Panchakarma is a time-proven natural therapy that not only detoxifies the body but also restores its inner balance and vitality.
The body has the innate ability to efficiently process and remove waste materials, including the vitiated (excess) doshas. However, due to an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, lifestyle, and (in relation to some diseases) a genetic predisposition, the body’s internal homeostasis system’s such as the digestive enzymes, the hormones, metabolic co-factors and Agnis, can become disorganized. This can lead to the accumulation and spread of toxins throughout the physiology, resulting in disease.
In Ayurveda Agni is the fire which equates to the force of intelligence within every cell, tissue and system of the body. It is thought that when Agni is out of balance and impaired, it is the root and cause of all diseases. This is a topic all of its own and will be expanded on in another article. But for now, let’s continue with Panchakarma.
All Panchakarma treatments begin with an initial consultation with a qualified Ayurveda doctor. During this consultation, the doctor will determine the Prakruti (Body Type) of the patient, discuss present health conditions, understand the past medical history of the individual and plan an appropriate treatment programme.
Phases of Panchakarma
Three Phases of Panchakarma are:
- Purva Karma: Preparation of our body for the main procedure. For eg Ghee intake, massage & steam before Virechana.
- Pradhan Karma: The main Procedure, and in the case of Virechana, the actual procedure takes place on the last day when the patient passes out toxins through stools.
- Paschat Karma: This is post detox diet. After a strenuous Virechana, our body is not able to take heavy foods as our digestive capacity, Agni, becomes weak. So the special diet and rest what we follow is called as Paschat Karma.
After a patient has received Panchakarma there is a post karma called Paschat Karma which is the implementation of a change in lifestyle. This includes, amongst other things, dietary habits that support and maintain the effects of Panchakarma. If the suggested lifestyle and diet are adhered to, then the effects of Panchakarma will be far longer lasting and in many cases permanent.
Before the actual Panchakarma begins Purva Karma is necessary to prepare the body for detoxification, which in turn facilitates the body to release the toxins efficiently and with more ease. Purva Karma helps to mobilize and liquify the waste products from the tissues and to move them towards the intestines.
Snehan (oil massage) and Svedan (herbal steam therapy) are the two main Purva karmas required before the major Panchakarma procedure begins.
Snehan softens the body and breaks down toxins. This is done with oil massage and the intake of ghee.
The patient is given a prescribed amount of a medicated clarified butter/ ghee, known as Ghrita, to ingest on a daily basis for anything from 3 – 7 days. This is followed by a full body massage using a medicated oil known as Thaila. In this way the body is lubricated both within and without to encourage and enable the breaking down and softening of toxic materials. The oil massage and intake of ghee lead to a much easier and less aggressive release of toxins.
The doctor decides the type of oil needed for the external massage and also any medications to be used in the oil. This is based on the ayurvedic body type (Prakruti) and / or the symptoms that the patient is presenting. During the external massage the oil is massaged into the body in a very specific, symmetrical and rhythmic way. This is traditionally done by two therapists, each massaging one side of the patient. It is important that the therapists are able to massage the patient in unison with each other and with equal pressure. In this way the experience to the patient is that of being massaged by one person.
Swedan is the application of heat to the body thus causing sweating or fomentation. (Fomentation, aka Swedan in Ayurvedic terms is a procedure where in the patient is exposed to heat (Dry/Moist) so there is sweating in the body. This sweating aids in melting toxins from different parts of the body and encourage the movement towards the gastro-intestinal tract for further release.
For Eg: Seating in steam chamber after a oil massage is fomentation.)
This procedure helps to melt the toxins and encourage the movement towards the gastrointestinal tract for release.
There are many different types of Swedan. The patient will be prescribed the type that is appropriate to his / her body type and the condition that the patient is presenting. However, the most common sweat therapy used is a steam bath. This involves the patient being fully enclosed within a wooden chamber infused with an herbal medicated steam. It is important to note that due to the sensitive organs of the head, it remains outside of the enclosure.
After a period of 3 to 7 days of internal and external oleation, followed by the sweat therapy, the body is ready for detoxification.
There are five forms of detoxification each type relating to a particular part and organs of the body. This is known as Panchakarma and translates to ‘five actions’, the ayurvedic doctor will decide which is the relevant detoxification procedure/s for the patient and also the herbs that are necessary to assist in the detoxification process.
Before we go into the five actions (procedures) that make up Panchakarma, it is interesting to note that whilst each of these actions is often used in the elimination of disease due to the release of the accumulation of toxins, they are also wonderful procedures to be used as a preventative to disease. When they are used in this way, each procedure of Panchakarma is given to the patient in a certain season. Indeed, each specific procedure relates and equates to the season in which it is given. When Panchakarma is used in this way it acts not only as a wonderful rejuvenation and regeneration for the body, but also safeguards the patient from developing seasonal related infections or viruses.
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Five Panchakarma procedures - actions
- Basti – Medicated, Herbal enemas
- Virechan – Induced medicated purgation
- Raktamokshan – Blood letting
- Vaman - Induced medicated vomiting (emesis)
- Nasyam – Nasal cleansing