Panchakarma: the ultimate Ayurvedic Detox unpacked

Introduction to Panchakarma, the most profound purification protocol for longevity and ultimate health

I am writing from the personal experience of both performing Panchakarma treatments for my clients as an Ayurvedic Practitioner as well as receiving Panchakarma numerous times both here in Australia and abroad.

This is a brief intro, as books have been written on the topic.

Brief Definition (in laymen terms)… I know it quite often gets confusing when Sanskrit terms are used

Panchakarma is one of the key tools that Ayurvedic Doctors and Practitioners use to both prevent and treat various diseases, most of the diseases in fact.

Panchakarma is a complex of various procedures that can last from few days to few months with the purpose to restore balance to the body.

These procedures include:

· Use of herbalized oils for body treatments (including oil massage) – external oleation

· Intake of oily substances such as clarified butter (ghee) – internal oleation

· Steam therapy in steam tents or wooden steam boxes

· Herbal paste therapy

· Nasal therapy

· Vomiting therapies

· Enema therapy

· Purgation therapy

· And more

Panchakarma is meant to allow the body to rid itself of wastes that have accumulated and lodged in the body, creating blockages in the intelligent flow of the various systems, including the circulatory, nervous, and digestive systems.

Once this cleansing process is complete, the body can resume its natural functioning without interference.

Traditional Panchakarma

Traditional Panchakarma is generally done in a retreat or a hospital setting and may last between 2 weeks to 4 weeks.

Also, the person shall prepare while at home before start of the treatments by adjusting diet and lifestyle. Sometimes it may take weeks to prepare, and some may not even be ready to undertake Panchakarma.

After Panchakarma is complete, rejuvenation phase begins which may last few more weeks to slowly and gradually come back to normal life, hopefully much more balanced.

Panchakarma for Westerners

Quite often, Panchakarma must be modified for us Westerners.

I’ll give you a few examples:

Example 1

Westerners may have an aversion to vomiting, they are not used to this as a healing protocol and are usually unwilling to participate in this treatment.

Medicated vomiting (Vamana) is mostly not practiced in Australia by Ayurvedic Practitioners due to some legal restrictions as well.

Example 2

Another treatment, Rakta Moksha or bloodletting is done with live leeches for which there is a similar aversion.

I couldn’t find supply of leeches in Western Australia, otherwise I would love to work with these little suckers…

A Sample Panchakarma Process – what to expect

Mind you, this Process is highly individualised and this is just a glimpse of what to expect. After a detailed consultation, Your Practitioner will prepare a detailed treatment protocol with all the instructions you need.

Step 1. Preparation (Purvakarma)

Week 1 through Week 3

Generally, a few weeks prior to Panchakarma (at least 3 weeks prior), a discussion needs to happen with your Ayurvedic Practitioner during which diet and lifestyle behaviours are reviewed. You should then be guided to modify your diet and begin taking commonly available herbal supplements.

Week 3

At least one week before you start your procedures you will be asked to eliminate dairy, meat, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and processed foods. You will also be asked to stick to a very bland mono-diet of Ghee and Kitchari which is a meal of spiced basmati rice and mung dhal. This diet will continue for the next two to three weeks.

Why Kitchari?

The reason for this diet is that during the cleansing process the digestive fire (agni) takes a rest. Also, as toxins move out from the deep tissues back into the gastrointestinal tract, the power of digestion is further slowed.

Kitchari will provide adequate nourishment, is very easy to digest, nourishes all the tissues of the body, is excellent for de-aging of cells and assists in the detoxification and cleansing process.

Basmati rice and mung dal both have the qualities of being sweet and cooling. Together they create a balanced food, an excellent protein combination.

Can I eat anything else?

During one to two weeks you’ll be mainly eating Kitchari.

If your Ayurvedic Practitioner is kind enough they might let you have a minimal variety of cooked veggies, but you truly do need to stick to the mono-diet.

