Due to poorely managed life style and unhealthy dietary habits
over a period of time, the potency of digestive fire decreases
and the food is not properly digested. As a result the undigested
food mixed with the gastric juice turns toxic and is the reason
behind all diseases as per Ayurveda. This toxic material called
Ama can accumulate in any tissue channel or organ system and can
cause disease in the respective organ.
Panchakarma itself means 'Five actions'. These five actions aim
at cleansing or detoxifying the body by removing the ama . Traditionally,
there are five Shodhana (cleansing) procedures given in a prescribed
order. The two major texts vary in their listing of procedures.
Charaka records the following five: vamana (therapeutic vomiting),
virechana (purgation), niruha (cleansing enema), anuvasana (oil
enema) and nasya (herbal nose drops). Shusruta provides a similar
list: vamana, virechana and nasya, but both enemas are grouped
under vasti and his fifth treatment is raktamokshana (bloodletting).
Not all five procedures are always utilized. Just as Ayurveda
has always been a treatment modality based on the needs and circumstances
of the individual, so has panchakarma always been an individual
process. Therapies are chosen based on a person's innate constitution,
strengths and weaknesses, imbalances, emotional state and even
the season of the year. The digestive capacity of the individual
is also considered.
The panchakarmas are intense treatments, done under the supervision
of a qualified practitioner and require proper preparation. The
poorvakarmas (preparatory practices) include: dietary changes;
internal oleation (drinking oil or ghee) to liquefy toxins; abhyanga
(oil massage) to mobilize toxins and dislodge excess doshas; and
svedana (fomentation) to mobilize toxins from the system towards
the alimentary canal. As soon as the toxins reach the alimentary
canal they can be taken out by either therapeutic vomiting or
Yet poorvakarmas are not merely preparatory; they are powerful
therapeutic techniques in themselves as they remove toxins, pacify
the doshas and relieve stress.
Another thing to keep in mind, is that following an individually
recommended diet is crucial to the success of panchakarma -before,
during and after the process - first to support the cleansing
procedures and then to rebuild the body. Since agni, the digestive
fire responsible for the breakdown of food, is usually dampened
while burning toxins, rejuvenation (paschatakarma), the final
step in the panchakarma process, is necessary to rebuild the body's
strength and rekindle agni. Just as asana is completed with savasana,
shodhana or cleansing is completed with rejuvenation.
Classical Ayurveda recommended a course of panchakarma once
a year. But that is an overwhelming commitment in our modern lives.
A shorter course of treatment or a supervised dip in the healing
waters of poorvakarma can release stress and create essential
therapeutic shifts in our lives.