Total Detox: The Ayurvedic Practice of Panchakarma
Panchakarma is a fivefold Ayurvedic detoxification treatment that cleanses the body of accumulated toxins left behind by unhealthy lifestyles choices, inadequate nutrition, or disease.
In Sanskrit, “pancha” means five and “karma” means treatment; a full panchakarma experience includes fives actions, outlined below, designed to clear the doshas and purify the body. Panchakarma was traditionally used as both a seasonal treatment—to overcome the sluggish and stagnant feeling many of us experience in the transition from winter into spring, for example—and as a treatment for acute issues. Its overall aim is to help people move towards a sense of wholeness and well-being. A full course of treatment can take place over weeks or several days, and some practitioners recommend cleansing annually.
Panchakarma 101: The Three Stages of Treatment
Stage One: Purva Karma
The first stage of treatment is known as purva karma. Here, the goal is to prepare the mind and body for the treatments to follow by calming the nervous system, opening up stuck energy channels, and releasing toxins (or ama) stored in the body.
The cornerstone of this stage is Ayurvedic massage. The body is massaged with generous amounts of medicated oil, sometimes by multiple practitioners. Shirodhara, a therapy in which warm oil is poured in a gentle stream on to the forehead, is also used to calm the mind and the nervous system and release emotional tension.
Go Deeper: The Powerful Ayurvedic Practice of Abhyanga
Purva karma is completed with heat treatments, such as a gentle sauna or medicated steam baths. The heat further aids in the opening of the chanels in the body, in this case with the intention of letting the doshas flow more freely back to the center of the body and the digestive system.
To complete the first stage of the treatment, a person may receive healing sound baths, aromatherapy, herbal remedies and color therapy to engage all five senses and support the connection of the mind with the heart and the body.
Stage Two: The Five Actions
The second stage of the treatment clears the doshas and purifies the body. If you were considering trying panchakarma, this phase of the treatment might deter you from taking the plunge. These are the five intensive cleansing methods from which panchakarma gets its name.
1) Vamana: Medically induced vomiting used to purge the Kapha dosha
2) Virechana: Clearing the bowels through laxatives and purgatives to clear the Pitta dosha
3) Basti: An enema, often involving oil, used to clear the Vata dosha
4) Nasya: Application of medicated oli to the nasal cavity to balance all the doshas
5) Rakta Mokshana: Blood-letting to purify blood
These five treatments occur over the course of several days under the careful monitoring and supervision of a qualified practitioner. With the preparations to the mind and body in the first stage of panchakarma, these treatments should remove toxins without causing stress to the body. Depending on the state of the person receiving the treatment, anywhere between one to five of these actions are prescribed.
Stage Three: Paschat Karma
The last stage of panchakarma is arguably one of the most important. This stage is called paschat karma and it focuses on nourishing the mind and body. While the first two steps of panchakarma aim to create a clean slate, the final stage is all about rejuvenation through supportive nutrition and herbal remedies. The goal is to strengthen the body and ensure the production of healthy tissues.
While panchakarma can be simplified to a nutritional cleanse (with copious amounts of kitchari) and practiced at home, you will receive the full, intended benefits of this multidimensional detox when you work with an experienced Ayurvedic practitioner. By working with a practitioner the panchakarma treatments can be customized to suit your particular Ayurvedic constitution, imbalances, and lifestyle. Although generally a gentle and relaxing process, panchakarma can also involve some times of discomfort due to the intensive nature of some of its practices. We recommend having a knowledgeable expert supervise the therapy.
To find a resource for a panchakarma treatment of your own look for services that include an Ayurvedic doctor or specialist with experience in panchakarma, a center that can help with preparation and follow up care, and a center with residential facilities to minimize travel and distraction.
Benefits and Contraindications
Panchakarma treats the many dimensions of a person’s being, including the mind and the spirit; many people turn to this ancient practice to help balance and restore the body and the mind. It can be successful in alleviating chronic illness that modern medical practices are unable to cure such as allergies, chronic fatigue, migraines, or arthritis. A 2016 study of panchakarma participants showed a reduction in metabolites linked to inflammation and a higher risk for cardiovascular disease.
All that said, this incredible cleansing experience is not for everyone. As with most cleanses, panchakarma should be avoided by people who are pregnant, weak, anemic, or debilitated. Do your homework, find a trusted practitioner, and choose the treatments that work for you.
If you’re intrigued by the prospect of panchakarma and looking to include cleansing as part of your preventative health regime, Environ-Metal Detox is a gentle, effective formula that eliminates toxins and heavy metals from the body. Formulated for daily use, it can be used for comprehensive vitality overtime and for targeted periods of concentrated cleansing.
Go Deeper: Learn more about Environ-Metal Detox
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