Panchakarma is the most famous detoxification process of Ayurveda. This special treatment was prescribed in ancient Vedic scriptures and has been practiced in India for many centuries. Panchakarma can be divided into two words: "Pancha" meaning five and "Karma" meaning actions. Hence, panchakarma consists of five natural methods towards detoxification and rejuvenation. According to Ayurveda, excess Ama (toxins) formation in the body is the cause of all diseases. When Agni or the digestive fire becomes weak, the food that we eat does not get digested. Some of the indigested, half-metabolised and unabsorbed food begins to circulate in the body and becomes toxic causing Ama, which in turn causes disease. Ayurveda uses two main ways to treat and cure diseases:
- Shamana: In this type of therapy, palliative methods are used to treat a condition. These can be herbs, food, exercise, and lifestyle / daily routine.
- Shodhana: This type of therapy helps to eliminate Ama and excess Doshas from the body and restores balance. Panchakarma is categorised as a Shodhana therapy.
Panchakarma is divided into three phases:
- Purva Karma - the preparation stage
- Pradhana Karma - the main procedure
- Pashaat Karma - post-procedure
During the preparation phase, excess Doshas and Ama are drawn into the digestive system. To make this happen internal and external therapies are administered. These therapies include internal intake of ghee and massages with medicated oils. During this stage, the person's diet is regulated to suit the panchakarma protocol.
Once excess Doshas and Ama are collected in the digestive system, the five main actions are administered to eliminate them from the body. This phase contains the five main therapies, which are:
- Vamana - therapeutic vomiting. It helps to remove excess Kapha Dosha. Indications for this therapy include chronic cough, asthma, respiratory conditions, diabetes, obesity, low agni.
- Virechana - therapeutic purgation. This helps to remove excess Pitta Dosha. Indications include skin disorders, chronic fevers, conditions of liver and spleen, diabetes, jaundice and other conditions associated with excess Pitta.
- Basti - medicated enemas. There are two types of basti - decoction and oil. Both enemas can be given alternatively to remove excess Vata Dosha. Indications for this treatment are constipation, fibromyalgia and general aches and pains in the body, arthritis and other Vata conditions.
- Nasya - intranasal therapy. This involves application of medicated oils into each nostril to remove excess Kapha Dosha accumulated in the head and neck region. Indications include sinusitis, breathing problems, rhinitis, eye and throat conditions, headaches, migraines, parkinsons disease and emotional stress.
- Raktamokshana - bloodletting. In olden days leeches were used to remove excess blood from the body which in turn removes excess Pitta Dosha from the body. Nowadays blood can be removed with a needle and a syringe. Indications include acne, chronic skin disoders, eczema, abscess, gout.
During the administration of the above therapies, the patient follows a specific diet. Food should be warm, nourishing, light and easily digestible. Strenuous physical activities, late nights, alcohol, smoking etc. must be avoided.
During this phase, one gradually starts to follow normal lifestyle including food intake, daily lifestyle, exercises etc. Certain herbs and herbal remedies are prescribed to complete the rejuvenation process in the body. The common herbs given during this stage are Ashwagandha, Brahmi, Shatavari, Pippali. The aim of this phase is to build up the body after elimination of excess Doshas, to rest the body and mind, and to administer medicines as follow up.
Benefits of Panchakarma
- Cleared toxins from the entire system
- Balanced Doshas
- Healed digestive system
- Enhanced immunity
- Decreased stress
- Improved skin lustre
- Weight-loss (if overweight)
- Deep relaxation
- Meditative outlook on life
- Enhanced mindfulness
So, who needs Panchakarma?
Practically everyone can benefit from a panchakarma procedure because the body is constantly creating toxins. That is why it is important to cleanse and detox the body regularly. These are the signs to know if you need a detox:
- A thick layer of coating on the tongue
- Feeling tired throughout the day, especially after meals
- Body aches and pains
- Uncontrollable cravings
- Foggy mind
- Bad breath, body odour, or flatulence
- Constipation or diarrhoea
Certain Panchakarma procedures are not suitable for certain health problems and some procedures should not be performed on children, pregnant women, and the elderly.
Panchakarma treatments should only be performed by qualified and experienced Ayurvedic practitioners.
Side effects of Panchakarma
Common side effects of Panchakarma include fatigue, malaise, headaches, congestion, and general illness. An initial increase in the symptoms may also occur as a side effect.