What is Panchakarma?
PanchakarmaAyurveda, the holistic system of medicine that originated over 5,000 years ago in India, focuses on maintaining the balance between the three doshas, vata, pitta and kapha. The body can only be in order when the doshas are balanced. Order leads to health and wellness. Disorder occurs when the three doshas become imbalanced, allowing illness and disease to run rampant through the body.
Each individual is unique. Our inherent constitution determines the natural balance of the three doshas that establishes order. One of Ayurveda's main tenets is that order comes from disorder. Once you can recognize the disorder, you can take restorative steps to reestablish the balance that leads to health.
The practice holds that diet, exercise and lifestyle choices suited to the individual's natural mix of the doshas will maintain balance. Ayurveda practitioners also use Panchakarma and other interventions to cleanse the body and return balance.
Panchakarma comes from a Sanskrit word that translates to “five therapies.” It is a three-step cleansing process that reaches deep into our bodies. The practice is patient-specific, targeting each individual's needs. Panchakarma rejuvenates the mind, body and spirit.
The History of PanchakarmaAyurveda is India's traditional healing science. Its roots stretch back 5,000 years. The practice evolved and was codified in several texts. Treatments focused on optimizing health by restoring harmony and balance throughout the body.
Ayurvedic providers used aromatherapy, herbs, color therapy, specialized diets, general lifestyle principles, yoga, mantras and meditation to rebalance their patients. Panchakarma is referenced in the earliest Ayurvedic texts. Historically, it was considered a purification process used to detoxify the body.
Rather than removing external toxins that we acquire from our environment, Panchakarma focused on detoxifying "ama," which forms within our bodies. This toxin is a disruptor, preventing the natural flow of order throughout the body.
Initially, Panchakarma was used to keep royals healthy and promote their longevity. Over time, the practices were disseminated to the people and used for both prevention and treatment. The entire process took 11 to 15 days. It began with eight days of treatment. Those were followed by three to seven days of restorative therapy.
The daily Panchakarma treatments consisted of three separate treatments that lasted two to three hours. In its original form, Panchakarma focused on clearing all of the body's channels. It was concerned with purging and removing disruptions to the body's natural balance. The five traditional practices were:
- Basti, the use of specialized herbal oil enemas
- Nasya, nasal irrigation
- Vamana, induced therapeutic vomiting
- Virechanam, purgation
- Raktamokshana, bloodletting
Phases of Panchakarma
PurvakarmaThe first or preparatory phase involved oil massage. This helped toxins move towards the digestive tract, positioning them for removal. Massage also eased tissue and relaxed the body, soothing it for the coming detoxification. The initial phase primed the individual to purge themselves.
PradhankarmaStep two involved the elimination techniques. Once the body was ready, basti, nasya, vamana, virechanam and raktamokshana were administered. Here, the individual expelled bodily fluids that held ama, toxifying the body and altering balance. This process took several days.
PraschatkarmaThe final step was rejuvenation. Practitioners nourished the body with a set of graduated meals over several days. They began with a bland liquid diet. Patients then moved on to semi-solids consisting of rice pastes and oil. Khichari, a spiced lentil and rice dish, and vegetable soup were then introduced. Finally, meat soup and rice were consumed.
Panchakarma TodayAs with every form of medicine, Panchakarma evolved through the centuries. Different schools of thought developed across India, but generally speaking, modern Panchakarma consists of:
- Abhyanga, herbal oil massages
- Svedana, steam baths
- Senna, a gentle laxative or cleansing enemas
- Nasal irrigation
- Specialized diet