Week 4

Ghee Intake – Internal Oleation (Snehana)

During the last week of preparation, you will be asked to drink warm ghee first thing in the morning for three to seven days depending on what your Ayurvedic Practitioner decides.

And if you must drink it for 7 days, it’s not because you’ve been naughty but because you need it that long for your “vata” dosha to “ripen”.

Once again, you’ll be guided by your Practitioner.

Week 4-Week 5

Oil Massages – External Oleation (Snehana)

Halleluiah, finally you’ll be treated and pampered

After you finished your days of ghee intake, you’ll have a few days of oil massages (Abhyanga) followed by steam in a special wet


Abhyanga Oil Massage - medicated herbal oil is applied to the entire body with a particular flow sequence which helps the toxins to move towards the gastrointestinal tract. Oil massage also makes the superficial and deep tissues soft and supple, thus helping to remove stress and nourish the nervous system.

This massage is given daily for three to seven days, as indicated.

Swedana or sweating is given every day immediately following the oil massage. A herbal concoction may be added to the steam to further loosen the toxins. Sweating via steam application liquefies the toxins and increases the movement of toxins into the gastrointestinal tract.

After three to seven days of snehana and swedana, you are ready for purification phase, the actual Panchakarma.

Step 2. Panchakarma Phase

There are Five (“Pancha”) Basic Cleansing Methods (Shodana Karma):

Vamana: therapeutic vomiting or emesis
Virechana: purgation
Basti: enema
Nasya: elimination of toxins through the nose
Rakta Moksha: detoxification of the blood

As previously mentioned, here in Australia we generally don’t undertake Vamana or Rakta Moksha, so we are left with the three cleansing methods.

Virechana (Purgation Therapy) Week 5 (one day only)

Indications for Virechana:

When excess bile (pitta) is secreted and accumulated in the gall bladder, liver and small intestine, it tends to result in rashes, skin inflammation, acne, chronic attacks of fever, nausea and jaundice.

Ayurvedic literature suggests in these conditions the administration of therapeutic purgation or a therapeutic laxative. Purgatives help relieve the excess pitta causing the bile disturbance in the body. In fact, purgatives can completely cure the problem of excess pitta.

What will happen:

Generally, straight after your days of oil massages, your Practitioner will give you some purgative herbs and/or oils. You will take them internally first thing in the morning and wait for bouts of diarrhea to start. The purgation process may take a couple of hours after which you will rest.

Basti: Enema Therapy – Week 6/7

Most likely, after a few days of rest and very careful reinstatement of your digestive fire and appetite, you will go through Enema therapy.

Enema therapy is administration of various herbal oils and decoctions rectally.

Your Practitioner will advise on number and type of enemas you will require. On average, you may need three to seven days of enema therapy.

Ayurveda views mucus membrane of the colon being related to the outer covering of the bones (periosteum), which nourishes the bones. Therefore, any medication given rectally goes into the deeper tissues, like bones, and corrects vata disorders, such as constipation, arthritis, anxiety, digestive disorders, general weakness, etc.

Nasya: Nasal Administration of medication – Week 6/7

Ayurveda considers nose as the doorway to the brain and to consciousness.


· Mental activity disorders such as convulsions, loss of memory and reduced sensory perception

· Sinus congestion, migraine headaches, certain eye and ear problems.

· Breathing also can be improved through nasal massage.

An excess of bodily humors accumulated in the sinus, throat, nose or head areas is eliminated by means of the nearest possible opening, the nose.

What will happen:

You might be asked to administer Nasya at home by massaging specific medicated oil or ghee into your nostrils.

Your Practitioner may perform more intense Nasya treatments in the clinic depending on the severity of imbalance.

Step 3 – Rejuvenation (Rasajana) Week 7 onwards

After your Panchakarma you will continue with clean eating and slowly reintroducing your regular lifestyle and diet habits.

Hopefully, after this deep reset you will start making much better choices for your body and mind.

If you feel Panchakarma is something you'd like to pursue either for health maintenance and longevity or to take care of a long standing, chronic condition, we'll be happy to advise you.

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