Feature The Jindal Naturecure Institute in Bangalore claims that most ailments can be cured with meditation, yoga and an ironclad detoxification programme. Komal Patwari checks in.
Inside out: Detoxify your way to better health
It's 7.30 in the morning and I'm huffing my way through what is supposed to be a light, airy posture that my yoga instructor calls The Butterfly. My legs won't stay bent at the knee, my soles refuse to touch and I keep rolling onto my back like a beetle, to the amusement of the other students. I'm at the Jindal Naturecure Institute on the outskirts of Bangalore, India, and while the aim of my seven-day visit is to detoxify body and soul, all I can think of is a warm bed and hot buttered toast, given that breakfast at 5.30 this morning consisted of two pieces of dried gooseberry and a glass of coconut water.
It's ironclad regimens like these that are responsible for the polarised opinions on the institute, started in 1978 as a charitable health care centre by steel magnate Sitaram Jindal and dedicated, as its promotional material says, "to provide relief, prevention and cure to the suffering of humanity from ... diseases otherwise incurable". The incurability of these diseases is debatable (the institute does not accept patients with cardiac issues or addictions), but what makes Jindal, as it is colloquially known among patrons, unique is its claim - and efforts to prove - that most diseases can be cured without traditional medication. To cure patients' ailments, Jindal prescribes instead a dose of early rising, yoga, an organic diet and physical activity taught under a school of medicine called naturopathy. The system has worked for many of the thousands who have visited the institute over the years to be cured of everything from chronic gastroenteritis to arthritis, leading to its near cult following among patrons. People fly in from all over the globe to be treated by the institute's in-house team of doctors, many of whom have specialist degrees in naturopathy, yoga and acupuncture. The institute is particularly popular among Bollywood actors, although I didn't see any during my stay.
After yoga I make my way to the women's spa and treatment centre for the first treatment of the day, a mud pack placed on my abdomen and eyes to "draw out toxins and germs, which cannot survive the cold", according to V V Bharathi, my naturopathy doctor at the institute. Naturopathy, an offshoot of Ayurveda, is an increasingly accepted form of medicine in India, with a rise in universities offering degrees in the science.
Since it is my first day at the centre, I stop by to visit Dr Bharathi on my way to my treatments. A kindly woman with thick glasses and jasmine in her hair, her easy manner has helped ease my fears about being a carrier of Hepatitis B, a disease I contracted when I was two. While the virus lies dormant, there is a risk of it one day attacking the liver, so when my doctor in Bangalore recommended I try a stint at Jindal to learn new ways of staying healthy without medication, I decided to give it a try. Dr Bharathi tells me that it isn't uncommon for patients afflicted with Hepatitis B to remain permanent carriers and that as long as I watch my diet, avoid alcohol and "listen to my body", I'll be fine. She tells me that I have abnormally low blood pressure and must always be sure to eat large, healthy meals, then prescribes me a seven-day diet that includes little more than fruit, salad, watery broth and dates for dessert. My dismayed expression is met with a knowing smile - "A rubbish bin cannot be cleaned if you keep stuffing it with more rubbish," she says. Things are looking up by the third day: my skin, spotty from too many late nights, is clear and I'm beginning to appreciate the simplicity of primarily raw, organic meals. The constant hunger pangs have abated, I've conquered The Butterfly, and my treatments have been mostly pleasurable, save an enema on the first day. Normally a night owl, I'm having some trouble with the mandatory 5am walks, but those are becoming easier with the 10.30pm lights out. Given how little there is to do, I'm surprised at the ease with which I fall asleep every night. The food has something to do with it, I'm sure; all the ingredients are produced on the organic farm on part of the property, including the milk and cheese. The treatments help too; they range from hot and cold sitz baths - great for insomnia, Dr Bharathi tells me - to traditional Swedish massages and deep cleansing mud packs made - and discarded - daily from fresh soil on the farm.
The institute is spread out over 120 acres with walking tracks, parks and swings dotting the paths from the treatment centre to the yoga hall, dining room and rooms. I spend my time between treatments reading a book from the well-stocked library on a swing by the lake or in the gazebo, where patients take their mid-afternoon juice and socialise. Most of my time at the gazebo is spent with Shahnaz Shah from the western Indian state of Gujarat. She first visited 12 years ago when she was afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis that caused her fingers to curl into themselves, making daily activities painful. She claims that Jindal cured her arthritis completely. "I don't have the words to describe how grateful I am to have found this place," she tells me. "My doctors back home don't have an explanation for it - all I did was incorporate yoga into my daily routine and change my diet. Within my first year, I had weaned myself off my medication. It's a relief to never have to wake up again with that feeling of impending dread that comes with not being able to move your joints."
