Ayurvedic Healing Methods – Panchakarma

In my previous posts I focused on the philosophy behind Ayurveda. I described some of the basic ideas involved with Ayurveda and I briefly went into some pre-emptive measures, so to speak, that could be taken to encourage optimal health and prevent an imbalance of that person’s doshas. Those measures included exercise, a diet based on “clean eating” (which is a diet based on the reduction of the amount of highly processed foods and the increase in the amount of fresh food in order to, among other things, maximize vitamin, mineral, and fiber intake), and stress reduction. Here, I will focus on one of the Ayurvedic methods used to heal the body body of its ailments. This method is called panchakarma.

The word “panchakarma” comes from the Sanskrit language. It is comprised of two words, “pancha” (the number “five”) and “karma” (meaning “actions”). Panchakarma is a five step treatment comprised of vomiting, massage, purging of toxins from the blood, introducing enemas or laxatives, and administering medicine such as herbs and oils through the nose. It is designed to cleanse the inside of the body of undigested food (referred to as “ama”) and toxic materials. This undigested food and and toxic material is not only a result of an individual’s doshas becoming imbalanced but also each dosha’s reduced effectiveness to perform it’s essential duties. This is especially true with the vata dosha and pita dosha. The vata dosha controls the nervous system, blood flow, and the elimination of waste from the body, while the pita dosha controls  the digestive process and regulated the body’s metabolism. According to Ayurveda, an imbalance in your doshas can occur as a result of poor diet, lack of exercise, the accumulation of toxins in the body as a result of less than optimal function, a change in daily routine, or an increase of stress. The doshas gradually become unbalanced, resulting in a progressive buildup of ama and residual toxins. Panchakarma cleanses the body of this buildup and restores the doshas to their proper balance.

Before panchakarma can be applied, a pre-treatment process must be undertaken to prepare the person for application of each step. This ensures all toxins and ama are removed from the body and maximizes the overall effectiveness of the entire treatment. The first step is called snehana. Snehana is the oral ingestion of medicated oils or ghee (a type of clarified butter) to soften and lubricate the bodily tissues so the ama and toxins can be eliminated later on in the process. The second step in the pre-treatment process is called swedana. Swedana is an herbal steam bath designed to induce sweating. The head and chest are kept cool while the rest of the body is immersed in warm water and steam is allowed to penetrate the pores of the skin. This helps liquefy the excess doshas and waste in the system so they can easily trickle into the digestive system. They can then be eliminated by vamana (vomiting) or by virechana (purging).

Healthy diet as part of Ayurveda

One of the most important things that can be done to affect your overall health is to modify your diet. Diet, along with stress, is perhaps the most important factor that determines your overall health. I say this not necessarily from a the standpoint scientific standpoint (although a good diet has numerous medical benefits) but from an Ayurvedic standpoint. Auyrveda emphasizes not only curative procedures but preventative maintainance (such as a health diet) to prevent an imbalance of each person’s doshas.

I have always been a big believer in holistic methods of maintaining good health. This is a perspective that fits into Ayurveda extremely well. I’ve done weight training, treadmill and trail running, and i’ve eliminated as much highly processed food from from my diet at possible. I’ve also maintained positive relationships with family, friends, and co-workers while either repairing broken relationships or casting negative relationships aside.

Additional preface on Ayurveda

Hey guys and gals. In this post I want to offer you some additional information on Ayurveda. Again, Ayurveda originated in India and is a Sanscrit word that translates to “knowledge of life”. Ayurveda is a philosophy whose primary aim is holistic maintenance of health.  This holistic perspective of the enhancement of health is designed to prevent sickness from entering the body. However, Ayurveda does prescribe methods to eliminate sickness from the body should that need to do so arise. I will go into these methods in a later post.

In Ayurveda, every person is comprised of five basic elements. These elements are fire, water, space, air, and earth. These five elements combine in different combinations to produce various life energies called doshas. There are three main doshas:

Vata (formed from air and space) – The vata dosha is associated with movement. Since air and space can be thought of as free-form, always moving and shifting, then this view makes sense. Your vata dosha controls anything in your body associated with movement-cellular health, blood circulation, muscle movement, respiration, bowel movements, and respiration. When your vata dosha is balanced, you are said to possess vitality. When it is unbalanced, you experience anxiety, fear, nervous system problems and heart disease. External factors can influence your vata dosha as much as internal influences can. Examples of external factors include strained relationships with family and friends. Internal factors can be fear of losing a job or the loss of a loved one.

Pita (formed from fire and water) – The pita dosha is most associated with the aspects of energy-combustion, usage and transformation. For example, you might think of how someone puts a log in a fireplace. That fire consumes the log, using it as fuel and producing warmth for the person who built the fire. Or you can also think of the waves in the ocean during a storm, or a coming down a waterfall. At this point, the water has an extensive amount of energy and has the ability to absorb other substances as well as transform or even destroy them. The pita dosha controls the functions of digestion, metabolism, and energy absorption. When your pita dosha is in balance, you experience happiness and contentment. When it is out of balance, you may experience inflammation and pain. Ulcers, heartburn, and infections are some of the symptoms associated with a imbalanced pita dosha.

Kapha (formed from water and earth) – The kapha dosha is associated with density, mass, thickness, and structure. You could imagine a handful of clay or earth and you would think of the same sort of characteristics. The essence of the kapha dosha shares these same characteristics. In terms of the human body, your kapha dosha forms your bodily tissues-your muscles, internal organs, bone, fat, skin and hair. It also maintains your immune system and controls your weight. An imbalance of the kapha dosha leads to obesity, diabetes, and nausea after eating.

Each person possesses a unique mix of these three doshas. Usually one dosha is in an more dominant position than than the other two. According to the Ayurveda, having a proper balance of each dosha is essential for optimal health.

Starting out with Ayurveda

Hello everyone. My name is Ben. I’m glad you’re joining me on this tour of Ayurveda. I’ve decided to get my life in order and one of the ways to do that is to practice some of the concepts of Ayurveda. I’m in the beginning stages of Ayurveda but from what I understand states that everything in the Universe is connected. It states that you are in harmony with the Universe-your mind, your body, and your soul. When you are out of harmony with the Universe, you can experience illness and below-optimum health.

Ayurveda medicine originated in India about 2000-3000 years ago. I’m doing this and returning to my clean eating practices and working out at least 3-4 days a week after taking extensive time off. I’m also working on relieving stress from my job. I’ve been doing pretty well with that thus far. I leave my work problems at work. When I’m home I don’t think about work. I also want to learn about yoga. Yoga is a great way to improve flexibility and strengthen your core muscle groups. I’ll share some basic poses with you as I learn them then in time move into some more advanced positions.

One of the things I like about Ayurveda is it’s not simply a pharmaceutical treatment to illness. It’s a spiritual, behavioral, and physical approach to well being. It’s not reactive-it’s proactive. Ayurveda is a holistic approach. That means it looks at everything in your life when treating illness. It also looks at everything in your life when maintaining well-being. It’s a “whole” approach. By everything I mean it looks at things around you from pollution in the atmosphere to your relationships with family and loved ones. You’re not just medicating a symptom or treating a virus. You’re strengthening your body, mind and spirit.

I also want to add that I am not speaking in a negative tone of medical treatment. Medicine has either reduced or eliminated numerous diseases that only 100 years ago ravaged much of the world, even many Western countries. It would be a mistake to downplay the field of medicine and pharmacology, especially after decades of scientific research. Ayurveda is simply an alternative way to view human health and promote total and complete health and harmony within oneself and with the Universe.

May everyone have a great weekend and i’ll return with more on Ayurveda!

Ben