A few nights ago, a friend in school commented that my face was glowing and that I looked calm. I said, “Thank you! It’s the reward of panchakarma.” Ayurveda teaches us that for optimal health, it is essential to maintain a strong digestive fire, agni, and dispose of toxins, ama, from the body. Panchakarma is a natural treatment that detoxifies and reinstates the body’s inner balance and energy.
The pandemic has taken a toll on our health. We can all agree, right? Between losing a sense of security and safety, to seeing loved ones die/struggle from getting the virus, these past couple of years have been traumatic. Throw job losses, small businesses closing, environmental hazards, racial injustice, political chaos, wars, and isolation into the mix. We have all lived with a degree of uncertainty and internalized stress. Most of us have indulged in some form of mindless eating, drinking or TV-watching. When we can’t digest our food, experiences, emotions, and feelings properly, toxins accumulate in our bodily tissues. This causes an imbalance and eventually makes us sick. We all need to purge stored toxins and re-establish the body’s natural healing. That is why, a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I took a week off work and other commitments to get panchakarma done.
What is Panchakarma?
Panchakarma is essentially a detoxification program. Pancha in Sanskrit means “five,” and karma means “action.” So panchakarma to five different purifying and rejuvenating procedures in Ayurveda. Each treatment is customized and may take as little as 7 days or last up to 21 days. The Ayurvedic doctor asked us to go on a mono-diet of khichdi and drink some herbal tea. No dairy, no sugar, no animal products (barring ghee). We fasted, took Ayurvedic herbs, and ate ghee to aggravate and liquefy the fat-soluble toxins deposited in the deep tissues.
The Three Steps of Panchkarma
1. Poorva karma: In simple words, this is the prep work you do before the actual purification begins. There is a need to prepare the body with prescribed methods to encourage it to let go of the toxins. Snehana and swedana are the two procedures. Snehana (warm oil massage) and swedana (is sudation or sweating, a treatment given immediately after snehana. Swedana liquefies the toxins and increases the movement of toxins into the gastrointestinal tract.
2. Pradhan karma: This is a five-step procedure that can only be done under the guidance of an Ayurvedic practitioner. It is highly individualized and is part of the intense panchakarma procedure. During the five days of stay, the Ayurvedic practitioners met with us at the Panchakarma Center and determined what treatments we needed based on our vikruti or doshic imbalances, health history, strength of digestive fire, immunity, our age, and other curative needs and factors.
Panchakarma uses five methods or therapies to detoxify the body: vamana (therapeutic vomiting or emesis), virechana (purgation), nasya (nasal irrigation), basti (herbalized enema), and raktamokshana (bloodletting). The particular panchakarma method is prescribed according to the individual’s constitution and disorder – prakruti and vikruti, respectively. You don’t do all five shodhana (cleansing) therapies. In the United States, vamana isn’t practiced. Raktamokshana can look like donating blood.
3. Paschaat karma: This means after-care. Towards the end of the stay, the Ayurvedic doctor shared diet and lifestyle suggestions for our post-panchakarma lives, as we acclimatized into the “real world.” She met with us individually and made suggestions for rejuvenating treatments, therapy, lifestyle management, diet management, intake of herbal supplements, etc.
The simple meals, Ayurvedic massages and treatments, kind company, and disconnection from responsibilities was incredibly healing. One night, I slept for 11 hours and felt that was exactly what my body needed. Turning inward and listening to what we each needed was therapeutic, unlike being on an agenda and in hustle mode.
A Few Benefits of Panchakarma
- Purifies the body
- Removes toxins
- Speeds up metabolism
- Weight reduction
- Enhances the strength of agni
- Relaxes the mind and body
- Boosts immunity
- Lowers stress
- Rejuvenates tissues
- Heart feels lighter
- Dissipates brain fog
- Recalibrates the palate
- Gives one a restful and rejuvenating break
- Reduces dependence on alcohol, tobacco and other drugs
- Slows aging
Because of the intense nature of these treatments, it’s highly recommended that you find a qualified Ayurvedic doctor you trust to administer them. You don’t know how your body is going to respond to detoxification. There were days I was shivering. On others, I wore a tank top. While my husband had sugar cravings, I battled terrible headaches without my cup of Earl Grey with little milk. Also, the heat trapped inside my body (courtesy of an India trip and high stress) finally found an outlet.
I started with breakouts but, slowly, as the toxins exited my body, healing began. These were the visible toxins. On a mental level, we felt so peaceful. Our nervous system is in perpetual assault mode these days, between work, TV, phone calls, news, and other means of communication. It was a blessing to turn inward and pay attention to what each of us was feeling. There is something to be said about your mind and body being in sync. It helps that my husband and I love being in nature.
Who Is Panchakarma For?
Whether people are dealing with major diseases or looking to maintain their health (like us) or prevent diseases, everyone needs panchakarma. There are a few exceptions – pregnant women, those who are menstruating, emaciated people, children, elderly, and those battling certain diseases. Just because you don’t have a serious disease (or one that hasn’t been identified yet), it doesn’t guarantee good health. Panchakarma helps prevent diseases before they manifest in the body. You have the choice to live more mindfully.
Panchakarma takes commitment: financial, mental, emotional, and physical. I am not suggesting that you write off your steak and scotch vacations or stop sipping margaritas on the beach while biting into a lobster roll. But make sure you also hold space for your wellbeing. Ama is dangerous. It wreaks havoc inside your body, in your mind, and in your emotions. You don’t want it sticking around. Panchakarma can yield incredible health rewards. It reignites agni (our inner, digestive fire). Our natural state is one of health, happiness, and an inner sense of well-being. This can be only achieved when our body is clear of toxins, mind is at peace, emotions are calm and happy, body wastes are efficiently eliminated, and the organs are functioning normally. Panchakarma helps to keep everything running smoothly and efficiently in our mind and body, like a well-oiled machine.
“Because we cannot scrub our inner body we need to learn a few skills to help cleanse our tissues, organs, and mind. This is the art of Ayurveda” ~ Sebastian Pole
Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are looking for advice from a trained Ayurvedic coach, contact me here.