The Beauty and Healing of Panchakarma

The Beauty and Healing of Panchakarma


Panchakarma is a foundational aspect of healing in Ayurveda. Panchakarma is a Sanskrit word that means "five actions" or "five treatments." Though the treatments that practitioners recommend to their clients will vary, the basic tenets of Panchakarma remain the same.

Basically, Panchakarma is a healing process made up of different therapies that get right to the root cause of health issues and balances the three Doshas. Panchakarma helps heal diseases that are already present and also helps to maintain good health. Ayurveda advises going through Panchakarma changes of the seasons, such as when spring is transitioning into summer.

Panchakarma is divided into two main types. 

Shaman Chikitsa lowers Doshas that are in excess in the body and uses various medicinal herbal and mineral preparations.

However, when the Doshas reach a certain level of excess, endotoxins are created inside bacterial cells and are known to be responsible for generating diseases. When endotoxins accumulate, they should be removed from the body using the second type of treatment, Shodhan Chikitsa, or cleansing therapy. It is also known as Panchakarma Chikitsa.

Panchakarma has been discussed in all of the ancient Ayurvedic texts. Aacharya Charak, the author of the most important text on internal medicine, described a wide use of Panchakarma therapy for almost all the major diseases. Two separate sections, Kalpa Sthanam and Siddhi Sthanam in the Charak Samhita detail the herbal remedies and other preparations used in Panchakarma therapy.

Panchakarma includes three parts.

Poorva Karma (Preparation):

  • Paachan (Digestion)
  • Snehan (Internal and External Oiling)
  • Swedan (Sweat Therapies)
Pradhan Karma (Main Treatments):
  • Vaman (Induced vomiting)
  • Virechan (Induced defecation)
  • Basti (Medicated enema)
  • Nasya (Nasal cleansing)
  • Rakta Mokshan (Artificial bloodletting)

Pashchat Karma (Post-Therapy Lifestyle): 
Sansarjan Krama (specific diet) is the most important, along with Dhuma Pana (smoking of medicinal cigars).

Purvakarma: Pre-Purification Measures

Before the main therapies of Panchakarma, it's important to prepare the body for these intense practices by effectively loosening the toxins in the body so more of them are easily released.

The two procedures are 'snehan' and 'swedan'. Snehan is an oil massage performed by a massage therapist, as opposed to abhyanga, which you do on yourself. Oil is applied to the entire body with a particular type of hand movements and pressure which helps the toxins to move toward the gastro-intestinal tract. Snehan is done daily for three to seven days.

Swedan is basically sweating. It's done every day immediately following snehan. An herbal remedy may be added to the steam to further loosen toxins. Swedan liquefies the toxins and increases the movement of toxins into the gastro-intestinal tract and are released through deep sweating. After three to seven days of snehan and swedan, the patient will feel an incredible positive change come over them physiologically. 

Next we will cover the 5 different cleansing methods a patient may experience while going through Panchakarma.

Five Basic Shodhanas (Cleansing Methods) 

1. Vaman: therapeutic vomiting 

2. Virechan: Defecation

3) Basti: oil enema

4. Nasya: elimination of toxins through the nose with oil

5. Rakta moksha: detoxification of the blood

Vaman: Therapeutic Vomiting

When there is congestion in the lungs and symptoms such as chronic bronchitis, colds, coughs or asthma, the Ayurvedic treatment prescribed is typically therapeutic vomiting. It may sound strange, but it's used to eliminate the excess Kapha causing the buildup.

After snehan and swedan, three to four glasses of salt water is given to the patient. Then vomiting is stimulated by rubbing the tongue which triggers the vomiting center through the gag reflex. Once vomiting has occurred and the mucus is gone, the patient typically will feel instantly relieved. It is likely that congestion, chronic sickness and breathlessness will disappear and the sinuses will clear.

Indications for Vaman:

Vaman is recommended for Kapha-type disorders. It also assists in releasing blocked emotions, respiratory congestion, bronchitis, chronic colds and sinus congestion.

When You Shouldn't Do Vaman:

  • When the person is below the age of 12 or over age 65
  • During menstruation or one week prior to a period
  • Pregnancy
  • Emaciation
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Heart disease
  • During Vata season 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Obesity

Virechana: Purgation/Defecation

When excess bile (Pitta Dosha) accumulates in the gall bladder, liver and small intestine, it tends to produce rashes, acne, chronic fever, nausea and jaundice, among other issues. With these symptoms, a therapeutic laxative may be helpful. Virechan is facilitated with senna leaves, flax seeds, psyllium husks, castor oil or triphala in a combination that is appropriate for the individual person. An experienced Ayurvedic doctor should recommend the dosage for this and all other therapies.

Indications for Virechana:

Allergic rashes, skin inflammation acne, dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, chronic fevers, jaundice, urinary disorders, intestinal worms, burning sensation in the eyes, inflammation of the eyes, conjunctivitis and gout.

When You Shouldn't Do Virechana:

  • Weak digestion
  • Diarrhea
  • Bleeding from the rectum 
  • Directly after a basti
  • Prolapsed rectum
  • Alcoholism
  • Dehydration

Check back next week for Part 2 of our Panchakarma series!

Kottakkal Ayurveda


All views and information shared here is only for the sharing of Ayurvedic knowledge. Please do not try or prescribe or take any of the remedies and suggestions here without talking to your regular, qualified doctor. Kottakkal Ayurveda and no other person associated with Kottakkal is responsible for unwanted side-effects or contraindications in your health.

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