Panchakarma I

Panchakarma is an ayurvedic detoxification procedure that has both preventative and curative benefits

PanchakarmaAccording to ayurvedic texts, our body is crisscrossed by srotas or channels. This network contains both microscopic and macroscopic channels. [Digestive system, nervous system, circulatory system etc., are few examples of these channels]. Innumerable physiological process like breathing, blood circulation, secretions of enzymes, hormones, flow of signals, supply of nutrients, filtration of toxins, excretion of waste etc., are aided by these tubular structures.

Diseases occur when toxins get accumulated in the body and clog these channels. Unhealthy diet, lifestyle, stress, and changes in environment, lead to accumulation of toxins in body. These accumulated toxins have to be expelled out, in order to keep our body healthy. Through panchakarma therapy, these toxic clogs are removed to normalise the physiological processes.

For prevention

Panchakarma therapy can be administered to a normal person to prevent diseases and keep his body healthy. The ideal season to expel toxins through this therapy is the rainy season.

For cure

Panchakarma therapy is also used as a purification therapy to cleanse the body before starting a treatment. A diseased body can be compared to a soiled cloth that can not be coloured as we desire. Hence to attain the maximum benefits, the body has to be purified or cleaned before starting the treatment. The cleared channels help medicines to penetrate the deeper tissues.

The entire detoxification process consists of three major steps

  1. Purvakarma – Preparations for the detoxification
  2. Pradhanakarma – The main detoxifying process
  3. Pashchat karma – Rehabilitating the diet and lifestyle after the detoxification process.


These steps are adopted to soften the channels and toxins, so that the toxins can get detached and eliminated easily during main detoxifying process.


The hard toxic clogs are made to get loosened by increasing body fire or agni. Medicines are administered internally for this purpose. This process is called as “deepana” and “pachana” in ayurveda. [The duration of this process is three to five days depending on the conditions and diseases]


Later, the whole body is oiled internally and externally with medicated oil or ghee. This process is called as “Snehana”.

Internal oiling is done by administering small quantities of medicated oil or ghee. The duration of internal oiling, quantity and type of medicated oil or ghee is determined by the physician, after analysing the constitution of the patient. The patient has to eat liquid food or light food on the day prior to internal oiling. After consuming the medicated oil or ghee, the patient is encouraged to sip warm water frequently. Once the medicated oil or ghee is completely digested, the patient is advised to consume light food.

External oiling is done after the completion of internal oiling. The whole body or body part is massaged with medicated oil. Few types of external oiling are used as treatment methods. They are

  • Abhyanga — Massaging whole body
  • Lepa — Smearing medicated oil and herbs
  • Mardana — Kneading the body parts with fingers and fists
  • Padaghata — Trampling the body with foot
  • Gandusha — The mouth is filled with oil and is retained for a longer period of time
  • Parisheka [Pizhichil] — The warm medicated oil is poured continuously over the entire body for an extended period of time.


Soon after oil massage, the body or body part is exposed to heat through steam bath or other heating methods, according to the physician’s choice. This process of exposing body to heat is called as swedana or sweating. Both snehana and swedana help to soften the channels and toxin clogs. Elimination of toxins becomes easy when channels are soft and toxins are loose.

Pradhana Karma

This is the main detoxifying process. The softened and loosened toxins are expelled from body by five methods. Due to these five major detoxifying methods, the whole process is named as “Panchakarma” (Pancha = five, Karma = processes/actions).

  • Vamana (through Emesis),
  • Virechana (Purgation),
  • Niruha basthi Basthi (enema with herbal concoctions ),
  • Anuvasana basthi (enema with medicated oil)
  • Nasya (nasal drops) and Raktamokshana (Blood letting).

[These processes will be explained in detail in the next issue]. The physician can choose any of these detoxifying methods according to disease and prevalence of doshas.

Paschat Karma

A strict diet and lifestyle procedure has to be followed throughout the Panchakarma treatment. The rehabilitative procedures to bring back the diet and lifestyle to normal are considered as “Paschat Karma”. In this stage, digestion power is brought back to normalcy. Medicines are administered to rejuvenate the body or to treat the disease.

Rules to be followed during panchakarma

During Panchakarma treatment the following rules have to be strictly followed.

  • One has to use only warm water to drink, bathe and for other activities
  • Person who is undergoing panchakarma therapy can not indulge in sex
  • Sleeping in daytime is contraindicated
  • Natural urges should not be controlled
  • Exposures to extreme temperatures or weather conditions have to be avoided
  • Keeping awake at night is not advisable
  • Foods which cause indigestion can not be consumed
  • Exercise and mental stress have to be avoided

Read more about pradhankarma in part II of this series.

Benefits of Panchakarma

  • Toxins are eliminated from body
  • Doshas get balanced.
  • Stress is reduced and body gets relaxed
  • Slows ageing process and increases the lifespan
  • Increases glow and lustre of skin
  • Boosts body immunity and body energy level
  • Enhances strength, energy, vitality and mental clarity
  • Reduces dependence on alcohol, tobacco and drugs
  • Helps to implement healthy diet and lifestyle
Savitha Suri, BAMS, is a Mysore-based consultant ayurvedic physician. She writes articles on ayurveda in both print and electronic media.