I’ve always considered myself a pretty healthy person. I try to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. I do my best to stay away from processed foods. I don’t eat meat. I have fish about once a week, but no more. I drink alcohol, but not to excess (partly due to being an incredible light weight). I do yoga daily–doing my best to fit in at least 10 minutes on my busiest days. I meditate. I walk often.
Truthfully, I signed up for the Ayurveda Detox Retreat, because I was interested in the Ayurveda aspect. A few articles in recent Yoga Journal issues peaked my interest in the ancient Indian school of medicine, and I wanted to learn more. I thought that the detox would be an extra tidbit–and did I even need it? I was perfectly healthy!
Boy, did this retreat school me on this thought!
I wound up at an Ashram in the Catskills in Upstate New York after a 7 hour drive from the DC area. After stopping at numerous toll booths (despite telling Google Maps to take me the non-toll route–that scheming Map App!), stopping at a rest stop in New Jersey for lunch, another stop at a Dollar General in New York (when I realized I had forgotten my hair brush), a wrong turn, and a missed turn, I finally made it. And wow, was it beautiful. I was overcome by the beauty and the peaceful landscape. The Ashram itself was waking up to the world–the week I had my program was the first time it had been opened since COVID shut everything down in early 2020. However, the staff were working hard to bring it back into working order. It was perched on top of a hill with the perfect view of the Catskills. Plenty of in bloom flowers graced the land. There was a pond slightly further down the hill. A large garden at the front of the ashram provided many of the greens for our meals. Away from the main buildings, paths and trails through woods and fields dotted the land, some leading to nearby temples. It was such a peaceful place to be present in.
I found the Ashram itself in a Google search for yoga retreats. While there were ashrams and retreat centers closer to me, the Ayurvedic Detox Retreat at this ashram was calling my name. It was a week long, which is what I wanted. When I considered the length of my school’s summer break, the timing of this particular retreat worked perfectly for me. Furthermore, I wanted to get the heck out of the DC area for a bit.
At 4:00 on arrival day, I had my first yoga class of the week. I met some of the other people in my course here. I quickly realized that this class was unlike any other yoga I had done before. It was very focused on mastering individual asana poses between semi-frequent corpse poses. I also learned the next day that each yoga class was almost identical. While each yoga teacher would add their own spin to the class, by and large, the classes followed the same routine. At first, I didn’t like this. After seven years of pretty consistently doing Yoga with Adriene, who has a diverse array of yoga offerings, the ashram’s yoga felt stifling. Yet, by the end of the week, I was in the groove. What felt stifling at the beginning, became routine and comfortable. I started to miss the ashram’s yoga routine after leaving a week later.
At 6:00, we had our dinner, and the detox officially began. While mingling with my retreat mates, we indulged in kitchuri (mung dal and rice) with cooked greens. And so began our meal for the week. What we ate every single day.
There were many different components to life at the ashram and the retreat itself. Most of it was pretty repetitive: 5:30 wake up called followed by 6:00 Satsang (sitting in meditation for 15-25 minutes, followed by chanting, and a talk from a senior ashram member regarding the different principles of yoga), 8:00 Asana yoga, 10:00 brunch (hello kitchuri), 11:00 Karma Yoga (or service–I swept the floors of one of the building’s hallways), 12:00 Ayurveda class, a sizeable break from 1:15-4:00, 4:00 Asana yoga, 6:00 dinner (kitchuri, it’s you again my old friend), 7:30 Satsang, 10:30 lights out.
Yet, the parts that stick out to me most are a) bonding with my retreat group members and b) beginning to understand my body better through Ayurvedic concepts, particularly the doshas and my dominant dosha.
The people in my group were phenomenal. By the end of the week, they felt like a family of sorts, and I’m looking forward to keeping in touch with them. I’ve struggled my whole life with feeling truly apart of groups. Belonging, or rather the feeling of belonging somewhere, to a group of people, has been a struggle for me throughout my life (Hello Enneagram 4 Basic Fear). Yet, I did feel like I belonged in this group. Sure, I got closer to some people than others, but I felt that sense of place overall. To only have spent one week with these people and to feel a sense of belonging with them–that’s pretty incredible for me, and I attribute how effortless that felt for me to all the growth and self understanding I’ve experienced in the last year. I wrote in my last post that I truly feel like an adult this year. I feel a sense of maturity that I lacked in previous years. I do think the sense of self that has come with that maturity helped me feel more effortlessly liked I belonged with these people. For that, I’m grateful.
And the Ayurveda. I just soaked it in. It’s frustrating to me that the west has dismissed traditional medicine as hokey pokey nonsense. Especially when so many people in the western world are sick–physically, mentally, emotionally. We live in a diseased society. While I don’t dismiss western medicine completely–it does have it’s value and it’s place in our world–I do think we are missing so much by not leaning more into the power of traditional medicine. And so much of Ayurveda makes so much sense to me.
One of the things I was most concerned about going into the retreat was only eating two meals a day –that’s what the ashram served. I did end up needing a snack midday, which the ashram provided for us, but, to my great surprise, I was fine eating two meals a day. Kitchuri, while monotonous to have at every meal, filled me up completely after about two bowls. I still had the energy for the bustling ashram days. When I met with the Ayurvedic practitioner who was leading the course, I expressed to her my anxieties about food. How I had this worry that I wasn’t going to get enough to eat if I missed a meal or didn’t have enough snacks on hand. I expressed how I wasn’t sure where this anxiety came from (I grew up in a household that had plenty of food), but it was very present in my life. She encouraged me to examine my hunger anxiety when I felt it–was I actually hungry, or was it something else? And just her saying that was transformative for me. Coming off of the retreat, I’ve been sticking to two grain heavy meals a day, though I’m transitioning to three meals now as I plan to go back to the regimented schedule of work soon. I’m so amazed at what my body has been capable of. A few weeks ago, if you would have told me I was now eating only two meals a day with small afternoon snack willingly, I would have thought you were a crazy person!
I didn’t truly realize the effects of the retreat until after I left the ashram and returned back home. I felt lighter in my body. I didn’t crave the same types of foods I used to. I wanted grains! all the grains! (which my primary dosha needs a lot of). I wanted sweets! But not artificial sweets. Natural sweeteners like blue agave syrup and licorice tea. Like many in the western world, I grew up believing sweet foods were bad for me and should be the food group I eat the least of. Heaven forbid the dentist finds cavities in my teeth! Well, perhaps this is true of processed sweet foods (ahem, all processed foods), but there are plenty of naturally sweet foods out there that are worthwhile to include in one’s regular diet. My dominant dosha, Vata, actually needs more sweet tastes to keep it in check.
And then there was my mental body. I began to realize that I had gotten into some bad habits before the retreat. Eating ice cream every night, even when I wasn’t very hungry for it. Watching way too much Youtube on my phone. Ingesting too much media in general, courtesy of my phone. Lacking energy to get up in the morning unless I had to be somewhere. Coming off the retreat, I was finding I had more energy in general. I felt more positive about myself. I see Youtube videos pop up in my notifications and feel a wave of minor disgust. No thanks.
I feel so much better in myself, my whole self, than I have in a long time. For someone who didn’t think she needed a detox, I’m so glad I did detox. That kitchuri and greens got tenuous to eat day in and day out for a week, yet my body does truly feel cleansed in the aftermath.
I feel excited for the future knowing my cleansed body is ready for whatever is thrown my way. Furthermore, I have the tools to complete the kitchuri cleanse on my own now, when I need it. Lastly, I now know of an Ashram in the Catskills that I can return to whenever my body feels it needs a respite from the world.