Ayurveda understands the microcosm of the physical body/mind to function in the same way as the great macrocosm of nature. Because of that it considers the natural elements, and their interplay – Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space – as the basis of life. Their interweaving within the body-mind, and the environment, generates three main patterns of energy transformation called doshas: vata – expressing the predominance of air and space, pitta – fire and water, and kapha – earth and water.
Each dosha has a primary site in the body: kapha, in the stomach; pitta, in the small intestines; and vata, in the colon/large intestine. Whenever doshic imbalance occurs, their excess tends to accumulate in these corresponding organs, causing specific symptoms or discomfort, leading to disease. Imbalances often result from undigested food, emotions or mental activities, stressful lifestyle, injuries, external factors, and/or genetic weakness.
Also the accumulation of toxins, or ama (the Ayurvedic term) in the body, is a cause of disease symptoms. This ama can come from external sources such as the pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers we ingest through our foods; to airborne pollutants like industrial waste, car exhaust and smoke; from exotoxins, secreted by bacteria; and from prescription medications. But the human body can create its own ama as well, by not properly digesting the food that is consumed, and the ensuing improper break-down of internal metabolic waste products. The way we know that we have an accumulation of ama in our bodies is from having a thick, white or colored, coating on the tongue, from having unpleasant body odor, from a feeling of sluggishness and fatigue, fogginess in the brain, headaches and many disease symptoms. Combined with an accumulation of certain doshas, this ama can lead to all kinds of disease symptoms, often determined by genetic weakness.
Ideally the human body will digest all it ingests perfectly, and detoxify itself through the liver and gallbladder, kidneys, and large intestine. But the increasing amount of toxins in our environment, the stress we deal with combined with our diet and lifestyle, often overwhelm the individual's digestion and detoxification ability.
Panchakarma is a way to remove ama and bring the doshas back into balance, and since stress is such a large contributor to imbalance, this all happens in the context of deep relaxation. Panchakarma is applied while receiving hot oil massage and other treatments, followed by a steam application. This has the multiple function of liquefying ama, improving blood and lymphatic circulation so that toxins/ama are mobilized from the deeper tissues into the digestive system from where they will be eliminated, while at the same time bringing the body and mind into a deep state of rest and letting go.
Most of the external toxins that enter our body are fat (lipid)-soluble, and if the liver is unable (because of above mentioned factors) to break them down, they deposit in tissues all over the body. The preparation process of panchakarma consists of "internal oleation", the process of ingesting ghee or a vegetable oil in increasing amounts for a series of days. Then a non-fat diet consisting of only natural, easy to digest, foods will be taken. This moves toxins to your lymphatic system and will bring your body into fat metabolism mode. You start burning fat cells, which is where most of the toxins hide out. So fat-soluble toxins/ama are liquefied (as mentioned above) and then removed from the body through the process of panchakarma.
Panchakarma literally means “five actions” and involves five eliminatory treatments to remove toxins from the body and restore energy flow throughout the organ systems and tissues:
- Vamana – therapeutic vomiting, treats Kapha imbalance.
- Virechana – purgation, treats Pitta imbalance.
- Basti – enemas, using oil and herbal treas, to treat Vata imbalance.
- Nasya – cleanses and nourishes the sinuses and nasal passages.
- Rakta mokshana – bloodletting, to move blood in parts of the body where it is stagnated. Typically it involves the application of leeches and is beyond the scope of practice in the US.
Since these eliminatory treatments will leave the body with some "empty spaces" from where the toxins used to be, it is important of fill up these "spaces" with good, strengthening foods and herbs, so that you come out of the whole process of panchakarma strong and with a healthy immunity. So after elimination there is a rejuvenation phase in which activity level, food intake, digestive strength, are all slowly built back up again, and during which strengthening foods and herbs are ingested.
During the panchakarma process it is highly recommended to refrain from external stimuli, such as socializing, television watching, computer, movies, books. Journaling and expressing through drawing or simple art projects are wonderful ways to support this process of elimination of toxins, since it brings an opportunity to let go of mental-emotional toxins as well.
Panchakarma leaves you feeling clear and energized, deeply rested and rejuvenated. It is a beautiful component of a healthy and natural lifestyle.
Please respond to this blog with any comments of your own panchakarma experience.