Over a cup of tea, she told me how they found her tumor. Mira, a middle-aged woman with large blue eyes and a gentle smile, holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Development and works as an administrator for the Swedish Army.
She explained how the stress and long hours of her work had culminated in 25 kilos of extra weight and high blood pressure. “For 20 years, I didn’t have time for myself – no time for exercise and no energy to shop or cook meals at home,” Mira said. Devoted to her studies in her 20’s and later to her career, Mira acknowledged that her trip to India in 2010 was the first time in her life she’d taken to focus on her health.
“I’d never been to India before, and I’d never heard of Ayurveda,” said Mira. One evening, as she searched the internet for weight-loss programs, she came across an Ayurvedic center in Kerala. She was completely drawn to the center’s website and their holistic and natural approach to weight loss. “I imagined myself flying to a weight-loss camp in the UK or, maybe to the US, but never to India,” she laughed. A month later, Mira was in Cochin.
The first morning at the center she met with an Ayurvedic physician. “I was surprised by how much time he spent with me – we talked for nearly three hours,” Mira said, slowly shaking her head in disbelief. “At home, a doctor would never take this kind of time.”
After her consultation, she was informed of her Ayurvedic constitution: Kapha-Pitta, as well as given an outline of her treatments for the next month. Every day would begin with yoga, followed by daily Ayurvedic treatments. The afternoons were dedicated to quieter Hatha yoga practices, like pranayama, meditation and yoga nidra. All practices, treatments and meals were specifically chosen to help bring Mira, and her constitution, into balance.
“When the doctor showed me my schedule for the month, I felt so excited! I knew I’d landed in the right place,” Mira said. After her consultation she was escorted to the treatment room, where she would receive Abhyanga, the traditional Ayurvedic hot oil massage. “The doctor felt this was the perfect first treatment to help me arrive, get over my jet-leg and settle in.”
Abhyanga often begins with the practitioner laying her hands upon the abdomen, which is how it began for Mira. “The therapist started gently massaging my belly in a circular motion, and then she just stopped.”
The therapist excused herself, saying she needed to get the doctor. Moments later the doctor came in and began palpating Mira’s abdomen. “His face turned black,” she said. He explained to Mira what he felt: a large growth in her belly. He advised her to go immediately to the hospital for an ultrasound. Within the hour, Mira was sitting in a hospital waiting room.
She spent several days going between the Ayurvedic center and the hospital, while tests were run. Some days later she received the results: a benign tumor, the size of a cantaloupe, weighing more than two kilos.
At first, Mira thought she would need to fly home immediately for surgery, but after consulting with her physician in Sweden, she was given another choice. Because her tumor was benign, her physician felt no pressing urgency to remove it. In fact, her doctor said it would take a few weeks to schedule Mira in for surgery. Her physician suggested that staying in India and undergoing Ayurvedic treatments could be beneficial.
For four weeks, Mira lived in the center’s sattvic, or pure, environment. “To be honest, I had never felt so much love and care in my life. The Ayurvedic doctors and practitioners were beautiful.”
The Hatha yoga practices melted away her stress and tension. The Ayurvedic treatments nourished her on every level – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The food was lovingly prepared, simple, yet delicious. “I got my taste buds back!” Mira said. She was referring to Ayurveda’s low sodium, no sugar and low fat food preparations. Too much salt, sugar and fat can inhibit our ability to truly taste food. Ayurvedic recipes highlight foods’ natural tastes of sweet, salty, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent, subtly complimented by herbs and spices.
“I learned to listen to my body’s natural cues telling me when enough is enough,” she said. In Ayurveda it is believed that once we begin eating a meal, we will experience a ‘first burp’ at some point. This first burp, which we are often unaware of, is the sign that we have consumed enough. Another tip to help us determine the right amount of food is to ‘cup’ our two hands together. Our cupped hands represent the size of our stomach, and we can fill this space with 50 percent solid food, 25 percent liquid, leaving 25 percent for air, which is essential for digestion.
“At the end of the program, I’d lost 12 kilos and my blood pressure was 120/80!” Mira said. Something else quite unexpected happened too. Upon returning to Sweden, her craving to eat meat completely disappeared. “Becoming vegetarian was not a desire of mine. I’d always felt strongly that people needed meat for protein,” said Mira.
The philosophical teachings of yoga state that when we live a sattvic lifestyle, our cravings and desires –things we thought we couldn’t live without – fall away without effort.
When Mira returned home, family, friends and co-workers commented on how different she looked. “It wasn’t just the weight-loss, I actually looked different. I certainly felt different,” she smiled. The Ayurvedic treatments also prepared her for surgery. She was healthier, and therefore, healing post-surgery went smooth.
I met Mira in 2011 while teaching a Yoga and Ayurvedic cooking retreat. I returned to India as soon as I could!” Mira said. She wanted to study Ayurvedic cooking, plus she’d fallen in love with yoga while at the center in Kerala. “The first trip to India saved my life, and my intention for this trip is to learn how to extend my life,” she smiled.