With Love & Care

To say our therapists, Dr. Sundara Raman, and the staff here at Mountaintop have held us all with so much love and care is an understatement. Words cannot describe the physical and emotional outpouring of compassion, attentiveness, and detail for our individual needs. I feel so held, so seen, so deeply nourished. The gratitude between all of us at the retreat is flowing in every direction–we are literally bathing in love here.

As many of you know, this is our 6th Ayurveda India Retreat, and in the pre-Covid years we were at a different location than we are this year. As excited as we were to begin this new journey, my heart also yearned for the staff at our old retreat, where all of the therapists had become our family and our friends. To my deepest surprise and excitement, two of the staff from our old site are now at Mountaintop: Parvathi, the therapist who gave me my very first abhyanga massage ever back in 2016, and Balaji, who came from the Ayurveda Retreat here to Mountaintop to become part of the male therapist team. Having Parvathi as one of my panchakarma therapists this year has been the sweetest gift I could ask for. From facial massage to deep tissue, from to oil baths to enemas, from to nasya and herbal pounding, Parvathi has been a steadfast and loving hand in my treatments. I cried when I saw her standing with the staff of therapists on the first day (below), and I cried at my last appointment (too many tears to let someone take a picture).

Each day when I go to see her, she holds me tight like a sister. I tell her I love her, and she says “I love you too, mam.” I take off my robe, hang it on a hook next to her cardigan, sit down on the stool, and she begins: “Head massage, Katie, mam?” “Yes, please.” She kneads her fingers into my scalp and does a little gentle karate chop with her two hands all over my head. Then she pours warm coconut oil into her hands and makes circles on my cheeks with her palms. She fluffs her fingertips under my neck, and uses her knuckles like a guasha tool as she traces the line of my jaw.

Then to my shoulders with special herbalized oil prepared just for me. She sweeps long strokes on my arms… then hand massage… in between the shoulders and up and down the spine. Parvathy’s touch is soft, slow, strong, and when I’m in her hands, it is as though she becomes my mother, sweeping away all of my worries. Each touch is a blessing, carefully and genuinely offered from her heart.

And that’s just all the prelude to the massage. When it’s time for the primary treatment of my session, the second therapist hops up out of her seat on the floor and begins to bring up the heat on the oil. After a round of karate chops to my back (and if I’m with Jansi or Indra, a quick little love tap to my hips!), I move from the stool to the table, a humongous plank of wood with brass fittings and drain holes for the oil to pour down into a collection pot to be reheated and again brought by hand to the body. The first few days are dual massage abhyanga, meaning two therapists work the entire body: long strokes for long bones, softer strokes over joints. Indra and Parvathy ask: “Pressure okay, Mam?” “Perfect,” I say. “Both same, Katie-mam?” “Yes, my ladies,” I say. I give them a good squeeze at the end of every session and tell them how grateful I am.

The entire team of therapists is outstanding, and we are so lucky to get to experience treatments with every single one of these remarkable women. Each one is incredibly special, gifted, sweet, giving, and expert in their care: Indra is one of the veteran therapists who worked at the other retreat for years before coming to Mountaintop. I love her deep brown eyes, the even stroke of her strong hands, and the way she always comes right up to hug me before every treatment. Indra also gave me four days of steam treatment, sitting in the room with me while I was in the “box,” making sure I wasn’t too hot and asking if I needed a sip of water. I love this silly picture of me in the steam with my sweaty head poking out!

Jansi is small but incredibly powerful, and her deep tissue massage is DEEP. Hello hips!! I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the unique combo of “it hurts so good” and been able to stay with the intensity of the work. Her sweet eyes and reassuring “I’ll take care of you, Baby,” were the balm in some of those first deep tissue massages. She is in the middle of the picture below:

Selvi is the quiet one (second from left). Beautiful, strong, loving, and always arms open for a morning squeeze, She is calm and steady, and she always makes me feel like I deserve to be there receiving the gift of all these treatments. At the end of every treatment, we receive a “bath” with a powder scrub to absorb excess oil. You literally stand naked in the corner while they pour steaming water over you, washing you face to foot. Selvi always had a little mischief in her eyes when she’d throw the last few pails of water at me.

