an empty stomach, I am appointed Kashaya Dhara – a relaxing massage with Kashaya (potion made of hot herbs). In the massage room I lay on the cold table. My therapist Mary Kuti is smiling at me nicely and suddenly the universal sadness in me unlocks after being hidden away day after day. I burst into uncontrollable tears – big tears drops just pour out of my eyes. Mary lays her hand on my chest bone, where the heart chakra is, and slowly begins to massage it whilst talking softly. I gradually calm down and even smile back at her.
I open my eyes woken up by the roosters' singing. The time now is 5:10 am. For the first time I have the strength and desire to do my morning yoga. I wash myself and 2 minutes later I'm on the roof. I smile at the sun and it smiles back. From that day onwards this is my morning routine. My hour and a half must end with chanting mantras and meditating. And a gratitude! Every morning I am grateful for everything that happens to me! For everything I have. I still do that today before opening my eyes. And I smile.
I have practised yoga for several years now, but no one has ever adapted the asanas for me and my Ayurvedic constitution . Here the usual Greeting to the Sun was replaced with a Greeting to the Moon which turned out to be better suited for me. Day after day my body fitness improves – I can tell by the balanced asanas. My flexibility increases, and standing on one leg in Tree Pose becomes easier. Keeping the body and the muscles in good shape is essential for people diagnosed with MS.
8 am. I finished yoga two hours ago, and I'm hungry. At 7 am I drank the prescribed herbs (powders, divided into doses and taken at the appointed time) with a cup of hot water. I also have to drink the Kashaya (a quite bitter herb tea) that we receive in a thermos freshly made every morning (prepared for all of us individually, with different herbs, custom made).
In the morning rounds the doctor checks my condition by taking the pulse on my left wrist using three fingers. Ring finger registers Vata, the middle one – Pitta, and index one – Kapha . After the check-up, the Doctor assigns the treatments I need: rice body massage (typical for therapies in Kerala, performed with hot cooked special rice porridge); Shirovasti therapy on the head and Nasya (sinus therapy – considered very important in Ayurveda, associated with the view that nostrils are the gateway to the brain). About 200 minutes of therapies all together.
And finally breakfast! Papaya, watermelon, grapes, pineapple, bananas, my favorite sweet chiku, all of which are in abundance in Kerala. Apart from fruits, oatmeal is also served at breakfast as well as Molasses to sweeten the meals.
I decide to take a walk around the site for the first time. I go out through the iron door and start walking down the road between trees of ever dripping rubber. The morning is beautiful. I can hear only the birds singing. I am really smiling from the inside. Finally I am starting to feel slow, quiet and relaxed.
I'm happy – my friend Milena is here with me. She lives in Canada and studies Ayurveda there. Not only did she find this place for me, but she also came to spend four weeks here with me – something I really needed. I have always assumed that whenever I feel unwell, I should face the pain alone and avoid burdening others. Milena taught me that in moments like these love can do miracles. Most of the patients here didn't come alone. Across my house lives Suarna – a young Indian woman who came here with her little girl and the babysitter. The house next door is occupied by the whole Badzhadzh family – they came from Australia to accompany Pam – the mother who has MS and is confined to a wheelchair.
The very first time I met with doctor Prashant he told me my three doshas are totally out of balance. What's even worse was that my Kapha dosha is a zero! "Zerooo" – he had said, locking his thumb and index finger in an O shape. Kapha is the dosha of Earth and Love. It's not that I lack love or that no one loves me. It's just that I have built a thick wall around myself trying to avoid being hurt or disappointed. Mimicking happiness and love is one of the worst things one can do to oneself. We need to learn to say "No". To seek your happiness no matter how difficult it may seem. We shouldn't live a life sacrificing everything for others, not even for the people closest to us, instead we should live so that we love, we feel loved and that makes us wake up every morning filled with love and gratitude! Then we can begin to be useful to and desired by others. And to be healthy!
So my friend came from the other side of the globe, surrounded me with love and attention and became a key part of my therapeutic program. We would talk for hours. I realised that if we live in the same city we would not be able to spend as much time together as we do now. Again I thanked the fate for the gift it gave me.
This morning I am surprised to see that I have lost 6 kilos. Doctor Prasanth immediately included the Ghee butter, purified caw butter, in my food regime – a spoonful every morning on an empty stomach and a spoon in the rice at lunch and dinner.
This morning Pam, the woman in a wheelchair, got up and took three steps. I stood there speechless, paralysed with tears in my eye like everyone else. I hugged her. Her son and daughter were screaming and jumping with joy. Pam was glowing.
