Panchakarma: Cleansing and Rejuvenation Therapy–Part One
By Vishnu Dass
Ayurdeva defines health as the state where every aspect of our being is working properly and in harmony with all its other aspects. That is, the digestive fire (agni) is in a balanced condition; the three doshas—vata, pitta, and kapha—are in equilibrium according to the individual constitution; waste products are produced and eliminated normally; the mind, senses, and consciousness are working harmoniously together. When the balance of any of these systems is disturbed, the disease process begins.
Basically, any aggravation of the doshas affects agni and produces toxins or ama. Other factors play a role in the formation of ama as well. Some of these factors are poor digestion of food, improper food combinations and choices, poor drinking water, pollution, pesticides in food, and emotional and physical stress or trauma. These toxins accumulate and spread throughout the body and eventually deposit themselves into the deeper tissues, organs, or channels, creating dysfunction and disease.
A unique aspect of Ayurveda is its cleansing and rejuvenation program known as panchakarma. Panch means ‘five’ and karma means ‘action.’ Panchakarma consists of five therapeutic actions or treatments that are specific methods to safely and effectively remove ama from different areas of the body without damaging or weakening the system. Panchakarma is unique in that it is tailored to meet each individual’s needs according to their constitution and doshic imbalances. The therapies involved in this program work to loosen ama from the deep tissues in order to remove them through the body’s natural channels of elimination.
There are three phases of panchakarma: the preliminary therapies, called purvakarma; the five main therapies, called vamana, nasya, virechan, raktamokshana, and basti; and post-treatment procedures called paschatkarma. Both pre- and post-panchakarma therapies are essential to the success and long lasting effects of the panchakarma program.
Purvakarma therapies serve to prepare the body to get rid of stored ama. Snehana (oleation) is the first step of purvakarma, and it consists of saturating the body with herbal or medicated oils. Abyantar snehana, or internal oleation with ghee or medicated oil, helps loosen ama and move it from deeper tissues into the GI tract, where panchakarma’s main therapies can eliminate it. External oleation is called abhyanga (or bahya snehana) and it consists of vigorous massage over the whole body with medicated oils.
Once the massage is completed, swedana (literally, ‘sweat’) is performed. The main objective of this therapy is to dilate the channels so that the removal of ama can be more easily achieved. There are several swedana treatments that can also be used as adjunct therapies during panchakarma, but the two most commonly used are nadi swedana and bashpa swedana. Nadi swedana is a localized application of steam with herbal decoctions and medicated oils. It usually focuses on specific areas of the body, such as sore joints or muscles, to improve mobility and reduce pain. Bashpa swedana applies steam evenly to the whole body (with the exception of the head) with the use of a sweatbox. This method is used to further detoxify the body after abhyanga. It is usually followed by herbal dusting or herbal plasters and poultices, called lepa, to help draw toxins out of the pores of the skin.
Purvakarma also uses shirodhara. It is thought in Ayurveda that deep relaxation provides an environment where deeply rooted imbalances can be overcome and where it is easier to restore the harmony and functional integrity of the doshas. Shirodhara is a subtle and profound treatment that consists of pouring warm oil in a slow, steady stream on the forehead. It pacifies vata dosha; calms and nourishes the central nervous system, promoting relaxation and tranquility; and improves mental clarity and comprehension.
The basic idea behind the function of these purvakarma therapies can be understood with the following analogy. Suppose you oil a bowl thoroughly and then pour honey into it. The honey cannot stick to the bowl because the slippery quality of the oil does not allow it. So the honey can be poured out of the bowl much more easily than if the bowl hadn’t been oiled. Ama has the same sticky quality as honey, and so it can be dispelled easily after the body has been thoroughly oiled and relaxed with purvakarma therapies. After snehana, swedana, and shirodhara have been performed, ama is back in the GI tract and can be removed from it with the main panchakarma therapies: vamana, nasya, virechan, raktamokshana, and basti. Each of these therapies promotes the removal of ama through the normal channels of elimination, moving it upward, downward, or through the periphery (skin). The Ayurvedic clinician assesses the imbalances and decides which therapies should be emphasized, depending on which doshas, tissues and organs are involved and where the ama has accumulated in the body.
To be continued…
Vishnu Dass (NTS, LMT, CAyu) studied Ayurveda under the guidance of Dr. Vasant Lad, world-renowned Ayurvedic physician and teacher. He is a graduate of the New Mexico School of Natural Therapeutics in Albuquerque, MN. He had previously studied with herbalist Michael Tierra at the American School of Herbalism in Santa Cruz, CA. He is a former Board Member of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA) and was granted a Lifetime Professional Membership for his service to that Board. Vishnu offers lectures and workshops on Ayurveda and yoga philosophy for various herb schools and yoga centers throughout the South East, and has published several articles on Ayurveda and yoga, both on local and national publications, including Light on Ayurveda Journal, New Life Journal, and Integrative Health and Healing, amongst others.He has been in clinical practice for over 12 years, treating people of all ages. His practice, Blue Lotus Ayurveda : Natural Health & Rejuvenation is located at 822 Haywood Rd. – Asheville, North Carolina Phone: (828) 713-4266 For more information, go to his website at www.bluelotusayurveda.com