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).