Panchakarma is the traditional Ayurvedic method of detoxifying, purifying and rejuvenating the body by ridding it of ama, or toxins that have accumulated in the body. Ama may be experienced as fatigue and heaviness and can most easily be identified as a thick coating on the tongue, according to Vasant Lad, founder and director of the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Ama is considered the root cause of disease in the Ayurvedic medicine, so getting rid of it through five(pancha) actions (karma) allows the body to heal and function at optimal levels.
Panchakarma is traditionally a 21 to 28-day process that consists of preparing the body for purification, the actual purification, and then rebuilding the body. It should leave you feeling physically good, calm and balanced. There are several places in the U.S. and Canada where you can go through panchakarma by starting at home, going to the center for treatment (usually a three or five day minimum), then continuing the process at home.
Panchakarma is not “one-size-fits-all” but a regimen that is created for the individual, based on his or her specific constitution and condition in mind. Ideally it is overseen by a properly trained medical staff.
Panchakarma In America and Canada
In the U.S. or Canada you usually start by filling out an application with information on your health status and have a phone consultation. This will determine your issues and suitability for panchakarma, which requires a certain amount of strength. “If you’re 5′ 10″ and weigh 102 pounds, you’re not a good candidate,” says Allison Bransfield Morse of The Ayurvedic Center of Vermont in Williston. Also recommended by Dr. Claudia Welch, it offers a guided home cleanse, a one-day panchakarma experience, and programs that last three, five, seven or ten days at the center. This is how Morse structures her four-step panchakarma program.
Panchakarma Step One
You begin at home by cleaning up your diet (goodbye caffeine, sugar, white flour and alcohol) and starting the oleation process. For three to five days you drink a small amount of ghee (clarified butter) which lubricates the body’s internal channels, allowing ama to begin to move toward the gastrointestinal tract for elimination. You may also massage yourself with medicated oils (starting the external oleation process), take specified herbs and learn gentle yoga and breathing techniques.
Panchakarma Step Two
When you are actually at the panchakarma center, you eat a bland diet of kitchari (mung bean or lentil and rice stew) and receive daily treatments. Most important is a special warm oil massage such as abyhanga that encourages the loosened ama to move towards the G.I. tract, followed by a steam bath, swedana, with your head sticking out of the cabinet. You are also encouraged to rest and do gentle yoga. Stay away from “mental toxins” by giving the TV and phone a rest. You also get treatments like shirodhara, which is pacifying to the mind.
Panchakarma Step Three
Traditionally after three to seven days the body is ready to eliminate the toxins that have accumulated in the digestive tract. This is where the “five actions” come in, but only a few are used in the United States. The Ayurvedic Center of Vermont uses virechana (laxative therapy with herbs), basti (an enema with medicated oil)and nasya (oils clear the sinus passage).
Panchakarma Step Four
Rejuvenation, or rasayana, helps the body restore its strength after the ama has been removed. This is done at home and generally includes food, herbal recommendations, appropriate exercise, and a treatment plan to maintain your balance through the seasons.
Dr. Lad says that panchakarma should only be done by individuals of sufficient strength, and should be avoided by pregnant women. He also cautions panchakarma can start releasing “unresolved past emotions such as grief, sadness, fear, or anger, along withe the built-up ama and excess doshas.” Morse says that many people like to do panchakarma once a year because they feel better and better as there is less built-up ama to expel. “But first you have to get through the sludge”.