Treatment as a Mantra
By Bilyana Savova for Eva Magazine, Bulgaria
I get off the plane and for the eleventh time I step on Indian soil. After flying for 15 hours, the hot brush of ocean and moist tropical forests in the air of Kerala, the southernmost state of India, makes me dizzy. I see my name on a plaque held by a smiling young Indian. We leave in a taxi to one of the many Ayurvedic clinics in India, but this is the only one that specialises in treating Multiple Sclerosis. The diagnosis I have been fighting for the last 5 years. I feel tired. Not from the fight, but from the long trip. While colourful houses, forests, rubber plantations pass in front of my eyes I remember how I fell in love with India 12 years ago. How I dreamt of coming back here again and again… As they say “Be careful what you wish for because it may come true”.
I thought I have my life under control. I was planning the changes in it. I worked hard, sometimes to exhaustion. One beautiful May morning everything fell apart. I was sent to an MRI examination to get my pituitary gland checked. I received a folder with the results and was asked to discuss them with the doctor. I opened the folder feeling something is wrong, and started reading the unfamiliar terminology. Finally, I found the sentence that changed my life: “More than half of the macromorphological factors for MS presence are flagged.”
MS, MS, MS … I kept repeating it in my mind trying to recall what that was. It is Multiple Sclerosis, I remembered terrified! The doctor began explaining something, but I only saw his lips moving, refusing to accept this is my story.
More bad news followed afterwards. Different doctors half-heartedly admitted that medicine is powerless against this disease. Searching online day and night I tried to figure out by myself how other people handle MS, how they treat themselves; I was looking for every little piece of information I can find in order to plan how to fight the illness. The real shock came when a doctor told me my MS is progressing rapidly and within two years I will be in a wheelchair. I couldn’t believe it. I would have never thought I could be helpless, that I wouldn’t be able to move.
There were some honest doctors. One of them explained that the disease is different with different people; that the medicine knows almost nothing about what causes it or how to treat it; that the medicaments prescribed only ease the symptoms but have many side effects. He also told me that unless I become part of a Government organised MS list, I will be paying at least 2000 leva per month for drugs. “By the way, he told me, I know some people with MS who go to India. I do not know what they do there, but they feel good!” At this moment I saw light in the darkness, suddenly I could see and breathe again. I took a deep breath and saw an exit. I saw the choice I had to make. India!
You might think my decision was irrational and made in a state of shock. No, I tried to analyse my life and see what path I chose to follow – whether I prefer to be an obedient patient given no promises for improvement, stuffed with drugs simply suppressing the symptoms; or I want to change my life, get to the cause of the illness and chase it away.
A month later I was already on my way to an Indian Ayurvedic clinic. I knew very little about Ayurveda, but I could instinctively feel this was my path. For Ayurveda doesn’t simply see me as a set of organs that can be attacked with certain drugs; but as a personality where the emotions, the soul and the body are inextricably linked.
In Sanskrit Ayurveda means Science of life. After five years of Ayurvedic treatments I draw the line: step by step I learned how to live truly, fully and with love. I learned how to preserve my energy and how to eat properly. I learned that changing my eating habits can affect my health. I learned how to practise yoga without being a yoga myself. I realised few things in life are really important and nothing is a matter of life and death. Now I believe there is no need for fate to put you down on your knees to arrange your priorities. Once you start from the beginning everything is possible.
Just 6 months following the “sentence” I’ve been given by medicine I was already reorganising, rearranging and emptying “the closet”. I turned my life 180 degrees around. Not just my own but the lifes of the people closest to me; my children – my greatest support in the decisions I’ve made.
Ayush Prana Clinic, Kerala
Curious glances follow me on the way to my “house” where I will be spending the next seven weeks. Some patients are on wheelchairs, others use walkers. They are all smiling at me. I not smiling back – I’m too tired. The room is spacious, the bed – canopy. The bathroom itself is as big as a room in the last two clinics I would go to twice a year. There is hot water in abundance – an absolute luxury for India. I take a shower and fall asleep. For 24 hours.
My house is surrounded by rubber plantations and a river, behind which there’s a jungle in all shades of green. My eyes tired of the greyness in the city greedily swallow the bright colours.
I’m part of the clinic now and one of the 10 patients with MS. Doctor Prasanth and I had a two-hour long conversation about me, the diagnosis, my lifestyle, my work, rest, nutrition, childhood illnesses and treatments applied so far. Then he made me a program for the next three days – relaxing and adaptive therapies (oil and hot water body massages, and for the head – Shirodhara, but with cold
herbal water). After months of working and hardly ever resting, these few days allowed me to hit the
brakes. But not to stop, just to step on the brakes. Stopping takes terribly long and it drives me
On the third day I got a crisis. My type of crisis – a terrible pain pulsing throughout my whole body.
They tried to help me with some special massages oil and herbal powders for pain relief and sleep.
After many hours of keeping wide awake, the pain suddenly stopped just as unexpectedly as it
began. Like there is an invisible on and off switch. I slept for nine hours straight and woke up feeling
I eat balanced Ayurvedic food here, mainly rice and lentils in different variations. Vegetables as well,
but cooked on fire, rarely raw. Hot spices are almost absent from the menu. On the side of the path
to the dining table I find black pepper growing freely and from now on every time I walk pass it I’d
pick up a few grains, even though it is not recommended. However, I keep it within limits.
We eat three times a day and are allowed 30 minutes on the Internet (the Internet is only available if
there is no rain or thunder) and 60 minutes of reading. I’m in despair. Will I have time to speak to my
children and friends; to read the books I brought? It’s only been a week and I am already dreading
the following six, I am even considering leaving early.
