Panchakarma literally means five [panch] actions [karmas]. It is a set of five treatments, which are considered the most powerful tools in ayurvedic therapy.
All the five treatments may not have to be administered and the physician decides which treatment you are eligible for based on your body [prakruti] and the disease [vikruti].
Before panchakarma is started some preparatory therapies known as poorva-karma have to be performed. These include:
1] Oleation therapy [Snehana]
Where the body is saturated with medicated oil prescribed by the physician. The oil is massaged in a particular way so that movement of toxins towards the digestive tract is facilitated.
From the digestive tract they are then eliminated. Snehana also involves retaining the oil in specific areas of the body such as the lower back, chest, neck or the knee that require special care.
2] Sweating therapy [Swedana]
Oleation therapy is followed with a hot fumigation to promote sweating. This helps in the collection of the metabolic wastes in the major channels, from where they are then expelled, using an appropriate panchakarma therapy.
For this, the person lies in a steam chamber and any of the following ingredients can be used for fumigation.
- Elakkizhi: This makes use of herbs and is especially useful in alleviating aches and pains. It is beneficial in conditions like cervical spondylosis, lumbar spondylosis, sciatica, ankylosing spondylosis, frozen shoulder, osteoarthritis, muscular-dystrophy and post-accident care.
- Njavarakkizhi: This treatment uses a special variety of rice cooked in milk and herbs. It helps in conditions such as tuberculosis, hemiplegia, paraplegia, Parkinsonism, muscle wastage, dryness of skin, sleeplessness, post-radiation cares and diabetic neuropathy.
- Podikkizh: This treatment uses dry powdered drugs to help in rheumatoid arthritis or obesity.
- Shirodhara: This is probably one of the most popular methods of swedana. In this treatment, a stream of lukewarm oil is allowed to flow over the forehead continuously for 45 minutes. Shirodhara is considered a magic cure for sleeplessness, stress, mental disorders, stroke, psoriasis, cervical spondylosis and migraine.
Though the above-mentioned practices are considered preparatory for panchakarma, even when done exclusively, they prove to be useful means of treatment.
This is the main stage of panchakarma where the actual therapy is carried out. You may undergo either one or more of the following therapies [as per the physician's recommendation].
- 1. Emesis [Vamana]: In this, the patient is given a vomit-inducing drink, following which the tongue is gently rubbed for few minutes. According to ayurveda, vamana helps eliminate mucus from the upper digestive tract, which includes the oral cavity, stomach, oesophagus and chest. Vamana is recommended in sinusitis, poisoning, indigestion, chronic tonsillitis and anaemia among other conditions.
- 2. Purgation [Virechana]: Virechana uses natural purgatives for cleansing. It is usually done three days after vamana. Salt, castor oil, milk, and flaxseed husk are some of the substances used as laxatives. Virechana is useful in disturbances of bile and liver disorders. It helps clear the doshas from the lower digestive tract.
- 3. Enema [Basti]: This is considered as the strongest panchakarma, and rightly so because it can cure almost all diseases caused due to imbalance of vata by clearing doshas through the large intestine and rectum. In this treatment, a suitable enema either of milk, oil or decoction of herbs is introduced in the rectum. This treatment is not recommended for those who have bleeding from the rectum or any other active disease of the rectum.
- 4. Nasal instillation [Nasya]: This involves use of prescribed substances for inhalation. Also in some conditions certain substances such as ghee are introduced in the nasal cavity and then gently massaged. This clears the doshas from head and related organs.
- 5. Bloodletting [Raktha moksham]: According to ayurveda, toxins that are absorbed in the blood stream need to be released by bloodletting. This is useful for circulatory disorders and skin conditions such as acne, eczema and vitiligo.
This is post panchakarma care where the patient is provided with a light and nutritious diet that helps regain the energy levels after a potent cleansing session.
Panchkarma is not to be given to children, pregnant women or the elderly. In such cases, the poorva- karmas may be considered, depending on the disease.
Massages and other treatments should be carried out in a controlled environment where temperature should be between 28oC to 37 degrees celcius. The place should be devoid of direct sunlight, breeze or extreme dry and wet weather.
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