Ayurveda Panchakarma – Balance from the Inside Out – “Restore your body, mind, and spirit to a natural state of balance.”
By Denise O’Dunn, CAP, LMT, E-RYT500
Ayurveda is India’s 5,000 year old system of health and longevity. Ayurveda is the Science of Life. Panchakarma is the traditional Ayurvedic cleansing, rejuvenating and balancing program for your body, mind and spirit. Panchakarma means “five actions”. According to the Vedic texts, the formula for optimal wellbeing is good digestion, efficient elimination, harmony between your mind, senses and consciousness, and a natural balance of the elemental energies of your being. These elemental energies are called Doshas.
Ayurveda explains that your natural state of balance and wellbeing can be challenged by rhythms that occur in nature, like seasonal changes. Progressive changes related to your time of life also contribute to imbalance. Imbalance is provoked by common and uncommon stressors, unexpressed emotions, emotional loss, excessive living, incorrect diet, etc.
Imbalance weakens your agni, your digestive fire, and weakened Agni leads to the accumulation of ama or toxins. After a time unchecked stressors will dominate one’s life and ama may become deeply embedded in body tissues clogging your srotas. Srotas are your body’s channels of circulation and evacuation. Excess ama will aggravate your body tissues or dhatus. This is how illness overcomes a body: by eventually impeding the flow of prana, the vital life energy.
Ayurveda’s practice of Panchakarma systematically facilitates the removal of ama from your dhatus and redirects ama to the appropriate organs for elimination. Panchakarma utilizes Ayurvedic principals and methods to reduce Doshic excess by correcting ingrained physical, mental and emotional imbalances. The rejuvenating actions of Panchakarma nourish your dhatus and pacify the Doshas, restoring your natural state of wellbeing.
Classical Panchakarma is comprised of cleansing, elimination and reducing methods and rejuvenating, pacifying and strengthening methods. The cleansing methods are called shodhanas and the rejuvenating phase of Panchakarma is called rasayana.
The process of Panchakarma helps to unveil your natural wisdom, a Universal understanding that reaches beyond the mind, while providing a practical understanding of positive options and healthful behavior that can be applied in your daily life.
The Three Stages
Classical Panchakarma is divided into three phases that each contribute to the balance of the individual: Purvakarma is the preliminary action. Pradhanakarma is the principle action. Pashchatkarma is the final action.
Purvakarma consists of preparatory methods to soften, release, and mobilize impaired Doshas and ama from peripheral tissues of your body. Purvakarma begins while you are still at home. You will modify your diet and daily activities to ready your body and mind for your Panchakarma program. Purvakarma includes the procedures of snehana which is the internal and external application of oil, and svedhana, which is sweating through heat or steam. These processes are used to prepare your body for the detoxifying actions that occur during the primary stages of Panchakarma.
Snehana is a deliberate process of saturating the dhatus or tissues with oils and ghee (clarified butter). The oils and ghee are specially prepared for you with Dosha specific herbs. The unctuous substances used in snehana soften and nourish the dhatus. Snehana includes the ingestion of ghee, the internal administration of oil and the external application of oil through massage.
Following snehana is the process of svedhana which uses friction or the direct application of heat or steam to produce sweating. The purpose of svedhana is to continue softening the dhatus (tissues) while dilating the srotas or channels of circulation. This increases the movement of toxins into the gastrointestinal tract. A common method of receiving svedhana is by sweating in a cabinet filled with steam infused with essential oils.
The next step of Panchakarma is called Pradhanakarma. Pradhanakarma is the primary cleansing stage of Panchakarma. It is important for your digestive system to rest while it is being cleansed, so during this phase you are served a simple mono-diet, consisting of pure, organic, Dosha specific and easily digestible foods.
In Pradhanakarma any or all of the five principal actions can be used to facilitate the movement and evacuation of your body’s accumulated excesses. These traditional procedures include:
w Basti which is an herbal enema that uses a mixture of various herbal teas and oils to flush your intestinal tract of loosened ama or toxins and excess Doshas.
w Nasya, or nasal cleansing, uses herbal oils or powders to move accumulations in the nose, throat and sinuses, out through your nasal passages.
w Virechana is the cleansing of the gastrointestinal tract using herbal laxatives.
w Vamana is the ingesting of specially prepared herbal mixtures that provoke therapeutic vomiting to remove excess mucous and Doshas from your lungs and stomach.
w Raktamoksha is herbal blood cleansing that can include “bloodletting” in the form of a blood donation. In Raktamoksha, you take herbal preparations to clear your blood of ama and excess Doshas that have been absorbed into the bloodstream from the gastrointestinal tract.
