Panchakarma is the ayurvedic program for detoxification and rejuvenation. “Pancha” means five; “karma” means action or therapeutic measures, referring to the five principal therapeutic measures (e.g. oil massage) used to detoxify and nourish the body. Panchakarma is a holistic healing modality which acts to improve the overall wellness of your body, mind, emotions and level of consciousness.
How Does Panchakarma Work?
Panchakarma works to release physical, emotional and mental toxins (called ama) at the cellular level. Ama accumulation can naturally occur throughout our lives as a result of several factors including poor diet, improper digestion, incorrect lifestyle habits, stress, fast-paced living, environmental pollutants, undigested emotions and/or genetic weakness. Ama depletes the expression of light and vitality in our body-mind. It makes us dull and reduces our overall quality of life, energy levels and emotional fulfillment.
When ama accumulates in one particular part of the body (e.g. the lower back, mental stress, in the joints, in the skin, nervous system), it causes pain or other health symptoms and may eventually lead to disease.
In the process of panchakarma, therapeutic treatments (e.g. oil massage, shirodhara), as well as herbs, diet and lifestyle recommendations are used to support a holistic approach to your overall wellness. Your ayurvedic program is designed to support your body’s individualized needs, considering the state of balance of your doshas, any genetic predispositions and/or any physical disease or bodily pain.
Panchakarma can be done for 3, 7, 14, or 30 days, depending on your needs, budget and availability. For example, your program could include several days of daily massage, steam baths, shirodhara (an ayurvedic treatment for the mind and nervous system), compresses and/or other ayurvedic treatments determined by your practitioner. During the process, it is best to take extra rest and observe a light and simple diet.
The Benefits of Panchakarma
Panchakarma is a safe, beautiful, nourishing process to both remove the accumulation of ama in the body and to restore your natural state of wellness. Panchakarma allows your body to remember how to heal itself.
The benefits of panchakarma include:
- Greater immunity, vitality and strength (increases ojas);
- Improves and regulates the major systems of the body, including the digestive and nervous systems;
- Reduces stress levels; improves mental calm and clarity;
- Reduces insomnia, anxiety, depression, irritability, anger and/or mental agitation;
- Increases skin’s glow and luster;
- Revitalizes sexual function and/or low libido (e.g. can be done before conceiving a child)
- Reduces dependency on external stimulants (alcohol, coffee, sugar drugs) (increases natural energy);
- Reduces the aging process;
- Can be used to prevent and treat more complex health issues;
- Supports the transformation of consciousness.
When Is the Best Time To Do Panchakarma?
The natural world reorders itself at the junctures of Spring and Fall, providing a window to rebalance and restore the health of the body.
- At Spring (Kapha season), ama that has built up over the winter starts to melt with the snow and be released into the subtle channels of the body. This “spring cleaning effect” can leave you feeling heavy, congested, lethargic, depressed or simply in need of a change of lifestyle.
- At Fall (Vata season), the body naturally moves inward as the weather becomes cooler and dryer. Vata dosha increases the need for containment, nourishment, warmth and grounding at this time of year. You may experience a rise in fear, anxiety, nervousness, digestive issues (e.g. constipation) and/or insomnia.
Panchakarma at spring or fall supports your body’s overall health and immunity for the year to come. Summer and Winter months are not considered optimal times for panchakarma (or any cleansing or dieting), since your body is naturally building its reserves and nourishing tissues for the rest of the year. Exceptions can be made in certain cases.
The One-Day Ayurvedic Detox Diet or the healing dish kicharee can be used at any time of the year to bring balance to the body-mind or to deal will stress or illness.
Who Can Do Panchakarma?
Panchakarma is not recommended for the very elderly, children or pregnant women.
Those with health complications or a high level of toxins should always seek the guidance of an ayurvedic doctor or therapist. Panchakarma is not intended to replace medical advice; please discuss any dietary change with your doctor before beginning any new health regimen.
Preparing For Your First Panchakarma
If you are interested in working with an ayurvedic practitioner, I would recommend checking out some of the resources below. Before you begin your program, you will normally set up a meeting with your practitioner to discuss your needs, availability and affordability. This is especially recommended if you have any health conditions or if you are working toward specific health goals.
Remember that panchakarma is a powerful process, supported by your daily routines throughout the year. If you are new to ayurveda, you may wish to start by focusing on small, gradual changes in diet and lifestyle (e.g. one day cleanse, triphala, kicharee, self-massage, exercise) before committing to a larger cleanse.
Sebastian Peralta, Viveda Ottawa : Ayurveda Practitioner & Therapies: http://www.ottawaayurveda.com
Satkiana Shaw, Ayurvedic Practitioner & Energy Healer : firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Shamna Prajith, Ayurvedic Doctor (based in Kerala, India) : http://dhanwanthariayurveda.com/ (offers online ayurvedic consultations)
The Book of Taste: Self-Test To Know Your Level of Toxins