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Detoxing in Ayurveda- Panchakarma

March 19, 2014

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Proper digestive health (agni) is at the heart of Ayurvedic treatment and most of us have some undigested matter (ama) in our bodies. This is the root of many sign of physical and mental imbalance. Common signs of ‘ama’ include a heavy coating on the tongue that can’t be scraped off and feelings of lethargy or heaviness.

Ayurveda recommends detoxing to eliminate ama and dosha imbalances that naturally build up. Classical Ayurvedic detoxification is called Panchakarma (Five actions) as it consists of five cleansing practices. The aim of these is to both purify the body of deep-seated toxins and pacify aggravated doshas. Panchakarma is a powerful tool used to treat serious chronic and acute health problems but it is also used to prevent ill-health.

Panchakarma aims to draw deep-seated ama and aggravated doshas from the tissues and returning them to the digestive system so they can be eliminated by the following methods:

  1. Vamana (medicated emesis or vomiting therapy) is used to remove excess Kapha doshas in the body and the respiratory tract. For example: Bronchial asthma, chronic allergies, hay fever, hyperacidity, chronic indigestion nasal congestion, oedema, obesity, psychological disorders, and skin disorders.
  2. Virechana (medicated purgation therapy) removes excess Pitta from sites such as the small intestine, liver, gallbladder and the gastro-intestinal tract. For example in chronic fever, diabetes, asthma, all skin disorders, digestive disorders, constipation, hyperacidity and headaches
  3. Basti (medicated enema) is viewed as the most powerful as it cleanses accumulated toxins from all three doshas through the colon, where medicines are easily absorbed. It mainly works on Vata, the most powerful dosha, so benefits many Vata related problems such as rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, convalescence, IBS, chronic constipation, backache, sciatica, sexual debility/infertility.
  4. Nasya (Nasal Cleaning) is the administration of medicated oil through the nose to cleanse accumulated Kapha toxins from the head and neck region. It treats diseases of the head and neck including migraine, sinusitis, allergic rhinitis, nasal polyps, Bell’s palsy as well as problems with memory, visions and sleep.
  5. Raktamokshana (Blood letting) is used for extreme Pitta aggravation in conditions such as gout, skin problems and blood disorders. Most Ayurveda Centres in the West do not offer Raktamokshana due to the high risk of infection involved in blood cleansing. However, leeches are traditionally used in many parts of the world.

Panchakarma has been shown to:

  • Decrease cholesterol by lowering toxic lipid peroxide levels
  • Decrease the rate of platelet clumping and thus lymphatic congestion
  • Decrease 14 major toxic and cancer causing chemicals from body tissues such as heavy metals, pesticides and other hazardous environmental chemicals.
  • Significantly raised good HDL cholesterol
  • Lowered diastolic blood pressure
  • Reduce free radicals, the leading cause of disease, cancer and death
  • Reduce bodily complaints, irritability, bodily strain and provide emotional stability.
  • Decrease anxiety, aging and doctor visits by 80%

However, the body must be prepared for the above cleansing practices, using intake of ghee (pictured) massage, steam therapy and ama reducing herbs. A strictly controlled diet is also essential. After panchakarma, various rejuvenating and immune boosting therapies are used to increase strength, resistance and overall vitality on physical, mental and emotional levels, so that patients can experience and enjoy health, well-being and longevity

homemadeghee1Because it is such a deep process, a full panchakarma treatment is not suitable for everyone. As well as physical cleansing, Panchakarma may release suppressed emotions held in the physical tissue or on more subtle levels. It is very important to go to an establishment with qualified and experienced doctors with a good reputation for patient care. Please also note that Panchakarma is a 5-6 week process and cannot be rushed!  Panchakarma is now offered across the world and can be discussed with your Ayurvedic practitioner.

You can adapt certain elements of Panchakarma for a home-style detoxification that rest the digestive system and cleanses the body:

  1. Take a few days off work or plan this over a long weekend
  2. Get plenty of rest and take each activity and treatment slowly.
  3. Minimise sensory distraction such as TV, music and reading
  4. Follow a light, cleansing diet of kitchari or mung bean soup (See Recipes), rice and lots of green vegetables for 3-7 days. Keep the body hydrated with lots of fresh ginger tea, warm water and herbal teas. Cut out tea, coffee and other stimulants.
  5. Give yourself a daily oil massage, followed by a long soak in a hot bath
  6. Take long, gentle walks but stay out of the sun and wind
  7. Practice gentle yoga each day, and meditate.

For recommendations on where to have Panchakarma, please see here.

Source: Maharishi Ayurveda PanchaKarma therapy, North delhi (