Though all five procedures have their rationale, not all five procedures are required in each Panchakarma program. Panchakarma is designed on an individual basis with consideration of the specific purpose and benefit of each Ayurvedic action.
After your body is effectively clear of impurities, you begin to restore the natural balance of your Doshas through Pashchatkarma. Pashchatkarma is a nourishing and strengthening process that rebuilds your body’s newly cleansed dhatus/tissues. It is now that you establish strong digestive enzymes or agni; your immune system or ojas is fortified, and your prana, your body’s vital energy is strengthened.
This course begins by gradually returning to a more nutritive diet. Pashchatkarma uses rejuvenating treatments and herbal products to establish your balanced state. You receive instructions on how to live well on a daily basis to support the transforming process of Panchakarma, this is called dincharya. The rebuilding measures of Pashchatkarma continue in the weeks that follow your Panchakarma experience as you continue the healthful and balanced lifestyle of Ayurveda.
The next step is Pradhanakarma, the deeper cleansing procedures of Panchakarma. As mentioned before, these procedures are selected on an individual basis: Basti, herbal enemas; Nasya, nasal cleansing; Virechana, cleansing of the gastrointestinal tract using herbal laxatives; Vamana, therapeutic vomiting; Raktamoksha, herbal blood cleansing. Pradhanakarma completes the detoxifying process of Panchakarma.
Pashchatkarma is the rejuvenation stage of Panchakarma. Pashchatkarma brings your body, mind and emotions back to a stable, harmonious state. This final step of Panchakarma includes luxurious treatments that enliven your sensory awareness and heighten your overall experience. You emerge from your Panchakarma experience deeply transformed and prepared to greet your life with a positive approach and renewed consciousness.
Ancient and Modern Panchakarma
We understand, through the ancient Vedic texts, that the holy sages of India perceived methods for purification and rejuvenation to remove the origins of suffering. The practice of Panchakarma was developed originally for royalty to promote their optimal health and long life. Based on this tradition, Ayurveda recommends that one receives Panchakarma during the transition between seasons, so that one can be cleansed and balanced of the prior season’s excesses before the start of the next season.
Everyone, especially those who suffer from seasonal allergies, could certainly benefit from this established timetable, however, receiving Panchakarma annually or even every couple of years is a very positive step to ensure balance throughout your lifetime. No longer reserved for royalty, we offer Panchakarma with practical consideration for modern schedules and daily demands.
The ancient principals and methods of Panchakarma are even more relevant today as contemporary society has introduced a host of new stressors that challenge the delicate balance of the Doshas or elemental energies. Honor your essential Doshic balance by participating in the necessary luxury of Panchakarma to support your overall wellbeing and longevity.
- Agni digestive fire or enzymes
- Ama toxins
- Ayurveda “science of life” – a way of living based on natural law
- Baspa Svedhana aromatherapy steam treatment
- Basti herbal enemas
- Dhatus tissues of the body
- Dincharya proper daily regimen
- Dosha elemental energies or dynamic forces of nature
- Garshana dry massage or brisk rubbing action
- Ghee clarified butter
- Nasya herbal nasal cleansing
- Ojas essence of immunity
- Panchakarma “five actions” – system of cleansing and rejuvenation
- Pashchatkarma “final actions” – post-PK methods
- Pradhanakarma “principle actions” – PK deep cleansing methods
- Prakriti original body/mind constitution
- Prana vital life energy
- Purvakarma “preliminary actions” – pre-PK methods
- Raktamoksha blood cleansing
- Rasayana rejuvenating/pacifying/strengthening methods
- Shirodhara constant flow of oil to the head
- Shodhana cleansing/eliminating/reducing methods
- Snehana internal and external application of oil
- Srotas channels of circulation and evacuation
- Svedhana sweating through heat or steam
- Vamana therapeutic vomiting
- Vikriti current physical, mental, and emotional state
- Virechana induced purgation