In one word, I feel - drained. Physically and emotionally. I feel as though I’ve just run a marathon of sorts. But certainly not the type of marathon most people are use to!
At 5.45am this morning I began making my way to the Shala with this feeling of impending doom washing over me. With deep breaths and maintaining an attitude of acceptance and curiosity, I walked slowly down the hill eventually arriving at the Shala which still glowed with blue, green and red fairy lights. Bharath was leaning over the balcony as I arrived, and with a gentle but cheeky grin he waved good morning to me. All the lights of the Shala were on. Inside the house, on the second floor, and the outside stairwells. The door to the Shala was open, to let people walk in and out as they needed to go to the toilet, and this allowed me to hear some quiet murmurs, sounds of toilets flushing and soft breathing from the students of the 4.45am class already inside. This made the lead up a little more nerve racking. I couldn’t help but feel a little left out as they had all begun and near completed the process whilst I was yet to start.
I was the first of my group to arrive and whilst sitting on the stairs outside, Bharath came and asked me to come inside and lay in Savasana until it was time for me to start. As I walked into the Shala, this first thing I noticed was it was completely dark. Only the lights from the mens and womens changing rooms were on, creating a calming atmosphere. God knows we all needed that! The next thing I noticed were all the students, 6 of them, had their mats in a line at the very back of the Shala, (near to the entrance I was walking in). Again, this was for obvious reasons! No one wants to be running any further than they have to when their bellies are erupting.
I brought my mat into the darkness of the front of the Shala, where I lay in Savasana for about 20 minutes. I used this time to focus hard on my stomach and intestines, but I couldn’t help but get distracted by the constant flushing of toilets, and quiet discussions Bharath was having with my classmates, checking in on their ‘condition’. Also, I later realised the gushing sound of water, which you could hear when someone was in the toilet, was not wee… How naive I was.
The other 3 people who were in my group were all laying next to me also, when Bharath came and tapped me on the shoulder, indicating it was time for me to join the others who were still practicing. I would be lying if I didn’t say my heart sank a little in that moment.
Sitting at the back of the room was Bharath’s Indian friend and assistant who was scooping water from one big pot which sat on the floor and then pouring it into metal tumblers. I recognised this man as he has sat in on many of our evening chants and philosophy classes, and has always reminded me of an Indian Jesus. I think its the shoulder length black hair which gives me this impression.
My classmates who had clearly drunk a lot of this water by now expressed repulsion as they continued to drink up. The indian Jesus (let’s refer to him as this as I don’t know his name) was so gentle each time he poured a new cup of water and his kind smile was encouraging people to keep going. He also wasn’t shy about filling the cup to the brim! He was taking no chances. Those bowels were to be emptied!!!
With my mat now in line with the others, Bharath directed me to Indian Jesus to start drinking. Bharath would then remind me how to do the exercises. With a smile and an implied look of, welcome to the group and good luck, Indian Jesus handed me my first cup of water. The metal cup was warm as the water itself was quite warm. Considering I make so many foul tasting green smoothies back home, I thought this would be nothing. But then upon tasting the water for the first time, I realised I was in for a more uncomfortable time than I had hoped. The water was very salty, like drinking sea water. And being warm made it even more challenging. For the first round, I drank 3 tumblers full of this stuff, but by the end of the third tumbler I was doing my best not to dry reach or worse, throw up.
With a scrunched up face, I walked onto my mat (which was about two feet away) where Bharath stood at the end. He demonstrated the exercises one by one to me, reminding me to keep the pelvis tilted and not worry about the breath or trying to tense muscles. This is about letting the body move freely, with a focus on the stomach down to anus.
I began working slowly through my exercises and all was ok. I could definitely feel the water whooshing around in my gut as I twisted to the sides. In that moment I knew I would be in for a ride!
I finished the sequence and went back for my next two tumblers of punishment - I mean salt water. This round (of water) was far more difficult than the first. I guess I knew what to expect now so my body was beginning to overthink it and want to reject it. Focusing on a single point, such as a mark on a wall or a spot on the floor, I would drink the water as quickly as I could. The quicker the better we were told. Again, I would return to my mat and repeat the process.
By the third round, things were getting in motion! Unsure of what to expect the first time I went to the toilet (in terms of noises) I decided to go to the toilet on the upstairs balcony. The sun was beginning to rise by this time and it would have been a wonderful sunrise to watch from up there, but in my ‘condition’, as Bharath would put it, I couldn’t care less about the sunrise. There are two toilets on the balcony. The first had vomit in the sink and no toilet paper, so I decided to avoid that one. The one next to it was much cleaner, however also no toilet paper. Just a hose…. I was going to walk back downstairs and try to get into the usual toilet we use, with toilet paper, but my worries of having some loud explosion happen willed me on to use this toilet. Hose and all! Let’s just say the process had certainly begun!
