Do you wake up in the morning feeling fatigued? Does your stomach often feel bloated and full, even when you are really not eating much? Do you feel you have lost your ability for quick thinking and analysis? Are you constantly run down and stressed out? If a doctor is unable to find anything physically wrong with you, then perhaps it’s just the hectic pace and stress of modern life taking its toll on you. The solution to reviving yourself could well be an Ayurvedic panchakarma treatment.
But what exactly is panchakarma? There are world class Ayurveda spas and centres in Kerala which offer a range of panchakarma treatments to rejuvenate the body, mind and soul. Our Acharya answers some questions on panchakarma to throw greater light on these procedures for our readers.
What is panchakarma?
Acharya: Panchakarma is a Sanskrit word which literally translates to ‘five actions’. As the name itself suggests, there are five procedures involved in the complete panchakarma rejuvenation process. There is also a pre-panchakarma and post-panchakarma code of conduct. The three distinct stages are defined as poorvakarma, pradhanakarma and paschatkarma. The five treatment procedures involved within the pradhanakarma are Vamana, Virechana, two types of Basti (enema) and Nasya (nasal drops).
Was panchakarma prescribed by the ancient practitioners of Ayurveda?
Acharya: The various procedures may have evolved and changed over time in order to suit modern life and living, but panchakarma is nearly a 5000-year old practice of detoxification. There are references to panchakarma in classical texts like Charaka Samhita, Susruta Samhita and Ashtanga Hrudayam. These texts describe in detail the various procedures involved before, during and after panchakarma. There are several sections devoted to when panchakarma should be prescribed, who should be allowed to undergo it, how to individualize or customize it and the ingredients/environment required for the successful completion of the procedure. Certain changes may have been introduced in the panchakarma procedure over time, but the basic aim of detoxification of the body remains unchanged.
Is panchakarma prescribed only for patients suffering from ailments or is detoxification advisable even for healthy individuals?
Acharya: Ayurveda recommends that everybody should undergo a periodic panchakarma treatment. In ancient times, individuals used to undergo panchakarma with the change of seasons. Today, it is mainly prescribed either in case of illness or if an individual is feeling stressed out and under weather. Panchakarma is prescribed even for those who are healthy. This is because the body requires a tune up at regular intervals to function efficiently.
The human body is programmed to efficiently remove wastes and other toxic material. But poor diets lacking in nutrition, stress, disease and unhealthy lifestyles disrupt normal body processes. Toxic materials and other wastes, known as ama build up as the digestive agni falters. Ama is dangerous and needs to be removed via panchakarma. Panchakarma will also correct any imbalances in the doshas.
How is panchakarma different from other detoxification processes?
Acharya: Different medical systems have different detoxification processes. However, panchakarma truly deep-cleans your system in a gentle manner. Panchakarma involves all your senses, thus leaving you with a heightened self-awareness about your body. Since the process is always carried out under the guidance of an experienced therapist, it results in a personal and emotional bonding. During panchakarma the herbs, oils and the steam enter deep into the tissues through our body pores. They work to loosen and liquefy the ama so that it can be purged or evicted in a controlled manner through our organs. The purification is at an intensely deep level indeed; perhaps unmatched by other detoxification processes.
Is it necessary to go through the entire process?
Acharya: The call on the duration and intensity of the panchakarma process will be taken by an experienced practitioner. The entire five steps involved in panchakarma may not be prescribed for every individual. The number of treatments needed for each individual would depend on his health, constitution, age, digestive strength and well being.
What happens in each stage of the panchakarma process?
Acharya: Vamana therapy is used in cases of aggravated Kapha. The Kapha is forced out of the body by induced and controlled vomiting. Four to eight bouts of vomiting are induced using emetics like a decoction of Madanaphala, Pippali and Sarshapa. Virechana is basically purgation that focuses on getting rid of toxins that have built up in the liver, gall bladder and intestinal tract. It describes the process of cleaning the intestines through the use of laxative medicines. Basti or enema therapy removes toxins of Vatta, Pitta and Kapha doshas through the colon. Medicated oil/ghee and herbal decoctions are given as enema to clean the colon. Nasya essentially means administering nasal drops. Medicated oils infused with herbs are administered through the nostril. It is believed to remove the toxins from the head and neck region as the medicine travels to the eyes, ears and throat.
What do the pre and post panchakarma procedures involve?
Acharya: Pre and post panchakarma advice must be strictly followed in order to reap the full benefit of the procedure. You need to take things easy for a couple of weeks before commencing with panchakarma. Your Ayurveda practitioner may ask you to go on a light vegetarian diet and recommend internal oleation (drinking ghee on an empty stomach). Gentle laxatives may be prescribed. Post panchakarma care is critical. You must step up activity levels in a slow and steady manner. There will be a specific diet that has to be strictly followed. A light self massage may also be recommended for a couple of weeks.