MS for 11 years
11 years ago I lost sensitivity from the waist down, I couldn't walk. I began treatment with injections and I improved but after a year it all came back and was even worse. The doctors kept saying that there is no medicament to treat this disease. I was getting more and more tired, I had no energy and no desire to do anything. One day I woke up and saw ... nothing. I lost the ability to speak too. My children and my husband started looking for alternative treatments. They learned about the Ayurvedic methods and we got in touch with Ayurvedic doctors. We heard about Ayushprana and here I am. This is my first real Ayurveda therapy. I came here unable to speak, almost blind and in a wheelchair. As you can see, after just a few weeks of therapy I speak much better and it is not difficult for you to understand me. I am gaining more and more energy. I see much better and the constant oozing from my eyes has stopped. And my greatest achievement – I can walk again!!!
How did MS change me? It changed the lives of my whole family, the way I think. All my life I've always been very active and constantly stressed! Now I have stopped. I've calmed down. God gave me a vacation. A vacation too long, but still – a vacation. I feel happy! Because I've found this place, my family is here with me and they support me, doctor Prashant is the only doctor who believes in me, and I believe in him. Ayurveda is the only therapy that is bringing me back to life step by step.
... Besides Pam this morning I am watching Ute too. Like a true German who enjoys precision, she walks with a special device attached to her ankle to count down the number of steps she made. It's all neatly recorded afterwards. The number of steps grows every day. Ute smiles as she passes me.
MC 10 years
In Germany I was offered to take cortisone and interferons. For cases of progressive MS displayed by 20% of the people with this diagnosis, interferons do not help, but cause serious damage. For seven years I didn't treat my MS because medicine didn't offer me a way out and a solution. However, I thought a lot why and how this happened, I was trying to find out the reasons for myself. I cannot prove it, but I am convinced that this autoimmune disease is the result of severe and constant stress, of emotions repressed for too long, of the accumulation of negative emotions throughout the years. This is why I have turned to Ayurveda – it heals not only the body but the emotions and the soul as well. Then I found this clinic. The treatment here is different; it is based around Shirovasti which I call "enema of the head". It sounds a bit dramatic, but it's true – the therapy heals the accumulated stress, pain, fear and self-anger. After a while, my migraine vanished, my menstrual cycle that stopped 7 years ago reappeared. In the fight against MS I still haven't had great success, more like minor improvements. But I'm ready to go on. I think it is good to free yourself from the expectations that something must happen! I believe it is very important to accept the disease as part of yourself and that this is the element without which the treatment will not be successful.
I leave Ute. I'm in much better condition than she is; physically I am actually in the best shape out of all the patients; I also hold the first place for something else – the number of lesions in my brain. The last MRI result was kind of scary – I now have over 50 lesions in different parts of my brain. According to doctor Prasanth I'm like a ticking time bomb and the next two years are vital for me. The changes I need to make in my life are a must if I want to heal. And some of them are to slow down the pace, the nonstop working, the adrenaline. Indians like to say – a tired man is a sick man!
Suddenly in the afternoon silence I hear metal pots rattle; they are used to warm the oils for Shirovasti also called the Queen of therapies. Maybe it's because the hat you put on your head resembles a crown or because it's a very important therapy. It varies between an hour and twenty minutes and two hours. For me, today it's an hour and 45 minutes.
With my eyes closed I am enjoying the massage Mary Kuti is performing on my head. She puts my hair out of the way and wraps a large piece of thick leather around my head. She sticks it together using dough made from lentils flour and water. In the formed "cap" about 900 ml of warm oil are poured. After a few days I feel like the oil is going inside my scalp and at the same time small air bubbles are evaporating. I'm not sure if this is really happening, but the important thing is that I am getting better every day and it gets easier to stand the therapy. I relax my body and start meditating. I see smiles and not long after the smile of my father rises above the others. We parted forever this winter, but until his last breath he never stopped believing in me and supporting me...
The days go by surprisingly quickly. Everything repeats itself like a mantra. It's all routine and rhythm. My perception of time has altered because everything happening here is governed by different rules – the rules of the sunrise, the sunset, the full moon, the rain. Twelve hours that would be very different in my other life; there they would be filled with action, work, and running errands. Here I am alone with myself. Paying attention the little things and that makes me happy.
Dinner time, another dose of rice and lentils. And a surprise. A young girl stood before me, smiled nervously and said in Bulgarian: "Hi, I'm Elena". Elena is 30 years old; she lives in Germany and had been struggling with the disease for the past 4 years. Cortisone and interferons did not help her so she started looking for people who were using alternative treatment methods. "Deep down, I knew that I will get better. One day I came across a story about a man with MS who could only make a few steps and was written off by doctors as a lost cause, but with the help of Ayurveda he was able to walk again. The Ayurvedic doctor who treated him was doctor Prasanth", Elena said.
