The weeks before I arrive in Kerala are a whirlwind. Sitting finals, graduating from university, moving out, leaving friends, signing job contracts, starting work - I've hardly had the chance to come up for air and take stock of all the changes. Emotions are running high, while I am increasingly running low.
So I embark upon my Ayurvedic retreat in a similar state to the burnouts and detoxers who have also made the pilgrimage to the beach resorts of this part of India, seeking serenity and rejuvenation.
I arrive in the middle of the night and check in to Manaltheeram, the sister resort of the famous Somatheeram (where the Ayurveda trend started among Westerners), flop into bed in my wooden cottage hut, and am lulled to sleep by the sound of waves crashing into the shore metres away from my door.
The next morning the treatments start. I have a consultation with the doctor to determine my 'dosha' (body type): of the three, Vatha, Pitta and Kapha, I sit between Vatha and Pitta. I fill out a questionnaire and talk to the doctor about my health before a quick physical examination of blood pressure, pulse, tongue, and eyes. The doctor then prescribes me a 'Panchakarma' therapy to detox and rebalance my body.
Each day will involve two hours of treatments to that effect, and I am to eat only the Vatha and Pitta labelled foods from the extensive vegetarian buffets at mealtimes - albeit as much as I want. The afternoon promises a two hour massage treatment to begin the process, and I can spend the rest of my time at the pool, on the beach, or in a hammock. I could get used to this.
Let's have no illusions about the therapies, though. These are hardcore, stripped-back spa treatments. There are no fluffy robes and lulling melodies in the background; here you lie on solid wooden tables while litres of ghee are poured over your body and pounded in with mesh pouches. This is preceded by having to drink a cup of the stuff.
Other days include blowing smoke from burning coals into your ears, having turmeric rubbed into your scalp, and sniffing nose drops that turn your snot bright orange. I feel and smell more and more like a greasy curry. I've never felt more attractive in my life...
A few days in I must endure the purgation treatment - or, as my roommate endearingly nicknamed it, purgatory. At bedtime I drink another ghee concoction and a few hours later I make my first of many trips to the bathroom. Suffice to say that my faith in Indian plumbing systems is now - thank goodness - resolute. The next day I can eat only rice gruel for breakfast and lunch, and rice for dinner. I am allowed fresh coconut water as a token gesture. The name 'purgatory' is apt.
Nevertheless, I must admit that I feel terrific the next day. I attend the morning meditation and yoga class with an incredible lightness of mind and body, as if restrictions that had been holding back my concentration and depth in postures have suddenly been lifted. (I begin to think of the many, many packets of emergency revision Oreos that I was no doubt still carrying in my gut...)
Even though I'm struggling to sleep and having vivid dreams (all part of the release of toxins, I'm assured) the bags under my eyes have disappeared, my skin is glowing and I feel more relaxed than I can remember for a long time indeed.
Honestly, I was quite happy to leave it at that. Physically, I felt amazing. But the next day it went a stage further. I had gone ahead of my roommate to meditation, and she arrived late, somewhat flustered. As class ended, she apologised for being late on account of having been locked in the room by me. I was so ashamed at my thoughtlessness that I burst into tears.
I had expected to get rid of the rubbish within my body this week, but I had never anticipated an emotional release as well. Had I been at home, I would have sucked it up, but every time our inspirational yoga teacher took me by the hand, a fresh gush of tears was let loose and I gave up trying to hold them back. That afternoon my roommate and I reflect on and laugh at how we both reacted, and practically float our way to dinner in the evening.
I'm not going to claim that my Panchakarma was a miracle cure, nor that the kind of 'transformative experience' I had will be shared by everyone. But just a week here has made a world of difference to how I feel, inside and out, emotionally and physically.
This is no detox for the faint-hearted. But for those brave enough to give it a go, I would wholeheartedly recommend that you do. You'll come back glowing (and that's not just the glistening of the ghee). Just don't plan any dates until you've got all the turmeric out of your hair - you'll thank me later.