The Truth About Panchakarma
Feeling sluggish, depressed, unmotivated? Having difficulty with emotional issues, digestion or concentration? You may benefit dramatically from panchakarma: detoxifying through Ayurveda. Panchakarma (translated as five cleansing actions in Sanskrit) is a gentle, yet profound purification therapy, designed to reduce the body of toxins (and balance doshic function), which cause disease and discomfort. Feeling good already? Panchakarma is supreme for disease prevention and life extension and is the heart of healing with Ayurvedic medicine.
When the energetic forces known as vata, pitta, and kapha get out of balance, it lowers our digestive fire (agni), and toxins (ama) are created. The ama enters into the blood stream, clogging the channels, and lodges into joints, muscles, organs, and reproductive tissue, etc. This is detrimental to our prana (life-force or energy), tejas (metabolic energy), and ojas (immunity).
When using Ayurveda to heal, we can choose palliative care—which includes diet, meditation, yoga, pranayama, herbs, etc.—and/or take a deeper path and commit to a thorough cleanse/detox. Cleansing enables us to get to the root of imbalances—rather than reducing symptoms—and has the ability to heal chronic conditions.
For thousands of years, Ayurveda has emphasized that the stress created by our minds directly affects the gastrointestinal tract, causing inflammation and slow digestion, ultimately creating ama. The ama causes us to hold on to emotionally-driven habits that ultimately lead to disease and imbalance. Detoxing with panchakarma allows us to unravel these patterns, increase our energy and mental clarity, and move forward with our dharma and our dreams. Panchakarma resets digestion and allows the body to do what it’s supposed to—detox naturally.
What to Expect
When going to a panchakarma clinic in the United States, you can expect to prepare for at least one week before treatment begins, spend at least one week in a clinic, and take a minimum of a week to slowly wean off the process. We like to think of it as a three-week commitment, before beginning a rejuvenation process that can take months. Your preparation week will require you to eliminate any vices, including caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and processed foods. You will follow a simple mono-diet of kitchari, a traditional Ayurvedic dish of mung beans (dhal), basmati rice, vegetables, ghee, and classic Indian spices—which is the heartbeat of this ritual. Top it off with some cilantro, coconut and lime, and you have a delicious, easy-to-digest meal. You may be encouraged to ingest ghee orally to loosen up the sticky ama and “ripen” bodily tissues and to take light cleansing herbs to begin the ama scraping process. Most clients say that just the preparation week makes them feel completely revitalized.
The magic really begins when you enter a supportive and slow environment. A residential stay of at least 5-7 days is ideal, which will include a kitchari diet that is prepared daily for you. Each day will begin with a gentle yoga, pranayama, and meditation class. Treatments vary depending on the focus of your cleanse, but may include abhyanga, which is an ancient Ayurvedic massage performed by a synchronized team of two therapists. Warm, herb-infused oils are prepared specifically for you, penetrating the tissues, loosening the ama from cell and tissue structures and preparing the excess doshas to head back to their homes—the GI tract. Abhyanga draws out impurities and improves immunity by increasing lymphatic circulation. Next you may receive swedana, which is an herbal steam treatment given in a specialized heat chamber. Moist heat and essential oils encourage the mobilization of toxins throughout the body for elimination through the sweat glands. You will come out feeling light and clean. To put the finishing touch on your daily treatments, you may receive shirodhara, a profoundly meditative treatment of warm herbal oil poured slowly in a continuous stream to the third eye. Shirodhara promotes a sense of deep relaxation, calms the central nervous system, and synchronizes thought waves. Each day will end with a consultation to monitor your progress and guide you through a safe and supportive retreat. Activity will be limited to gentle yoga, mindful nature walks, journaling, and spiritual reading.
The above treatment protocol is designed to loosen the ama that adheres to the channels of our bodies, wreaking havoc. Once the ama is loose, it returns back into the blood stream and flows to the GI tract for removal. Towards the end of your program, when your body is ripe and ready to divulge, your practitioner may recommend one or more of the five karmas or cleansing actions, which may include:
Basti—enema therapy, to eliminate excess vata.
Virechana—purgation, to eliminate excess pitta.
Nasya—elimination of toxins through the nose, to eliminate excess kapha.
Vamana—therapeutic vomiting, to eliminate excess kapha.
Rakta Moksha—detoxification of the blood, to eliminate excess pitta.
Most often basti, gentle herbal tea enemas, are given in a series, or virechana, herbs taken orally for purgation, are “prescribed” to release the impurities and excess doshas that are now loose. Ahhhh, the difference you will feel is amazing. As your body gets rid of the excess, you will feel inspired, your senses will become enlivened, your body will become more youthful and flexible, and your mind will begin to perceive reality more precisely, which ultimately leads to healing.
Ayurveda recommends cleansing at the junction of the seasons. Fall is a perfect time to experience panchakarma.
Having witnessed thousands of clients go through this process, I find it works best when repeated yearly. There is an unbelievable evolution of healing that takes place allowing emotional blocks and longstanding issues to unravel, creating a path to focus on spiritual awakening.
The panchakarma process is not to be taken lightly and stems from a deep tradition that should be honored in a safe and authentic way. This program is not for everyone, and requires recommendation and supervision by a well-trained Ayurvedic practitioner.
Manifesting our own internal purification creates a vibration of healing that ripples out to our families, communities, and beyond, ultimately benefiting the entire universe.