By Dr. Sajimon George BAMS. AAA. ATMS
Ayurveda emphasizes preventative and healing therapies along with various methods of purification and rejuvenation.
Ayurveda is more than a mere healing system; it is a science and art of appropriate living which helps to achieve longevity.
It can also guide every individual in the prevention of disease and long term maintenance of health. To achieve this balanced state of body, mind and consciousness, Ayurveda prescribes Panchakarma treatment for the cleansing of body toxins.
What is Panchakarma?
As the name suggests, Pancha in Sanskrit stands for five and Karma is the therapeutic measures, therefore Panchakarma means five types of therapeutic measures. These are undertaken for the purification of the body and Ayurveda considers it necessary before the start of any other therapy.
The logic being that as a cloth needs to be purified or cleaned of impurities and dust before it can be permeated with a new colour; similarly the body needs to be purified before it can be permeated with new colours of youthfulness, health and vigour etc.
In fact, most of the time, Panchakarma is an end in itself rather than a prelude to other therapeutic measures.
The Panchakarma therapy of Ayurveda is comprised of five basic types of advanced treatment for the evacuation of vitiated Dosha (toxic materials) from the body. One can consider this as a body de-tox program.
There are so many subtypes of this therapy and different types of herbal massages, fomentation’s such as steam, external oil treatments, Basti (medicated enemas), Virechana (purgation through herbs), Vamana (emesis through herbs), Nasya (nasal administration of oils) etc. are also incorporated.
These practices are extremely helpful in relieving deep seated diseases as well as being beneficial for maintaining and improving physical and mental health.
Pancha Karma is divided into three phases:
Phase 1 Preparation Phase Purva Karma
The goal of Purva Karma is to prepare the body tissues for the cleansing and release of toxins. One to three weeks before the actual cleansing phase, you eliminate all processed foods, sweets, stimulants such as coffee, and most dairy products from your diet.
One week before the cleansing phase, the diet is further modified, becoming predominantly vegetables and whole grains. These foods, especially the vegetables, create a more alkaline (vs. acid) environment in the body, which supports the cleansing and detox process.
During this preparation phase, a person’s activity shifts to become more internally-focused. This means letting go of some day-to-day activities and spending time meditating and taking walks in nature. Deep breathing, focused on the exhalation phase helps to rid the body of old ideas, emotions, and blockages.
Purvakarma: Pre-purification Measures for Panchakarma
Before the actual operation of purification begins, there is a need to prepare the body in prescribed methods to encourage the release of toxins. The two procedures are Snehana and Swedana.
Snehana (Abyanga) is the oil massage. Oil is applied to the entire body with a particular type of massage which helps the toxins to move towards the gastro-intestinal tract. Oil massage also makes the superficial and deep tissues soft and supple, thus helping to remove stress and to nourish the nervous system. Snehana is given daily for three to seven days, as indicated.
Swedana is sudation or sweating and is given every day immediately following the Snehana. An herbal concoction may be added to the steam to further loosen the toxins from the individual. Swedana liquefies the toxins and increases the movement of toxins into the gastro-intestinal tract.
Phase 2 – The Cleansing Phase – Prdhana Karma
Vamana: Emesis Therapy :-When there is congestion in the lungs causing repeated attacks of bronchitis, colds, cough or asthma, the Ayurvedic treatment is therapeutic vomiting – Vamana, to eliminate the Kapha which is causing the excess mucus.
Virechana: Purgation Therapy: When excess bile, Pitta, is secreted and accumulated in the gall bladder, liver and small intestine, it tends to result in rashes, skin inflammation and acne, chronic attacks of fever, vomiting, nausea and jaundice. Ayurvedic literature suggests in these conditions the administration of therapeutic purgation or a therapeutic laxative.
Nasya: Nasal Administration: The nose is the doorway to the brain and it is also the doorway to consciousness. The nasal administration of medication is called Nasya. An excess of bodily humours accumulated in the sinus, throat, nose or head areas is eliminated by means of the nearest possible opening, the nose.
Basti: Enema Therapy: Vata’s predominant site is the colon. Ayurvedic Basti involves the introduction into the rectum of herbal concoctions of sesame oil, and certain herbal preparations in a liquid medium. Basti is the most effective treatment of Vata disorders, although many enemas over a prescribed period of time are usually required. It relieves constipation, distension, chronic fever, cold, sexual disorders, kidney stones, heart pain, backache, sciatica and other pains in the joints. Many other Vata disorders such as arthritis, rheumatism, gout, muscle spasms and headaches may also be treated with Basti.
Basti therapy is divided in two main types
- Anuvasana Basti – medicated oil enemas and
- Niruha Basti – medicated enema of decoctions and medicated oils.
A cleansing fast is often used during this period.
Phase 3 – The Rejuvenation Phase
During the rejuvenation phase, a person returns to the simple diet of the preparation phase. It is important to do this gradually, by slowly introducing solid foods. On day 1 and day 2 of the rejuvenation phase, begin eating khichadi but change the proportion of water in the recipe to 14 parts water to 1 part rice, 1 part beans, and 1 part vegetables.
On day three follow the Original recipe. Many people find that the most profound healing occurs during the rejuvenation phase. Physical, emotional and spiritual changes may be experienced in the days and weeks to come. Sometimes issues that have been suppressed will surface.
According to Ayurveda, every human being is a unique phenomenon of cosmic consciousness. The three Dosha (humours) determine every individual’s psychosomatic temperament or constitution. Vata (ether plus air), Pitta (fire plus water) and Kapha (water plus earth) are called the Tridosha, meaning the three Dosha.
The internal environment is governed by Vata -Pitta -Kapha (V-P-K), which is constantly reacting to the external environment. The wrong diet, habits, lifestyle, incompatible food combinations (e.g. milk and fish, melons and grain, yogurt and meat or cooked honey etc.), seasonal changes, repressed emotions and stress factors can all act either together or separately to change the balance of V-P-K.
According to the nature of the cause, Vata, Pitta or Kapha undergo aggravation or derangement that produces Ama (toxins). To stop the further production of Ama, Ayurvedic literature suggests placing the patient on a proper diet together with an appropriate lifestyle, habits and exercise, and administering a proper cleansing program such as Panchakarma.
Word of Caution
Panchakarma is a very special Ayurveda treatment requiring proper guidance from a highly trained and skilful Ayurveda practitioner. One should consult with an Ayurveda physician, not just someone with a modest amount of training prior to deciding on these cleansing procedures.
Panchakarma is given individually to each person according to their specific constitution and specific disorder or needs; the treatment requires close observation and supervision.
Why shall I do Panchakarma?
It is recommended not only for diseased people but also for healthy persons as a preventive treatment to keep physically and mentally fit and energetic. It is also given, at the junction period between two seasons, thus helping a person to prepare their internal environment for the oncoming season.