Panchakarma: Bringing The Ancient Art of Slowing Down and Detoxing Into Your Modern Life
28th Feb 2023
Many of the foundational practices of Ayurveda are complex, ancient rituals often performed at a much slower pace than the one we move at in today’s world. The spa-like detox practice of Panchakarma is no exception.
Panchakarma has evolved. Traditionally, the detoxification therapy lasts two to four-weeks! Today’s Western-friendly rendition of Panchakarma may be shorter, but it still retains its essence and the wellness benefits it provides to mind, body, and spirit.
The beauty of this practice is that it can be completely immersive, experienced in an Ayurvedic wellness center like Kerala’s own, or can be simplified and brought into your own home through a few simple detoxing and nourishing practices you can implement over the course of eight days.
In this brief primer to Panchakarma, you’ll learn about its growing popularity, Ayurvedic roots, and the different therapeutic practices you can expect in a traditional Panchakarma cleanse.
The Growing Popularity of Panchakarma
Pop culture attention and research alike have contributed to Panchakarma’s growing reputation as a recognized protocol of cleansing, detoxing, and restoring balance to the body. Over the last several decades, Western studies have started to explore and measure the effects and potential benefits of holistic detox protocols like Panchakarma. Popular publications and wellness and lifestyle brands, such as Goop, regularly feature Panchakarma.
Given the busy lives we lead, and the high stress levels inherent in the daily grind of Western culture, Ayurvedic practices like Panchakarma must continue to become more accessible. As Panchakarma is more widely understood and appreciated, the opportunity to slow down for this wellness-supporting ritual can be carried on and shared worldwide.
Panchakarma’s Ayurvedic Roots
Ayurveda takes a salutogenic approach to health, focusing on factors that promote health and well-being rather than just targeting and eliminating specific diseases.
The Panchakarma method of detox is practiced to restore vitality and balance to the mind and body. According to Ayurveda, this restorative cleanse is a process of purification that eliminates accumulated impurities and toxins that can lead to disease. This is why it is often used to assist during seasonal changes and periods of hormonal shifts like menopause. After any particularly stressful time in life, Panchakarma can be practiced to deeply support and rejuvenate the body, bringing optimal flow back to the circulatory, nervous, and digestive systems.
As mentioned in earlier blogs, the Ayurvedic doshas are the lens to assess an individual’s state of balance and health. Each dosha is associated with two main elements. The Vata dosha, air and ether, the Pitta dosha, fire and water, and the Kapha dosha, earth and water. The relative balance or imbalance of these elements that make up a person’s unique constitution determines therapeutic protocols and everyday lifestyle routines an Ayurvedic practitioner designs for each individual entering a Panchakarma program.
The Mind-Body Detoxing Power of Panchakarma
Traditional Panchakarma in India integrates five detox processes involving the use of herbalized oils, body treatments, steam therapy, nasal therapy, enema therapy, and purgation therapies. In today’s modern, Western protocol, traditional therapeutic practices involving expelling toxins through forced vomiting, as an example, have been replaced by therapies that are both more palatable and gentle on the body.
Five organs in the body already routinely perform biological detoxification processes. These organs include the liver, colon, kidneys, lungs, and skin. And these organs are hard at work! Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inventories over 83,000 chemicals in the environment.
According to Ann Shippy, MD of Every Life Well, “There is virtually no research looking at the cumulative exposures that humans now face throughout our lifetimes, or the synergistic combination of multiple toxins together in the body.”
Exposure to toxins–environmental, mental, and physical, are unavoidable, making it more important than ever for us to support our body’s natural detox and elimination processes. Panchakarma benefits extend far beyond the physical body, and have been shown to rejuvenate the mind and emotions.
A 2009 study showed that after a 5-day intensive Panchakarma retreat, “perceived social support and depression showed significant improvements.” This is exciting news as individuals who struggle to feel supported by their families, communities, and colleagues have been shown to have altered immune function. Study participants also reported feeling more capable of maintaining healthy behaviors and Ayurvedic practices after Panchakarma.
The Essentials of Panchakarma
As earlier mentioned, Panchakarma is customized for each individual. Most often, the program begins with drinking Ghee in preparation for the cleanse and a diagnostic assessment of elemental and doshic imbalances in the body.
If you choose to experience Panchakarma at an Ayurvedic wellness center you may be given lymphatic massages, herbal scrubs, eye treatments, enemas, and various oil massages and therapeutic treatments. Martha Soffer, a chef, herbalist, master pulse diagnostician, and master Panchakarma specialist, says, “Your first time doing Panchakarma is a crash course in Ayurvedic well-being.”
Creating an At-Home Panchakarma Retreat
You can experience many benefits of Panchakarma at home by planning to take four to eight days off work to indulge in a one-week Panchakarma stay-cation. The main goals of this at-home cleanse should be to:
- Fully disconnect from your daily grind
- Avoid the stimulation of screens, loud noises, crowds, and your typical life stressors
- Spend time in nature, walking and wandering with no agenda or schedule
- Create space for meditation, rejuvenating rest, and deep relaxation
Each day should begin with drinking ghee, followed by gentle meals of traditional Ayurvedic kitchari and dosha-specific tea, and oil massage. You can find a full at-home plan for a Panchakarma experience created by Vasant Lad, BAM & S, MASC here. Interested in becoming a certified Panchakarma Technician? Sign up for our Panchakarma training program at Kerala until March 20th. https://www.keralaayurveda.us/courses/programs/panchakarma-technician-certification/
Finding a Panchakarma Wellness Center
Creating your own at-home Panchakarma experience isn’t for everyone. If the idea of being generously cared for and nourished by qualified practitioners during your Panchakarma experience sounds like your perfect detox, our Ayurvedic Wellness Center in Milpitas, CA offers customized Panchakarma therapies.