Anybody who embarks upon the Ayurvedic journey to wellbeing will at some point have read or heard about a programme, that is aimed at promoting cellular repair and rejuvenation by following a step-by-step preparatory phase, leading to an in-depth cleansing programme called Panchakarma.
During the course of a Panchakarma different methods of cleansing are being used depending on your constitution and your health goals. Panchakarma is not a diet or a package that could be described as a three day or six weeks programme, although I won’t be surprised if you go online several Panchakarma service providers will provide you a menu of three, seven or twenty one days option. Whilst there is nothing wrong, after all doing something for your health is better than doing nothing, however sometimes it is better to do nothing than doing something that may potentially cause more harm than benefit. As everyone of us will have travelled a path of health that is so very unique, it is the task of a good practitioner to adjust and align Panchakarma cleansing to suit your particular need at any given point in time.
When Panchakarma is carried out as will be described further on in this article, irrespective of the duration, intensity or types of treatment offered, they all will result in cellular repair and rejuvenation and help in reversing the disease states.
There are three phases of the Panchakarma programme:
Preparation for Panchakarma
The main purpose of this phase is to ensure, that all the “rubbish” is gathered together and ready for disposal before you then finally go ahead with the act of emptying the rubbish bin. As you can imagine, cleaning and gathering the rubbish takes longer than emptying. In this way, once you have done a few cleansing days, you will be ready and prepared for the finale of Panchakarma.
If you choose to follow the path of Ayurveda as a means to improve your health, it is good to keep in mind that it is a journey in its truest sense, meaning that the speed with which you embark on this journey is completely up to you. In any case, in order for you to get the best out of your Panchakarma cleansing programme, I do suggest to allow three to six months of consistent application of some of the Ayurvedic self-care regimes such as daily oil massage, sipping of hot water etc. to gently start the healing process in preparation for Panchakarma. Irrespective which cleansing procedure will be finally prescribed, in order to maximise the benefit and to reduce any possible adverse reactions, a proper preparation is absolute essential and the process should not be rushed.
The aim of Panchakarma is to soften and bring toxins from the minute channels to the most obvious and gross channel in the body, the digestive tract, that has the capacity for elimination when directed properly. This is a process that takes place in several stages. Firstly, it is essential to reduce additional sources of toxins by following a specific dietary regime and by initiating detoxification through the taking of specific Ayurvedic herbs for three to seven days. This will improve your digestive ability so you will be better able to handle the next stage, which is the consumption of clarified butter, or ghee. The quantity and type of the ghee should ideally been prescribed specifically to suit your constitution and health goals.
Don’t be scared by the mention of the word ghee or clarified butter, thankfully after three decades of longitudinal studies, we now know that fat does not necessarily make fat, besides it is the refined carbohydrates combined with fats that has resulted in obesity as a major problem in our society today. We blame the butter whilst the culprit is the bread.
The consumption of medicated ghee is over three to seven days in gradually increasing dosages. Ideally, this medicated ghee step should be undertaken within a retreat setting and for certain people this would be the recommendation as close monitoring may be required and necessary when taking medicated ghee especially when this is being undertaken for the first time. In certain circumstances I allow my clients to undertake this step in their own home setting under close supervision, provided the essential criteria and requirements are taken into consideration. This allows me as a practitioner to make any necessary adjustments to the process and instructions, if required.
The purpose of taking ghee is to flood the circulation with triglycerides. ghee when taken internally over a period of maximum seven days in increasing dosages creates a concentration gradient between fats inside the cells and the plasma, which promotes the movements of the toxins from the cells into the gastrointestinal tract. Perhaps another way to describe this process is to imagine attempting to stick any object to a slippery surface. Anything stuck to a surface that is flooded with oil will sooner or later detach, similarly fat-soluble toxins will be released through this process. Whilst some cleansing programs strive to eliminate primarily the water-soluble toxins in the body, the internal administration of medicated ghee targets the fat-soluble toxins to be released from the deeper tissues where they are lodged and contribute to the disease process.
