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Introduction to Panchakarma

Panchakarma (five actions) is a cleansing and rejuvenating program
for the body, mind and consciousness.

About Panchakarma treatment program

Panchakarma is a treatment program for the body, mind and consciousness, that cleanses and rejuvenates. It is based on Ayurvedic principles, every human is unique phenomenon manifested through the five basic elements of Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Combination of these elements are three doshas (tridosha): Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, and their balance is unique to each individual. When this doshic balance is disturbed it creates disorder resulting in disease. Panchakarma is done individually for each person with their specific constitution and specific disorder in mind, thus it requires close observation and supervision. Treatment starts with pre-purification Measures of Snehan and Svedana, and then cleansing methods – Shodanas are applied.

Benefits of Panchakarma

Eliminate toxins and toxic conditions from your body and mind.

Restore your constitutional balance improving health and wellness.

Strengthen your immune system and become more resistant to illness.

Reverse the negative effects of stress on your body and mind thereby slowing the aging process.

Bring about deep relaxation and a sense of well-being.

Panchakarma is based on Ayurvedic principles

by Vasant Lad, BAM&S, MASc
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 an art of appropriate living that helps to achieve longevity. It can guide every individual in the proper choice of diet, living habits and exercise to restore balance in the body, mind and consciousness, thus preventing disease from gaining a foothold in the system.

According to Ayurveda, every human being is a unique phenomenon of cosmic consciousness, manifested through the five basic elements—Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Vata—a combination of ether and air, pitta—a combination of fire and water, and kapha—a combination of water and earth, are called the tridosha.

These are the three humors or the three organizations of the body, which are also derived from consciousness. Each individual constitution or psycho-somatic temperament is determined by the relative proportions of these three doshas at the time of fertilization. When the embryo is formed, the constitution is determined. There are seven basic constitutions with one or more doshas predominant according to Ayurveda. They are: vata, pitta or kapha predominant, vata-pitta, pitta- kapha or kapha-vata predominant and vata-pitta-kapha in equal balance, a rare occurrence.

Ayurvedic Tridosha

Understanding the imbalance of your unique body is the basis for treatment.

Every individual constitution has its own unique balance of vata, pitta and kapha (VPK) according to its own nature. This balance of VPK is the natural order. When this doshic balance is disturbed, it creates imbalance, which is disorder. Health is order; disease is disorder. Within the body there is a constant interaction between order and disorder, thus once one understands the nature and structure of disorder, one can re-establish order. Ayurveda believes that order lies within disorder. Order is the state of health, as defined by Ayurveda. This exists when the digestive fire (agni) is in a balanced condition; the bodily humors (vata, pitta and kapha) are in equilibrium, the three waste products (urine, feces and sweat) are produced and eliminated normally, the seven bodily tissues (rasa, rakta, mamsa, meda, asthi, majja and shukra/artava) are functioning normally, and the mind, senses and consciousness are working harmoniously together. When the balance of these systems is disturbed, the disease (disorder) process begins.

Purvakarma: Pre-purification Measures

Before the actual operation of purification begins, there is a need to prepare the body with prescribed methods to encourage it to let go of the toxins. These two procedures are snehan and svedana.

Snehan

Snehan is the oil massage. Oil is applied to the entire body with a particular type of massage that helps the toxins to move towards the gastrointestinal tract. Oil massage also makes the superficial and deep tissues soft and supple, thus helping to remove stress and nourish the nervous system. Snehan is given daily for three to seven days, as indicated.

Svedana

Svedana is sudation or sweating and is given every day immediately following the snehan. An herbal concoction may be added to the steam to further loosen the toxins from the individual. Svedana liquefies the toxins and increases the movement of toxins into the gastrointestinal tract.

After three to seven days of snehan and svedana, the doshas become well “ripened.” A particular panchakarma method is then given according to the individual’s constitution and disorder, prakruti and vikruti, respectively.

Five Basic Shodanas: Cleansing Methods

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Lifestyle and diet recommendations during panchakarma therapy

During any step of panchakarma therapy, traditional Ayurveda recommends certain lifestyle and diet guidelines. It is advised to get plenty of rest during the panchakarma experience and to avoid strenuous exercise, sexual activity, late nights, loud music, television and other such stimulating experiences. It is also advised to take particular care to keep warm and away from the wind and to observe one’s thoughts and experiences during this time. A mono-diet of kitchari and ghee is recommended, as well as essential restrictions on cold drinks, cold food, caffeine, white sugar, recreational drugs or alcohol and dairy products—all substances which should not be resumed (if at all) until sometime after panchakarma is completed. The reason for this diet is that during the cleansing process the digestive fire (agni) takes a rest. Also, as toxins move back into the gastrointestinal tract, the power of digestion is further slowed. 

Kitchari will provide adequate nourishment, is very easy to digest, nourishes all the tissues of the body, is excellent for de-aging of cells and assists in the detoxification and cleansing process. Kitchari is a seasoned mixture of rice and mung dal, and is basic to the Ayurvedic way of life. Basmati rice and mung dal both have the qualities of being sweet and cooling with a sweet aftertaste. Together they create a balanced food; an excellent protein combination that is tridoshic. 

Note: Panchakarma is a very special Ayurvedic treatment requiring proper guidance from a highly trained and skillful Ayurvedic practitioner. This should not be undertaken with information from an article or a book. One should consult with an Ayurvedic physician, not just someone with a modest amount of training. Panchakarma is done individually for each person with their specific constitution and specific disorder in mind, thus it requires close observation and supervision.
© 1994, 2002. All Rights Reserved. Adapted from “An Introduction to Panchakarma”, by Vasant Lad, MASc, Ayurveda Today, Volume VII, Number 1, Summer 1994.

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