My Adventures at Jindal Nature Cure. . .
My ride picks me up from Bangalore airport, and we traverse congested roads bustling with cars, cattle, people and more people. After an hour, we arrive at closed iron gates leading to a compound behind which is a tall, sterile-looking, concrete building. Spider webs reflecting the light from a street lamp create a silver weave on a sign that is covered with a thick film of dust but still readable: "surrender your cell phone here. It will be returned to you when you depart." The iron-grill gate closes behind me with a clang, and I jump, feeling as if I may have entered a jail of my own free will.
I walk a little further and see an avenue of leafy trees under a blue sky and people walking briskly with a smile on their faces. Nobody's commandeered my phone yet, even though large, conspicuous signs stating, "Cell-phone use strictly prohibited. You can use your cell phone only in your accommodation" abound. I breathe in fresh air, soaking in the green outdoor environment. I see ripples on the transparent, turquoise waters of the (man-made) lake separating a traffic-laden highway from this oasis of tranquility, and I feel myself beginning to relax.
This is my first introduction to Jindal Nature Cure Institute, located on the outskirts of Bangalore, India. I'm here for a seven-day stay (seven days is mandatory; anything over a week is optional) but not without considerable trepidation. The world-wide web offers very little information on this institute that combines naturopathy and yoga to rid the body of toxins, while teaching a new way of living using a holistic approach and Ayurvedic medical wisdom.
The internal questions started flying not long after I punched in the numbers of my credit card: Will I be able to get up at the crack of dawn when my normal waking hour is 9 a.m.? Will I starve to death since therapeutic fasting is a way of life at Jindal? And the biggie: how will I survive without my two-glasses-of-red-wine-at dinner habit? It felt like the night before the first day of school all over again.
Over the next seven days, I find that this is what a typical day for me looks like:
5:00 a.m.: The sound system in my deluxe hut (premium suite accommodation with two bathrooms and an exclusive balcony overseeing the lake) explodes to life, waking me up with the devotional singing of 'bhajans.' I groan, trying to muffle the chanting with a pillow drawn tightly to my ears. But after ten minutes of trying to find the elusive elixir of sleep, I stumble out of my bed, pull on yoga pants and shuffle outdoors to the yoga complex to where the rest of my bleary-eyed group is collected. This is the time for yogic 'kriya' (techniques)—medicated ghee drops in the nose, jalneeti, gargling and Trifala eye tonic. These are ancient cleansing practices that purify the body and create long-lasting health. There are sufficient staff instructors available who help you perform your kriyas in a smooth manner even if you have never done any of them previously and they seemed like hocus-pocus before.
6:00 a.m.: After a wake-me-up breakfast of lime juice with jaggery and uncooked bean sprouts, I follow 150-or-so people into an outdoor auditorium with the statue of a laughing Buddha prominently displayed in the center. For the next ten minutes, we sit in triangle pose and are instructed to breathe in and breathe out; still our mind; focus our thoughts on the imaginary space between our eyebrows and chant "Ommmm." I'm a newbie to Pranayama (breathing practices) but by the end of seven days I'm a believer. In the Jindal tradition, this is what you need to do: Bring your hands together in prayer. Breathe love into your heart and out into the world. Feel the warmth emanating your heart center; surrender to a force greater than yourself and notice the increased sense of safety and freedom you find when you do so.
6:30 a.m.: Laughter session. It has been said "that against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand." (Mark Twain) Well it turns out that laugher is not just good for your soul, at Jindal you hear stories of people who benefitted from the positivity of laughter and sent their cancer into remission! Every day you are encouraged to participate, to clap your hands, hold your sides, turn and look at your neighbor and laugh. In the beginning, the laughter seems induced, artificial, even a silly game but by the end of the week, a great transformation happens within me. Gone is my shy, sheepish, serious, cynical self. Some mystic, bigger energy has taken over, filling me with confidence and leaving my whole body tingling.
8:00 a.m.: To me, yoga has always seemed like a complicated concept; or, at the very least, a dizzying array of physical manipulations that turn seemingly happy-looking human beings into happy-looking human pretzels. When the West embraced yoga, I instead embraced aerobics. At Jindal, I learn that yoga can be a very ordinary, healing discipline, much like breathing or working out. While Jindal introduced me to the basics of yoga—still fumbling about and worried about my asana or posture—it has inspired me to continue learning and studying all that yoga has to offer when I return home to California.
Lunch: Much before you arrive at Jindal, you will hear horror stories of how they starve you. This is not true. While fasting is considered a supreme medicine here and necessary to rid the body of toxins, you are supplied enough juices, green tea and soy milk throughout the day so that your body feels nourished and hydrated. The fact that almost everybody reaches the dining hall promptly at 11 a.m., ready to eat their prescribed meal (soups, rotis or fresh fruits, depending on what your food plan indicates) may have something to do with the jitters you experience, but the good news is that in a day or two your body begins to adjust to meals without carbs and actually begins to relish the wholesome, organic veggies and fruits grown on the premises.
Siesta time: From 12-1 pm, you sleep. Napping is considered a must to restore your body to an optimum performance level.
After Lunch: The afternoon hours are occupied with the therapies prescribed in your individual plan that your doctor puts together after an intensive consultation to determine your ailments. EKG, blood work-up and body mass tests are part of this exam. You are required to meet your doctor everyday and you further refine your treatment plan based on these daily interactions. On any given day, you may find yourself going to physiotherapy, then, acupuncture and then massage appointments with the intent of returning the body to optimal health.
Colon therapy is the most dreaded therapy at Jindal and while the phrase 'rectal irrigation' might make you gag, cleansing of the colon is considered essential to purify your body of the toxins that sap your energy. Having personally experienced the cleansing and detox therapies at Jindal, I do believe that they can be used in any season or at any stage of life and they speed up the body's rejuvenating process.
Then there's the healing power of massages. Anybody and everybody will tell you about the world-famous Jindal massages. From the Kerali massage to the hot stone massage to the Indian head massage, the Jindal program believes that you need a massage everyday to relieve stress, stretch the muscles and balance the body's flow of energy. If there was only one reason to come to Jindal. . .its that everyone deserves a week of massages. It's that simple!
After Dinner: Dinner is served promptly at 5:45 p.m. and it's over by 6:15 p.m. But that doesn't necessarily signal the end of your night. You can play badminton, go for a walk on the 2.3 km circular track or . . .play dumb charades with all the new friends you inevitably make when you spend a week at Jindal. It begins with "Hello, where are you from? or "Hello, what are you eating today?" at the dining hall and ends with dumb charades in the lobby of your accommodation, where everyone, young and old, joins in for an evening of raucous amusement. Dumb. Charades. is. a. clever. idea.
Conclusion: In spite of the fact that the Jindal experience was a radical experience for me because 1) I'm not a morning person; 2) I've been an aerobics instructor all my life and pooh poohed yoga as a fitness regimen, I would recommend a stay at Jindal because I came back feeling lighter, more energetic and with less pain in my knees than I've experienced in years. Before Jindal, I'd never been on retreat where it really was all about you and what works for you in a very nurturing environment. Are you ready to experience Jindal? No matter what physical ailment you suffer, whether obesity or diabetes, it might just be the best rejuvenation vacation you'll ever have.