The Ayurvedic detoxification process of Panchakarma is a clinical protocol designed to reset the dosha balance in the body. Unlike with "colon cleansing", the specifics of the treatments are individualized to treat specific health conditions.
Panchakarma means "five actions", and each of the actions has the effect of eliminating excesses of a particular dosha. The five classical actions include:
1) Therapy to remove excess Kapha/mucous from the lungs and sinuses.
2) Herbally medicated enema given to nourish the colon (dry colon mucosa is often the cause of chronic constipation) and balance Vata dosha. Some people have strong aversions to this step and we can work around it if that is your preference.
3) Nasya: herbal therapies for the sinuses.
4) Rakta moksha (“blood cleansing”): either donating blood to stimulate the spleen to produce new blood cells, and/or herbal support of these systems - liver, spleen, gallbladder, female reproductive system.
5) Purgation to remove excess Pitta and toxins from the digestive tract (this is usually the final step of the program).
In addition to these five actions, the following techniques are employed, with the specifics of each treatment catering to individual needs:
1) swedana (sweating): some form of sweating (sauna, herbal steam, exercise, etc.) to facilitate the elimination of wastes through the skin
2) snehana (oleation): intake of oil to draw fat-soluble toxins from tissues in the body, massage to circulate lymph and facilitate the movement of toxins to the digestive tract, other oil treatments such as shirodhara (pouring warm, herbalized oil over the third eye) and picchu (application of warm, herbalized oil to the third eye using an oil-soaked cloth)
3) dosha-balancing diet: a very simple diet is eaten to facilitate ease of digestion during the program
4) meditation practices: for release of toxic emotions
The "colon cleansing" that most people associate with detoxification is actually one of the final steps in Panchakarma. In Panchakarma, individualized therapeutic actions done for a specific number of days draw toxins from their stored locations in the body and bring them to the digestive tract for elimination. In the final stage of Panchakarma, purgative therapy is done to eliminate the contents of the bowels, including the toxins that have been drawn to the digestive tract during the detoxification period. The purgative therapy also eliminates excesses of Pitta dosha.
No Panchakarma program is complete without rejuvenation. After detoxification, a rejuvenation program is created to replenish the body with nourishing foods, herbal treatments, and daily practices such as Yoga and meditation.
In contrast to the popular “colon cleansing”, Panchakarma is a complete program, designed by a trained Ayurvedic health professional, to facilitate healing for a specific condition. Rather than just making us feel lighter, Panchakarma is known to heal conditions such as lethargy, allergies, digestive disorders, acne, and foggy mind.
My first Panchakarma practice healed my recurrent pancreatitis. My second round of Panchakarma got rid of my allergic asthma. I have experienced the benefits of this therapy firsthand, and I continue to practice it every Autumn and Spring to maintain my health. I hope many of you can also experience this wonderful healing technique!