Pouring oil on troubled knee!
Like a partner in a long and unhappy marriage, I have suffered from a nagging pain for the last 25 years. But my disability, I am happy to say, is purely physical. Despite all my efforts to maintain fitness and health, through Yoga, sport and sensible eating, I have never been able to shake off an intermittent throbbing in my left knee.
Absent during exercise, the trouble invariably flares up to hurt and haunt me when I’m at rest. Sometimes the pain in my patella and around the quadriceps, vastus medialis to be precise, is so acute that it has prevented me from sleeping at all.
Doctors couldn’t help
The condition has baffled everyone I’ve consulted. My local GP, unable to find any structural damage, can offer nothing more than painkillers. Physiotherapy would relieve the stabbing sensation for a while, but it returned as soon as the course was over. A podiatrist suggested I walked unevenly (although it hadn’t stopped me running the London Marathon without discomfort in 1996.) Over the years, at least three orthopaedic consultants diagnosed a worn cartilage, and suggested keyhole surgery to ‘clean it up’. But, believing the problem to be more deep-rooted than simple wear and tear, I politely declined the surgeon’s knife.
Robert E. Svoboda
But I never gave up my search for a possible remedy. In February of this year, I went to a lecture given in London by the American doctor Robert E. Svoboda, the only westerner ever to obtain a degree in Ayurvedic medicine and be allowed to practise in India. I knew something of Ayurveda, the ancient study of life which holds that man and nature are one and the same, but it was the way Dr Svoboda explained how it could help each of us achieve equilibrium of both the body and the mind that persuaded me to try it.
Moreover, the doctor touched a nerve by exploding some long-held misconceptions that I had carried from childhood. Brought up in India and imbued with strict family rules such as ‘Don’t drink water straight after dinner – it prevents proper digestion’, I had always believed that my genetic link to the rest of my family meant we would all be affected in the same way by what we ate and drank, and how we lived our lives. According to Ayurvedic teaching, this is not the case at all. Each of us is a unique individual, our make-up determined at the moment of conception, and we are different from everyone else: my brother’s Bombay aloo could easily be poison to me!
Inspired by the lecture, I read books and surfed the internet to find a place where this philosophy is put into practice. It was there that I found an Ayurvedic treatment centre in the southern Indian state of Kerala, where Ayurveda evolved about 5,000 years ago. Could a ten-day course of ancient treatments succeed where modern medicine had failed? I booked the flights.
The centre lies on the shore of the Indian Ocean, about 12 miles from Trivandrum. In western parlance, it’s a beach resort – with palms, white sand, manicured gardens and comfortable villas and apartments dotted amongst the woods. But there the similarity ends. As soon as you have slept off the rigours of the journey, the staff begin the task of changing your life.
First, there is a two-hour consultation with three of the centre’s twelve doctors, who take your pulse and temperature, and probe your medical history, eating habits, and mental alertness. Based on my responses, they devise a course of treatments and diet specifically tailored to my needs. I tell them about the knee, and pretty well everything else, and am put on a ‘rejuvenation programme’.
The next week and a half goes by in a whirl of morning sessions on the treatment table, having lukewarm, herbal oils slowly and steadily poured over my body and forehead, being massaged by hand and foot, and having my troublesome knee dressed in a warm poultice containing fresh herbs from the garden. After lunch – adhering strictly to my personal diet sheet. I rest a while, or wander in the grounds, stroll along the beach, or spend a couple of hours at Yoga or meditation classes. Dinner is a moveable feast, and every night I surprise myself by sleeping like a baby.
My progress is as closely monitored as an astronaut’s by mission control, and on Day 10, I am presented with medication, tablets and written guidelines on how I should apply the lessons and practices to everyday life in England. For different reasons, I am to avoid tomatoes, out-of-season salads and fruit, red meat, soya and mushrooms. I must eat only when I’m hungry, and not when the clock suggests I should. And I should try to avoid over-analysing things: living for each day, and not wasting time and energy pondering the long-term consequences.
Relief at last!
I flew home feeling healthy, cleansed and energised – and on my second day back home I realised that, for the first time in 25 years, I had entirely forgotten about my knee. Three months on those stabbing, jolting pains that limited my life and played havoc with my body-clock are a fading memory. As a result, my daily Yoga sessions have been transformed. In the past, I avoided such postures as Virasana, Virbhadrasana and Natrajasana, believing they might put undue strain on my knee. Now they are part of my daily routine.
I’m going back again soon. You see, I have this problem with hay fever …