Latha is the youngest in the crew (far left in the above pic), and training to be a PK therapist. With three babies at home all under the age of 7, she has to leave her family with her mother each day to pursue a career in Ayurvedic massage. It now takes three years of training and practice to earn the title of therapist, so Latha shadows her four sister therapists, heating the oils, offering the post massage baths, practicing the abhyanga strokes, all under the watchful teaching eyes of her elders. There are many treatments to practice and master, one of which is shirodhara, or the pouring of warm oil across the forehead in a slow stream. It is incredibly calming, soothing, and most of the time, I fall asleep in the middle of the treatment. I have received shirodhara from all of the therapists; I think Indra took this photo of me:

So here’s one of the touchier (ahem) panchakarma therapies: enemas. But your bum bum is as important as any other part of your body, so I’m going to make a place for this in my post. Vasti (oil or ghee enemas) are a big thing in PK. Most of the folks in our retreat had these therapeutic treatments as part of their protocol, and the benefits are many (I’ll get to that in a moment). It’s important to understand how and why these treatments are so effective. Dr. Sundara explained that we take enemas after our midday meal so the belly is full and the organs and tissues in the area are ready for the process of absorption. When herbal formulations are administered anally, the oils enter the rectum and can even reach the lower colon, especially if held for several hours. Here the absorption rate of the mucosa is very high, and more herbs can be absorbed.

Not only is this treatment great for your colon and surrounding tissues, it’s pretty awesome for your enteric, or intestinal, nervous system. We’ve all heard that your gut is the “second brain,” but Dr. Sundara said in Ayurveda it is seen as the primary brain–and it is super important to your mental wellbeing. So, long tubular story short, Ayurvedic enemas are a prized therapy, helping us to unclog years of fecal plaque and icky bugs while restoring gut flora and helping to balance excess Vata. It is a longevity treatment I am very grateful for. Still need a list of benefits to be convinced?

  • Increases appetite
  • Clears bowels
  • Helps those with acid reflux
  • Clears bowels and helps with constipation
  • Helps eliminate gluten intolerance
  • Reduces hyperacidity
  • Removes unwanted toxins and accumuluated ama in the tissues
  • Helps with joint issues and low back pain
  • Helps with obesity and supports weight loss
  • Good for IBS and Crohn’s
  • Helps with lactose intolerance
  • Excellent for supporting the reproductive system and balancing hormones
  • Used to support those with Chronic Fatigue syndrome,

That’s the short list. There are hundreds of kinds of enemas and preparations for all kinds of medicinal and therapeutic purposes. I highly recommend! At the end of the day, each one of us in grateful that all of our therapists are so dedicated to us and this process they are helping to facilitate with the doctor’s guidance.

So let’s put an end to the enema convo for a bit, and go back the beginning of the digestive system. Even though the focus of this post so far has been the PK therapies, the food is really the primary medicine we take in each day. Our amazing kitchen staff is incredibly talented and hardworking: Indrani, Maheswari, and Mahalakshmi are our three wonderful lady chefs who serve us the most beautiful meals each day, and always with genuine smiles.

Indrani’s husband, Narayana, is also a huge part of the dining experience. This husband and wife duo are at the helm of the operation, working from morning til night for us. This beautiful picture below was taken by Mary Lenihan, one of the guests in our retreat. Can you imagine chopping that much papaya?

After 6:30 am yoga class, we all pour into the dining room to see what the daily fruit will be. One day it’s papaya, another it’s pomegranate with two humongous gooseberries soaked in white honey (amazing vitamin C and highly beneficial during rasayana, or the rejuvenation process), and then this beautiful bowl of mango with bananas… O. M. G. Sometimes there are figs, one day there is avocado with honey, and twice we had cool applesauce with golden raisins on top. Some of us eat just the fruit for breakfast, while others receive a second grain-oriented breakfast of oatmeal, some type of dosa, vegetable rice, or a millet dish. I love my morning fruits!

Lunches are plentiful and always include a pile of vegetable sabji (could be pumpkin, okra, cabbage, or ivy gourd with mild Indian spices and a bit of shredded coconut for sweetness); then there is a veggie soup or dahl (so yummy), and always a fresh, hot chapati, made by either Maheswari or Indrani. I kindly ask Narayana for ghee to drizzle on my chapati, and he raises his middle finger, his gesture for”one minute,” and then he glides back out and silently delivers the golden liquid to my hands. I spread the ghee out all over my bread and sprinkle pink sea salt and a pinch of black pepper on my steaming delight! For anyone weary about bread and wheat at home, let me tell you, I ate chapati every single day and still lost considerable weight and digested well–what a wonderful gift to make friends with wheat while I was here. Check out this beautiful dish below: cabbage sabji, beet salad with orange peel and lime juice, lentil stew, and hot chapati!

