Panchakarma: Cleansing and Rejuvenation Therapy–Part Two
By Vishnu Dass
NOTE: Dhyanyoga Centers is offering a week-long panchakarma program in May. There are a limited number of spaces left in this Ayurveda Week event in Antioch, CA. Click here for Shri Anandi Ma’s 2012 Schedule where you’ll find info on page five.
After the purvakarma therapies [described in the February panchakarma article] of 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 skin. The Ayurvedic clinician assesses the imbalances and decides on which therapies to emphasize, depending on the doshas, tissues, and organs involved and where the ama has accumulated in the body.
- Vamana (therapeutic emesis) usually relates to kapha but can also be used to dispel excess pitta when it has accumulated in the stomach. Vamana should not be associated with nausea and sickness. The preparation for vamana with the use of herbs makes it a smooth and painless process that can restore balance and help with serious kapha conditions, such as lung problems, diabetes mellitus, and more.
- Nasya (nasal administration of herbs) can be used to treat a variety of doshic conditions: some are more nourishing and calming and are used for vata-related and pitta-related conditions; other stronger purgative substances are used to treat kapha conditions. Nasya removes phlegm from the nasal passages, clears ama from the ears and eyes, and cleanses and opens the channels of the head, improving oxygenation of the brain.
- Virechan (therapeutic purgation) is a natural, herb-induced purging process that mainly cleanses the small intestine and pitta-related organs (such as the liver and gall bladder), and removes ama and excess pitta from the body, balancing all metabolic functions.
- Raktamokshana (therapeutic withdrawal of blood) is used to remove excess pitta-related ama from the blood, for certain blood-related and skin conditions.
- Basti is probably the most powerful of all five karmas. It consists of introducing medicated decoctions and/or oily substances into the colon to be retained and absorbed by the body. Its goal is the purification and rejuvenation of the colon, because the colon is linked to all the other organs and tissues of the body. The colon is an important organ for the absorption of nutrients; it is the primary receptacle for waste elimination; and it is the seat of vata dosha, which is the mover of the other doshas and thus of all physiological activity. Therefore, since it balances and nurtures vata dosha, basti karma has a wide-ranging influence in the body and affects all the doshas, channels, and tissues.
Common enemas and colonics can help cleanse the colon, but the main difference is that they do not nourish the tissues and they only remove what is present in the colon. Enemas are temporary and localized and, according to Ayurveda, repeated flushing of water with colonic therapy may weaken the mucous membrane and dry the colon, further disrupting the eliminative function of vata. When basti karma is used in conjunction with purvakarma therapies, it does more than just cleanse the colon. It helps nourish all tissues and remove toxins from the whole body. In other words, basti removes the ama from the whole body that has been brought to the colon by purvakarma.
Individual panchakarma programs can be as short as a week and as long as a month, or even longer in some cases. During this time, clients are advised to put aside the usual preoccupations with work and family and devote themselves to rest as much as possible, both physically and mentally. They should surround themselves with a warm, comfortable and pleasant environment, reduce sensory input and avoid experiences that provoke strong emotions. It is also advised to meditate and do specific yoga postures, if at all possible. This is an essential aspect of panchakarma, since it will help the detoxification process go deeper.
The diet prescribed before, during, and after treatment is also a key element in this therapy. Heavy food interferes with the cleansing process, so it is advised to eat small amounts of kitchari (a nourishing and cleansing porridge made with mung beans, basmati rice, medicinal spices and clarified butter, or ghee) to provide the body with enough nutrition to keep it strong, as well as to keep the digestive fire kindled throughout the process.
According to Ayurveda, it is not enough to simply abstain from food to obtain the maximum benefits of a cleansing program. In fact, Ayurveda discourages long-term fasting because the sudden onslaught of ama that can flood the system from fasting for more than a few days is often too drastic and can damage the tissues, weaken the digestion and have long-term health repercussions. Plus, fasting does not necessarily ensure that the toxins that are deeply deposited will be removed. This is why panchakarma lubricates and prepares the body for the removal of ama. Furthermore, it focuses on the individual doshic imbalances and uses herbs and herbal preparations to support and enhance the cleansing process.
A set of procedures, called paschatkarma, follows the main therapies of panchakarma and assist the body in the re-establishment of a healthy metabolic system and immunity. If these post-treatment procedures are neglected, the digestion may not normalize and the production of ama would continue. So, after the program is over, it is advised to keep eating light, nourishing foods, such as mung dal soup and rice, and to gradually add vegetables and other foods. It is recommended to slowly and gradually return to regular activities to avoid taxing the nervous system, because the body is in a sensitive, somewhat vulnerable state after treatment.
The lifestyle program that is recommended at this time to support the treatment is called dinacharya, or daily routine. An Ayurvedic clinician can give specific guidelines for dinacharya as well as other seasonal guidelines and recommendations. The clinician can also provide rasayanas, which consist of herbal and mineral preparations with specific rejuvenating effects on body and mind. Rasayanas increase the vitality and energy of the person and nourish and rejuvenate the entire organism and thus are an important part of the paschatkarma procedures.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that because vata dosha (the energy of movement) initiates and drives all physiological movements, including that of the other doshas, it is considered in Ayurveda to be the main player in all of the body’s processes. So, managing the functioning of vata is one of the main objectives in panchakarma and is a good preventative measure in our daily life. For this reason, with the exception of internal oleation, many of the therapies mentioned here can be used individually or in combination as a vata management program.
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