The departure from traditional forms of therapy can take getting used to and not everyone is convinced, like a patient I meet in the treatment centre while waiting for the therapist. Suffering from a cocktail of afflictions including spondilitis, osteoarthritis and a bad knee requiring several surgeries, she blames the yoga instructors here for exacerbating her back problems. Her arthritis seems to have improved since she checked in one week ago, she says, but she's not convinced.
Others find it difficult to adhere to the strict dietary requirements. Sahiba Chawla, who has lived in Canada, Singapore and Jakarta all her life, has suffered from daily chronic stomach upsets since she moved to New Delhi a few months ago. The treatments seem to have helped - she hasn't been ill since she checked in a few days ago, a source of relief - but she's not sure she can follow the diet when she checks out, especially the stipulation that bans patients from meat. "I don't know how realistic that is," she says.
Others, like Lucian Evans from Sydney, take to this way of life with greater ease. Evans made her first trip here two years ago and has been a vegetarian since. "Since I've given up meat, I haven't had gastric attacks or hyperacidity," she says. "This diet makes sense to me. Besides, I don't think you're expected to follow it exactly. It's up to you to pick the aspects you'd like to hang on to. It's not that difficult to find organic produce nowadays, for example." Evans recalls suffering from bouts of depression and insomnia after her divorce, which led to anxiety attacks. She found her cure for them in the yoga she was taught here two years ago, and now teaches back in Sydney.
"It's strange to think that breathing and moving your body in certain ways can have this profound impact on how you think," she muses. I nod, thinking of how yoga has been a catalyst of sorts during my stay. After the first day I took to it with relative ease and I find that I feel quite at peace after each session. Stretching releases toxins, I am told by the resident yoga doctor, Rajeev Rajesh, and helps release the mind from the constant subconscious focus on illness within the body.
At first, my mind is rather quiet, but on the fourth day during the meditation that follows yoga, I find myself accosted by a barrage of thoughts. Being told that meditation involves calm stillness, I try to push them out of the way. Giving in, I find myself thinking about the concept of forgiveness. I have been struggling with a close family relationship for years - anger, Dr Rajesh tells me, is toxic to the solar plexus chakra, which directly affects the liver. It dawns on me during my yoga session that forgiveness can be as simple as trusting that a higher power, whatever that may be, takes care of injustice, freeing me from its constant burden. When I leave for my treatments I feel like a weight has been lifted off my chest. As Dr Rajesh tells me when I relate the experience to him, the simplicity of the act of forgiveness holds the key to great change. He may be right. Meanwhile, I've lost three inches in seven days and while Dr Bharathi tells me most of it is water weight, flushed out by the diuretic effects of the mud packs and ayurvedic massages, she says that if I stick to the diet and yoga I'll be able to sustain it. Since moving back from Dubai two years ago I've been unable to lose the stone I put on while there and while I don't think I can maintain a primarily raw diet of fruit and vegetables with no salt, I do intend to stick to the yoga. I've become better at performing kriya, yogic exercises that increase lung capacity, making breathing correctly during yoga easier. While the kriya - which involves pouring water through one nostril and out the other - sounded gruesome at first, it turned out to be the one I enjoy the most.
The experience here at Jindal seems to be polarising, as are the opinions on the place. Maybe this is because Jindal in many ways is the quintessential Indian experience - part Ayurveda spa, part quack therapy, part spiritual retreat and completely subjective. Visitors seem to love or hate it, with little room for middle ground; the former manifest in fervent believers who return every year, the latter in once burned, twice shy patients who revert to the Western school of medicine and never look back. What sets Jindal apart from other Ayurvedic institutes around Bangalore is its focus on treating both body and mind, which their doctors claim leads to exponentially quicker results.
Perhaps the best way to determine Jindal's benefits lies in the results, or lack thereof. Mine include inch loss, brighter skin and an introduction to what I hope will be a permanent relationship with yoga, which I've been told increases the liver's immunity, with a revelation or two thrown in for good measure.
Jindal Naturecure Institute (www.jindalnaturecure.org) is a 40-minute drive from the city centre. Executive double rooms start at US$53 (Dh195) per night. Deluxe rooms sleeping four start at $167 (Dh613) per night, not including taxes. Most treatments are free; however, some carry a nominal fee. Return flights from Dubai to Bangalore on Emirates (www.emirates.com) cost from $353 (Dh1,295), including taxes.