I Traveled To India For A Month-Long Ayurvedic Healing Retreat
My quest to heal my long-term COVID symptoms took me halfway around the world.
When I left the ICU after a months-long battle with COVID-19, I had no idea that my healing journey had only just begun. Studies show that up to 20% of patients recovering from COVID experience lingering symptoms, ranging from insomnia and brain-fog to nerve damage and hair loss, long after infection. Check, check, and check: I had terrifying gaps in my memory, and even briefly lost my ability to walk. These phantom syndromes, identified as Long Haul COVID, are poorly understood with limited recourse for relief in Western Medicine.
For me, living in this state was not only unbearable, but also unacceptable — as an Eastern Medicine practitioner, and advocate of functional medicine, I was well aware of the shortcomings in allopathy. Driven by my commitment to my responsibilities — I had a child to raise, patients to care for, and big plans for my own practice — I decided to lean into my roots: the ancient science of Ayurveda. In my own search for relief, I hoped to also vet options for the countless others who are suffering in silence.
To give Ayurveda a solid chance, I committed to a month-long detox at one of the oldest and most traditional programs I could find: Carnoustie Ayurveda — a clinic and resort enveloped in the lush and tranquil backwaters of Kerala, India. Carnoustie offers a thorough holistic protocol for those seeking a traditional, no-nonsense Ayurvedic re-attunement, disconnected from the chaos of the 21st century.
Upon my arrival, I had a very thorough consultation with an Ayurvedic practitioner to assess my current state of health and well-being. As Ayurvedic treatments are based on the principles of individualized care, each treatment I received throughout my stay was tailored to meet my specific needs and health concerns. The practitioner did an analysis of my physical, mental, and emotional health, including dietary habits, sleep patterns, and stress levels. Based on this information, they were able to determine my unique constitution or prakruti — a combination of my doshas (vata, pitta, and kapha) and identify if there are any elemental imbalances. In Ayurveda, doshas are considered each person’s unique energy pattern, with vata signifying air, kapha signifying earth and water, and pitta signifying fire and water — everyone falls under one or both of these energy types, and their constitutions reflect what each of the doshas represent. With this information, the team designed a personalized treatment plan for me that included a combination of massage therapy, herbal remedies, yoga, and diet.
A combination of five unique therapies, panchakarma is an Ayurvedic detoxification process that is personalized for each patient. The therapies it incorporates include a range of techniques, such as herbal steam baths, oil massages, and special foods. At Carnoustie, I opted for two of the below treatments each day.
Sirodhara is a Sanskrit term meaning "flow on the head." During the therapy, different healing ointments such as herbal oils, medicated milk, and even buttermilk were poured on my forehead in a continuous stream for 40 minutes. It’s especially beneficial for those with insomnia, memory loss, headaches, mental stress, and even some skin conditions. After my first treatment, I experienced my first good night's sleep in months. Not only did I continue to feel Zen’d out for the rest of the week, but also my brain fog slowly began to clear.
This is an incredibly enjoyable experience that left me feeling rejuvenated and refreshed each time. The massage, which lasted for 45 minutes, focused on the circulatory channels of my body, providing a unique and deeply relaxing sensation.
What sets this massage apart from others is its remarkable ability to not only relax the muscles, but also promote overall well-being. The warm herbal oil seeped into my skin, soothing my nerves, and easing any signs of fatigue. I could feel a surge of energy and vitality coursing through my body, leaving me with a renewed sense of strength. One of the most remarkable benefits I experienced was the enhancement of my skin tone and radiance. The combination of the herbal oils and the therapeutic touch seemed to bring out a natural glow, making my skin look and feel healthier.
Overall, this warm herbal oil massage was an exceptional part of the Panchakarma therapy. Its unique focus on the circulatory channels, coupled with its ability to alleviate fatigue, improve body strength, soothe nerve pain, and enhance skin radiance, made it a standout treatment that I would highly recommend.