What is important at this stage is to remember that you will be taking medicated ghee whilst being on a restricted diet. When you are on a low carbohydrate diet, the intake of fat in fact works to your advantage as it increase the metabolic rate and even promotes fat loss. Interestingly throughout my practice in the last 25 years it is when my clients are in this phase of taking drinking medicated ghee with a restricted diet for a short period of time that they report best health, improved digestion, fat loss, almost a positive turning point on one’s Ayurvedic journey. I understand if your concern is about eating fat on a regular basis whilst also eating carbohydrate rich food, this certainly would be a disastrous recipe. Also the administration of medicated ghee is for such a short period of time, ranging anywhere between three to seven days, that it is an essential therapeutic diet and not a lifestyle.
Each phase of your Panchakarma journey requires close monitoring and supervision by an experienced Ayurvedic practitioner. In order for this deep cleansing process to go smoothly and without complications, it is essential to assess your progress and make any necessary changes, specifically during the days where you take medicated ghee as well as on the laxative day. Ideally a daily assessment of your pulse and physiological rhythms will determine the dosage of ghee on the following day. This assessment can take place at the clinic or during one to three home visits, depending on the number of scheduled ghee days.
After the initial ghee days, ideally you should then receive an Ayurvedic oil massage followed by a steam treatment. The massage further brings the lipid soluble toxins into circulation. This process is supported by the application of heat, which dilates the blood vessels and helps to transport the toxins to the gastrointestinal tract.
2. Panchakarma Main Treatment
After the initial stage of collecting the cellular “rubbish” or toxins, you are now ready for the next step of your Panchakarma programme, which is a laxative day. During this day it is essential to follow a specific diet to slowly rekindle your digestion and to get your strength back.
Having mobilised and eliminated both, accumulated fat and water-soluble toxic waste from the deeper tissues, the purpose of this step is to facilitate the healing process and to further encourage tissue repair. This is essential to help reversing the various stages of a possible disease process. Depending on your availability of time and financial resources, various other cleansing techniques can be prescribed during this phase such as various types of enemas or nasal treatments, depending on the chronicity of your health issue and physical strength.
My recommendation to anyone would always be, if you choose to do Panchakarma, do it properly. Take enough time to experience the uniqueness of this treatment in a calm and quiet retreat setting, which will help you to establish your natural rhythm, a yoga, meditation and self-care routine as well as exploring ayurvedic approaches to a healthy nutrition. A retreat, supervised by an experienced Ayurvedic practitioner, will also allow you to receive very specialised and prescriptive Ayurvedic body treatments most of which are only appropriate within such a setting. In addition to this, daily yoga and meditation sessions, and food prepared using Ayurvedic principles, strongly re-enforce, reconnect to and harmonise all the five elemental bodies and their innate ability to heal.
3. Rejuvenation post Panchakarma
This final stage of your Panchakarma programme is to receive specifically prepared Ayurvedic herbal medicines, whose purpose is to build, nourish and strengthen your body. Most people continue to feel better and better long after the end of such a retreat and they are then encouraged to maintain this newly found state of wellbeing.
The act of cleansing during phase one and two is a very essential task and despite resulting in greater calmness, relaxation, improved wellbeing, is also marked by a delicate stage as the body will have worked very hard to detox. At this sensitive phase of cleansing it is important to allow enough time and to follow the instructions of Panchakarma carefully and to rebuild the resources so the physiological functions not only come back to their normal but also become sharper and effective.
After Panchakarma, your body is like a white screen that is able to reflect any image that is being projected on in a most effective manner. At this stage after you have done the cleansing regime, your cellular metabolism has improved, your tissues are strong and healthy and your energy flows more freely leading to improved cellular communication. Your body is now able to naturally decode the information contained in any supplement or herb that you may take and to fully allow its biochemical constituents to act most efficiently.
Often you will find after Panchakarma, that you are more in touch with what is suitable for you. Your rhythms are more likely to come back in line with the rhythms of nature, you then wish to maintain your newly found state of wellbeing.
Regular Panchakarma is recommended at least once a year, depending on your lifestyle and your individual needs. For example either to prevent accumulation of toxic waste, or to keep improving health or if you suffer from any chronic illness, then Panchakarma can be recommended with every change of season. If you cannot take the time to do a full Panchakarma retreat, at least you can follow a self-care cleansing programme at regular intervals.
This article first appeared in Om Yoga Magazine in August 2013