And during ghee week and purgation, we ate two kitchari meals per day:

We had access to various churnas (spice mixes) for each dosha (meaning, in this case, our current state of imbalance, or Vikruti). Because our food is mildly spiced, the effect is sattvic (balanced, peaceful, calming), rather than too spicy, which can increase pitta (fire), leading to inflammation in the body and aggravation in the mind. Even without salt and pepper, the food is delicious–purifying yet grounding. Even the bitter gourd was delicious (and typically I steer completely clear of it!)

Here are a couple group kitchen shots–one of the “shiro” crew at cooking class, and the other of the group at dinner:

Finally, a few words about our wonderful physician, Dr. Sundara Raman. I found our good Dr. years ago online and have been following his FB and checking in on his website to watch the growth of his small center since I began studying Ayurveda back in 2015. To know he and my friend Dr. Mouli were colleagues at the previous retreat and that Dr. Mouli speaks of Dr. Raman with such high regard truly helped John and I choose Mountaintop as a new location for our retreat. As someone who owns and operates a retreat center, and as a group leader who facilitates retreats around the world, I take finding the perfect location very seriously, and it was an arduous choice to bring people to a place I had not attended personally. Dr. Sundara (as we call him) exceeded every expectation I had and then some. From his kind, humble demeanor to his incredible breadth and depth of knowledge in Ayurvedic medicine, energy body knowledge and ability to diagnose chakra imbalances, his profound spirituality and his tenderness with each and every patient in our group, I feel we could not have been in more perfect hands or a purer heart. Early on in the experience when so many of us were “on” ghee, we would sit to have our pulse read, and then he would ask us to stand in the sunlight to prepare the body to receive the energy (prana) of the sun into our ghee and our bodies. For a half hour, the doctor made his rounds, chanting blessings over the ghee and standing with each one of us in the rising sun. This photo might be one of my favorite captures of all this year.

You might wonder what it’s like to be held in this doctor’s awareness: daily pulse diagnosis, tongue check, and conversation about how we are feeling physically and emotionally. He asked if I remembered what I dreamed in the night and then proceeded to help decode them (if I chose) based on my personal experiences with the medicine. Each day I was asked “do you have anything to share with me? Do you have any questions today? Do you have any feedback on your therapies?” and each day I have been thanked for my presence at the retreat.

I know I have gained an incredibly talented and intuitive physician to support my body~mind~spirit medicine, and I know I have nurtured a beautiful new friendship with a person who is able to see me through a lense through which I don’t think a health provider has ever spent time to really see me. It has been one of the deepest dives I have ever taken in recognizing myself, caring for myself, and nurturing all aspects of my being. These words are inadequate in describing the level of gratitude I have for Dr. Sundara and his loving and abiding care.

As we depart from Mountaintop and say goodbye to new and old friends, hug our therapists tightly with gratitude, and bow with our hands over our hearts as we say “Namaste,” the well of my heart feels impossibly and wonderfully full. 

John and I have already booked next year’s Ayurveda India Retreat, and we will be so overjoyed to return to our new hOMe here in the Nilgiri Mountains.  Until then, wishing all of our Dr., therapists, cooks, staff, and dear retreat guests so much love. Oh, and John de Kadt: thank you for sharing this amazing experience with me as your co-leader. I am so blessed to call you my friend and brother in this endeavor.

Much love and many blessings,


5 thoughts on “With Love & Care”

  1. Wow. Wow. Wow. 



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  2. Wow. Simply wow. As I was ready your entry I found myself imagining a world where everyone experiences being held in the love you describe. The healing for the people and our Earth is so what is needed.

  3. A thank you once more for including us all on your spiritual and physical wellness journey.
    Your experiences as described and your photographs brought us all with you.

  4. Wonderful post- just reading about the massage therapies relaxed my shoulders! Thanks for sending. Xox

  5. Sweet Katie, I have been reading every word and studying every photograph. Thank you for the gift of peace and hopefulness that I’ve gained through your writing, for brightness and light and healing. I can see on your face how much you are transformed by your experience. I miss you! Shanti, shanti, shanti.

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