Yoga & Meditation
Carnoustie mandates daily yoga and meditation classes led by experienced instructors. The classes are designed to help guests achieve a sense of inner peace, balance, and calm. I found that the daily yoga helped me connect with my inner self and find a sense of clarity and relaxation.
The resort also offers a range of beauty treatments that are designed to nourish and rejuvenate the skin and hair. This was particularly exciting for me as the hair loss I experienced post-COVID was an extremely devastating visual reminder of my experience. Thanks to TikTok, we’ve seen a worldwide uptick in rosemary oil therapy for hair loss — Ayurveda shows us how many other natural oil blends can be just as effective. However, the key to success is finding the right one for your constitution and massaging the oil strategically along pressure points that support the hair’s anagen (or shedding) phase.
Nutrition is the backbone of the Ayurvedic lifestyle. At Carnoustie, an Ayurvedic doctor created an individualized menu for me that was all-vegetarian, and served fresh from the resort’s organic farm. I admit, I was a bit apprehensive about the dietary restrictions at first, but I was blown away by how delicious the meals were, which were predominantly prepared in the local Malabar Coast cuisine that’s rich in flavor and depth.
I decided to venture into the mystical realm of energetic healing and try pranic healing to heal my trauma. This "no-touch" healing technique, akin to reiki, intrigued me with its philosophy of emotions as forms of energy, known as "prana" or life force in Sanskrit. The idea of cleansing and energizing my body's energy field, or aura, by eliminating stagnant energy and infusing life force into affected areas is something I am familiar with, having practiced my own form of energy healing with acupuncture on my patients.
However, this was one of my first experiences having it performed on me. As I entered the treatment room, I felt excited, but also nervous and vulnerable as I lay down on the therapy bed. As the practitioner began manipulating the energy around me, I was amazed that I could actually feel subtle shifts and waves of energy throughout my body. As the session continued, I noticed a profound impact on my emotional state. I felt as though I were renewed with fresh life force, and a deep sense of peace washed over me. The burdens of stress and anxiety that had weighed me down seemed to dissolve, leaving behind a lightness of being. It was as if the energy within me had found a harmonious alignment, bringing my spirit and body into a state of resonance.
What amazed me further was the tangible shift in my energy levels. Prior to the session, I had been feeling drained and fatigued, both physically and emotionally. However, as the pranic healing session progressed, I could sense a surge of revitalizing energy flowing through me. It was as if my body had been replenished and recharged, restoring my vitality and zest for life.
Reflecting on my experience with pranic healing, I credit it as a potent component of my personal health journey. It not only provided me with a unique perspective on the relationship between emotions and energy, but also served as a powerful tool in aligning my spirit with my physical well-being. The profound sense of peace, release of stress, and surge of rejuvenating energy I experienced during the session were transformative, leaving a lasting impression on both my mind and body.
I would recommend it to anyone seeking a holistic approach to healing and aligning their energies.
In New York City, every little hiccup can feel urgent, pressing and important. It’s unfortunate that it often takes a crisis for us to realize that there is nothing more important than our health, both physical and mental. Despite all the precautions I took, I was admitted to the ICU with acute organ failure as a result of COVID, and my journey back to health has been long and arduous with a few breakthroughs and many regressions. The healing process offers its own catharsis — while on one hand, I am seeing my symptoms improve after my stay at Canarsie, on the other, I encountered new challenges, such as the isolation that can come with committing to a rigorous Ayurvedic and yogic healing program over the course of a month in the forest.
That’s why it is so important for me to bring these techniques back to New York so that I can share them with my patients in an environment that is comfortable to them and conducive to their fast-paced lifestyles. Ayurvedic detoxes, like the program that I committed to, typically promise results that last for at least eight months post-therapy, but not all of us (yours truly, included) can disconnect into the woods for a month out of the year. As I return to my practice this month, I feel renewed, refreshed, and excited to share the healing treatments I learned at Canarsie to my patients in New York — knowing that oftentimes, healing can feel more like a work-in-progress than a linear process, and that’s perfectly OK.