It’s 10 am. After having my pulse and tongue checked on an empty stomach, I am appointed Kashaya
Dhara – a relaxing massage with Kashaya (potion made of hot herbs). In the massage room I lay on
the cold table. My therapist Mary Kuti is smiling at me nicely and suddenly the universal sadness in
me unlocks after being hidden away day after day. I burst into uncontrollable tears – big tears drops
just pour out of my eyes. Mary lays her hand on my chest bone, where the heart chakra is, and
slowly begins to massage it whilst talking softly. I gradually calm down and even smile back at her.
I open my eyes woken up by the roosters’ singing. The time now is 5:10 am. For the first time I have
the strength and desire to do my morning yoga. I wash myself and 2 minutes later I'm on the roof. I
smile at the sun and it smiles back. From that day onwards this is my morning routine. My hour and
a half must end with chanting mantras and meditating. And a gratitude! Every morning I am grateful
for everything that happens to me! For everything I have. I still do that today before opening my
eyes. And I smile.
I have practised yoga for several years now, but no one has ever adapted the asanas 2 for me and my
Ayurvedic constitution 3 . Here the usual Greeting to the Sun was replaced with a Greeting to the
Moon which turned out to be better suited for me. Day after day my body fitness improves – I can
2 Asana – a posture of a yoga exercise combined with breathing
3 Ayurvedic constitution – according to Ayurveda each person has a specific combination of the energies,
which determine their physical, mental and emotional type, psychophysiological constitution, metabolism,
exercise endurance, preferences for different foods, personality, physique characteristics, predisposition to
illness, treatment preferences, illness prognosis, duration of life. Usually a person as an Ayurvedic constitution
is a mixture of two or three doshas
4.tell by the balanced asanas. My flexibility increases, and standing on one leg in Tree Pose becomes
easier. Keeping the body and the muscles in good shape is essential for people diagnosed with MS.
8 am. I finished yoga two hours ago, and I’m hungry. At 7 am I drank the prescribed herbs (powders,
divided into doses and taken at the appointed time) with a cup of hot water. I also have to drink the
Kashaya (a quite bitter herb tea) that we receive in a thermos freshly made every morning.
In the morning rounds the doctor checks my condition by taking the pulse on my left wrist using
three fingers. Ring finger registers Vata, the middle one – Pitta, and index one – Kapha 4 . After the
check-up, the Doctor assigns the treatments I need: rice body massage (typical for therapies in
Kerala, performed with hot cooked special rice porridge); Shirovasti therapy on the head and Nasya
(sinus therapy – considered very important in Ayurveda, associated with the view that nostrils are
the gateway to the brain). About 200 minutes of therapies all together.
And finally breakfast! Papaya, watermelon, grapes, pineapple, bananas, my favorite sweet chiku, all
of which are in abundance in Kerala. Apart from fruits, oatmeal is also served at breakfast as well as
Molasses to sweeten the meals.
I decide to take a walk around the site for the first time. I go out through the iron door and start
walking down the road between trees of ever dripping rubber. The morning is beautiful. I can hear
only the birds singing. I am really smiling from the inside. Finally I am starting to feel slow, quiet and
I’m happy – my friend Milena is here with me. She lives in Canada and studies Ayurveda there. Not
only did she find this place for me, but she also came to spend four weeks here with me – something
I really needed. I have always assumed that whenever I feel unwell, I should face the pain alone and
avoid burdening others. Milena taught me that in moments like these love can do miracles. Most of
the patients here didn’t come alone. Across my house lives Suarna – a young Indian woman who
came here with her little girl and the babysitter. The house next door is occupied by the whole
Badzhadzh family – they came from Australia to accompany Pam – the mother who has MS and is
confined to a wheelchair.
The very first time I met with doctor Prashant he told me my three doshas are totally out of balance.
What’s even worse was that my Kapha dosha is a zero! “Zerooo” – he had said, locking his thumb
and index finger in an O shape. Kapha is the dosha of Earth and Love. It’s not that I lack love or that
no one loves me. It’s just that I have built a thick wall around myself trying to avoid being hurt or
Mimicking happiness and love is one of the worst things one can do to oneself. We need to learn to
4 Doshas – according to Ayurveda the universe is a manifestation of the five basic elements: Space (ether), Air,
Fire, Water and Earth. When they interact in harmony the three basic types of energies or doshas are created.
They are present in everyone and everything – Air and Space form Vata dosha, Fire and Water form Pitta
dosha, Water and Earth forma Kapha dosha.
say “No”. To seek your happiness no matter how difficult it may seem. We shouldn’t live a life sacrificing everything for others, not even for the people closest to us, instead we should live so that we love, we feel loved and that makes us wake up every morning filled with love and gratitude! Then we can begin to be useful to and desired by others. And to be healthy!
So my friend came from the other side of the globe, surrounded me with love and attention and
became a key part of my therapeutic program. We would talk for hours. I realised that if we live in
the same city we would not be able to spend as much time together as we do now. Again I thanked
the fate for the gift it gave me.
This morning I am surprised to see that I have lost 6 kilos. Doctor Prashant immediately included the
Ghee butter, purified cow butter, in my food regime – a spoonful every morning on an empty
stomach and a spoon in the rice at lunch and dinner.
This morning Pam, the woman in a wheelchair, got up and took three steps. I stood there
speechless, paralysed with tears in my eye like everyone else. I hugged her. Her son and daughter
were screaming and jumping with joy. Pam was glowing.