There is a five-step unique cleansing process in Ayurveda known as panchakarma, or “five actions” in Sanskrit, which is recommended for people to undergo either on an annual basis to maintain health, or as needed to address chronic health issues, depending on which of your doshas is out of balance. A lifetime of accumulated toxins helps to create chronic health conditions, and so making it a lifestyle practice to pay attention to this aspect of health maintenance is recommended for not only optimal health, but also for disease prevention.
Panchakarma focuses on cleansing the body of unwanted toxins, and removing them safely and effectively from the body, using therapeutic techniques that have been in use for thousands of years. The five therapies are bastis (colon cleansing enemas using herbal oil blends and decoctions), nasya (medicated oils placed into the nose and sinuses), virechana (herbal blends ingested to help cleanse the intestines), and two practices not commonly performed in the US, vamana (therapeutic emesis), and raktamokshana (removing impure blood).
The use of medicated oils is unique to Ayurveda. Many people have too much air in their body, and their lifestyle continues to aggravate this air element, or vata dosha imbalance. When vata is chronically out of balance, the person suffers from dry skin, constipation, a feeling of being ungrounded, a lack of focus, and insomnia or sleep disturbances. The use of medicated enemas delivers oil to where it is needed the most to help rebalance the air element in the body, assisting with the reestablishment of normal bowel movements, and helping the person to feel grounded again. The colon is an amazingly absorbent organ, and delivering herbal oils and oil/herb decoctions to this area of the body can restore health and help resolve many common complaints in a short amount of time. The more common water colonics can keep a person imbalanced, whereas the oil serves a nourishing, cleansing and healing role. Herbal purgation with virechana can also bring balance to this part of the body and release unwanted toxins from the intestines, commonly experienced when pitta dosha goes out of balance, resulting in acid indigestion, ulcers, heartburn and emotions that are too heated, such as anger.
The use of medicated oils in the sinuses, known as nasya, is also a deeply cleansing and healing technique, commonly for kapha dosha imbalances. Delivering warm oil preparations to the sinus membranes can help to heal imbalances in the sinuses. The sinuses also allow the delivery of the medicated oil to the cribriform plate at the base of the brain, where potent effects can be felt. Undergoing nasya can help release old, accumulated emotions and thoughts, and deliver herbs to the nervous system in a very effective and healing manner.
Adjunct treatments to panchakarma often include massaging the body with medicated oils, scrubbing the skin with herbal preparations, hot steam therapy, a restricted cleansing diet that can include fasting, and the ingestion of herbal teas and treatments. During a course of panchkarma therapies, an “electronic fast” is also recommended especially in modern times, where the use of cellular phones, televisions, computers and other electronic devices are discouraged so that the body can return to a fundamental connection with nature. Short walks and long naps are encouraged so that the nervous system is allowed a deep rest, and even reading books and newspapers is discouraged so that the eyes can have a much-needed rest.
According to Ayurveda, vital health is possible when you eat, live and treat your body in ways that are in harmony with your unique constitutional, or doshic needs. Each spring and fall season, it is recommended to allow your body to detoxify and eliminate its deeper stored toxins, and panchakarma is an excellent therapeutic avenue to explore. Treatments are often recommended for a week or more, but you can also opt for several days of detoxification therapies. Utilizing the special detoxification therapies of Ayurveda will greatly assist you in maintaining your optimal healthy self. This bi-annual ritual can help restore your digestive function, help you let go of unwanted physical and emotional toxins, and reconnect with the healing and restorative power of nature.
Richelle Jarrell is a Vedic Astrologer and Ayurvedic Practitioner; she also teaches Reiki and publishes two books on Reiki Plus Natural Healing.