Panchakarma. Some of you are thinking, yes, finally, let’s talk about panchakarma. Some of you have heard about it, but aren’t quite sure about it. Others of you are wondering what is panchakarma (and maybe hoping it’s as cool of a word as pranjnaparadha which awesomely translates into “crimes against wisdom” or “intellectual blasphemy”).
The word panchakarma gets tossed around a lot these days. Of course it does, Ayurveda is becoming the new, hot thing. Panchakarma is Ayurveda at its most extreme and, uh, fun(?), so we’re hearing many different thoughts around panchakarma (PK)–some valid and some not-so-much.
Let’s first talk about what panchakarma means. Panchakarma translates into “five actions”. These five actions are: Vamana (emesis), Virechana (purgation), Vasti (enema), Nasya (nasal administration) and Rakta Mokshana (blood-letting). These are the actions used to cleanse unruly dosha from the body using the nearest exit to the main site of each dosha in the gut. An aside for those freaking out about blood-letting, a few words if I may. One: I’m not suggesting that you do blood-letting. Two: leeches are coming back into mainstream medicine because they serve a useful purpose in helping the body heal, so it may not be as outdated as one might think.
Some of the karmas are quite familiar to us. Nasya may be a part of our daily practice of dinacharya to support the senses. We might have used purgation in our lives (that is, in fact, what your grandmother was going for with a spoonful of castor oil). Many of us have practiced vamana after a night of serious drinking (or are familiar with the practice to expel the toxin of alcohol from the system). Most of us are familiar with enemas, even if we have never done it and are not interested in ever doing it.
What, and why, would we do these panchakarmas to ourselves?
Panchakarma is used as an extreme and deep reset to the system. It’s usually a month long process overseen at a clinic by an Ayurvedic doctor to make sure everything runs smoothly and safely. Most of that time is used to simplify life and diet with really easy to digest healing (and cleansing) foods and slowing life down (de-stressing). Not so glamorous, but important. This is one of the reasons it is best done at a clinic where one can immerse oneself in a new and (ideally) relaxing environment.
Then, the body is oleated from the inside out and the outside in (over the course of days) to encourage stuck dosha to dislodge from the tissues (where it is causing problems) and return to the digestive system from where it can be eliminated through one of these five actions.
Panchakarma is administered. No, not all of them. The karma/action that will expel the dominant unruly dosha from the nearest exit.
After the actual karma, a very light and easy to digest food regimen is begun–the sort of diet one would eat to recover from an illness. The digestive fires need to be built back up with easy to digest food and rekindled with spices and herbs. The body needs to be re-strengthened and brought back to better than optimum health. Again, this is one of the reasons it is best done at a clinic where the environment is controlled and temptation is limited.
After panchakarma, rejuvenation and rebuilding is the next step. The body is cleansed, now it needs to be rebuilt so that future imbalance (that can lead to disEase) does not occur and long term optimum health can be gained. Rasayanas are the Ayurvedic long term herbs and formulas to strengthen and rebuild and nourish a healthy body (and mind).
Panchakarma is not as simple as it can seem when tossed around in a magazine article. There are vital steps: the healing/cleansing diet, oleation & sweat/heat, the expelling actions, and rejuvenation (the mainstay of healthy living: diet and lifestyle).
That said, there are levels of what could be called panchakarma. It is possible to do gentle home based panchakarmas to cleanse, heal, reset, and rejuvenate. I hesitate to call it panchakarma because it gets confusing: are we talking about a home cleanse or a clinical PK or some variation in between? Using the word panchakarma at so many levels of intensity can downplay and cloud the reality (and intensity) of a full blown clinical panchakarma. That said, I would define a home based PK as a version of cleansing that is more intense than simply a dietary reset, but not so extreme as a panchakarma experience in a clinic/practice. It’s a level that can be safely done without being overseen by a clinician or Ayurvedic doctor.
Please let me know if you are exploring an at-home panchakarma/cleanse. I do not administer clinical panchakarma, but I can help support you to make the best choices for your dosha and life. I can also help you decide if a home PK is appropriate for you at this time. Often it is not, even a gentle PK is not for any body in a depleted state.