Walking back into the Shala, with a grin on my face, I stood by Indian Jesus as he poured my next 2 tumblers of water. Then, back into the exercises on my mat. There were 5 exercises to get through, each to be repeated 8 times. Relatively soon into the practice I was barely making it through the first round before rushing to the toilet. As I was no longer worried about sounds etc, I decided to use our usual toilet in the girls changing room. This had toilet paper and was much closer, which became very necessary. It got to the point where I would wash my hands but then be back on the toilet immediately before leaving. This was most times. I also knew, that each time I went to the toilet and came back to practice, I would have to drink more water. I was becoming mildly anxious about that. Each time I drank the water it got harder and harder, and the urge to throw up became stronger and stronger. I started getting the shivers as I would take the next gulp. But I knew I needed to get through this, so I just kept as focused as possible on drinking as much water as I could handle. A couple of times just drinking the water sent me straight back to the toilet - I didn’t even make it to my mat to start the exercises again. But this was all a really good sign. I had clearly prepared well as my gut responded quickly and easily to the process and I was the first to finish in my group.
When my preferred toilet was taken, I used the Indian style toilet which was inside the Shala. There was no hiding any sounds there! I too had the ‘gushing water’ sound which everyone would have heard, but no one would have cared about. All I cared about at this point was a) getting to the toilet and b) keeping my feet as far apart as possible as I squatted over this hole in the ground. Oh, and no toilet paper or hose in this toilet. Only a bucket of water to wash it down. This one, you just pull up your pants. Lets just say those clothes have been through the wash already and will be put through a second time.
That reminds me of yet another uncomfortable part of the process - describing to Bharath what everything looks like. The colour, is it liquid or solid, clear or murky. Certainly a whole new level for me. But, we all do it, and I just had to remember we were all going through this together. There is nothing odd about what I was telling him. He’s heard it all before.
When I was ‘clear’ enough, Bharath told me to finish. I had one final tumbler of water, shaking with each gulp, and then took my mat to the front of the class where the earlier group had been lying in Savasana. We were to lay there for at least 45 minutes to notice the changes in our body. Bharath said there would still be a lot of water in my stomach, (which I found hard to believe), and to notice it. To witness how it moves through the system.
This was actually quite an interesting experience. Whilst lying down, my stomach would contract and release. I could feel bubbling sensations working from left to right, and then down…. I had to get up again during this time but that was expected. It was amazing to really feel my body’s reaction to the process.
Two of the other girls in my group really struggled with this, one of whom ended up crying and throwing up twice. It wasn’t the explosive guts which was the problem, it was the drinking of the water. Psychologically too, people feared this entire process which would impair their ability to let the body release everything freely, which is why it was so important we meditate beforehand. Mentally preparing ourselves for this. But in time, they joined me in Savasana and we all lay there for some time.
When Bharath came and touch my toes to get my attention, he told us it was time to finish and go and have some breakfast downstairs. It was bland kitchari, with olive oil for myself (others had ghee). A combination of brown rice, green lentils and olive oil poured over it - it was horrible. But edible. Absolutely no flavour at all, except for the olive oil. This was really important as we needed to make sure our digestive tract is well prepared with good oils before eating anything which could irritate it, like spices. As there is no protective layer of mucus in the gut now, we need to slowly and properly build this up again.
Bharath’s wife was in the kitchen downstairs and she served us our meals. We sat in silence in my favourite front room of Bharath’s home, eating with the morning sun shining through the bay windows. As my tummy was still rumbling, and I was feeling the control over my bowels weakening, I was eager to eat and get home. I was nervous about the uphill 10 minute walk ahead, but I just knew I had to get there. Just clench and walk!
After yet another visit to my toilet this time, I had the most wonderful shower. I also scrubbed my mat and washed my clothes immediately. Everything felt pretty dirty at this point. I’m now lying in bed, writing this blog feeling completely washed out. It’s a really odd feeling to have after such little movement. But I know I have done something wonderful for my body this morning, as disgusting as it all sounds, which makes me feel very calm and relaxed. Now it’s another two and a half days of very conscious eating - hence its a 5 day process.
So, all in all, I made it through - as did everyone else. I’m glad I’ve had this experience as it’s certainly not one you have every day, and I feel a little more in tune with my body after having done it. I’m also glad this is something you only do thrice yearly!