Dinner is the time and the place for meeting others, talking, joking and laughing. Sometimes we play "Movies". All this ends at 9pm when we go to bed and sleep like babies.
My friend left. It's raining cats and dogs. My favourite pastime is to watch the curtain the rain forms and walk barefoot while it continues to rain.
Mary Kuti is dressed in pink sari and has a purple umbrella like flower. All women in India are like flowers! She nods at me and I leave for the Thailadhara therapy. The therapy consists of large amounts of oil being poured on my body followed by a light hand massage. I relax under the rhythmic sound of the rain outside and the warm touch of Mary's hands and go back years ago. I feel like the gentle hands of my mother are massaging my baby body. I was perfect then – a healthy and balanced person as almost everyone is born. Now after all the mechanical and the psychological interventions I've had – immunisation, illnesses, improper treatments, uncontrolled self-treatments, poor diet, stress, long working hours combined with many other factors, my body is sick. It's out of balance. I feel love for this woman's hands, for the warmth and tenderness they project. I can feel her wishing I'd get better.
Tonight I've invited Suarna on the porch to tell me her story.
MS for 3 years
Today my MC has a "birthday". On this date three years ago I woke up and I wasn't feeling very well. I thought I had a cold. In the afternoon it got worse. I tried to get out of bed and fell on the floor. I couldn't stand on my legs. Crawling I reached the phone. My husband immediately took me to the doctors. After several days of tests they told me that I had MS. I got panicked. Being diagnosed with MS is very rare in India. I was put on steroids for a month. I felt better and I checked out of the hospital. A few months later I decided to meet with an Ayurveda doctor in Bangalore and he prescribed me a treatment. I started practising yoga and eating according to Ayurveda rules.
A year later I had a second attack. Again it started as a cold. After several hours I felt the same symptoms in my legs and by the end of the day I had lost 50% of the ability to walk. I continued with my Ayurveda therapy and not before long I was feeling well again. I already had one child so I was on contraceptives. But something happened; I stopped taking them and got pregnant. The doctors assured me that everything will be okay with me and the baby. During pregnancy I felt well, although I developed an overactive thyroid gland. However, shortly after I gave birth, my health worsened rapidly. When I arrived here in Ayush Prana I could not walk without assistance. Yesterday after 4 weeks of therapy I walked 320 steps by myself. Multiple sclerosis changed my attitude towards life. I went back to my childhood to look for reasons why this has happened to me. I admitted to myself the fears and anger I held.
As little girl I was raped by my uncle. I've never been able to share this with my parents. To this day they still don't know about the rape. Restrained emotions, unshared fears – that's what made me sick. The only one who supports me and who is my closest friend is my husband. He is from another caste and it took a lot of fight and effort to get married. I graduated my computer education only after we got married. I worked for Audi, Mitsubishi, had a good career. But I don't think about what tomorrow will be anymore, I only think about today and what I need to accomplish today. I focus on the present, because it's the past my future. And I believe in it, I believe I will beat the disease.
I cried a little when my new friend left.
It's already dark outside. The stars are almost invisible through the dense tree branches, on the plus side there are fireflies. I am standing at the porch looking at the young banana palm in front of house. I am surprised to find out that since I came here it has grown at least a foot taller and a new, fourth leaf is about to spring. I watch the fireflies surrounding it and lighting it up like a Christmas tree. I listen to the singing competition going on between the crickets, the cicadas and the owls. A little bat flutters neat my ear. I can feel another life. The one that occurs despite us and the one we usually don't have the time and the eyes for. I feel part of it. I'm really happy.
8th November 2012
48 days later
Tomorrow morning I'm leaving. I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I cannot wait to go back home to my children, friends and colleagues after a long stay in India; on the other – I am taking on the road to home knowing that it's not over yet and I have at least two long treatments before me. In the last conversation I had with doctor Prasanth he made me realise I should devote the next two or three years of my life to making changes, completing therapies and finding balance. I have to continue to change the way I work and rest. To make time daily for my small home Ayurveda which he appointed. To slow down. Adding to these three years to the last four during which I had eight Panchakarma therapies makes up for about seven years. It's not a small amount of time! But compared to a lifetime it's nothing. I have watched the people here. Pam, Ute, Suarna, all left with serious damages from the disease, but they have great spirits and strong will to heal. They gave me the most important lesson and they were a big part of my therapy! I promise to continue to fight. My weapon is called Love.