Cleansing, juicing, detoxing are all buzzwords nowadays. Katy Perry getting a Panchakarma catapulted Ayurvedic cleansing to fame as ‘gut cleanses.’ But Panchakarma is a detailed cleanse that has been used for centuries as a therapeutic intervention in Ayurveda—a holistic traditional medical science in India and a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in the US.
Last year I went through a Panchakarma treatment. It took about a month. After 40 years of hyperacidity (yes, I was minus ten when symptoms developed, ha!) and trying every possible treatment and PPIs, multiple endoscopies, mainstream and alternative therapies, I finally had relief from GERD! I’d forgotten what that is even like. It’s been a year and I rarely have symptoms flare up. I also had a couple of surgeries after a soccer injury and a meniscus tear; I could now walk without a limp and was pain free without having to rely on NSAIDs.
There are many stories of remarkable recoveries and mine pale in comparison but I wanted to recount them; indeed, an Ayurveda cleanse lends such transformation and strengthening, it’s like getting one’s life back.
How is an Ayurvedic Cleanse different?
- Objective of Cleansing
According to Charaka Samhita, the Ayurvedic Root text, the objective of Shodhana Chikitsa or cleansing is to manage current disorders and more importantly, prevent future recurrence. Anyone can seek a cleanse; it improves the health of the healthy and helps manage ailments*. Whatever be your goal; managing insomnia, chronic pain, anxiety, weight issues, poor digestion, specific ailments*, a general reset, seeking greater energy and clarity; an Ayurvedic cleanse can help! It is a time tested form of therapy that focuses on healing and restoring balance. The Noble prize on autophagy corroborated the importance of cleansing by itself; read more about Cleansing and Autophagy here.
- When should one cleanse?
To reiterate, even the healthy can seek a cleanse because like a room that needs dusting, imbalances do worm their way in and none of us have perfect health habits, lives or lifestyles. Particularly when endogenous and environmental toxins or Ama build up we could have symptoms of abdominal disorders, insomnia, stiffness, fatigue, weight gain, allergies, joint pains and other illnesses. Or we may have diseases that are in different stages of their samprapti or full expression. In any of these stages or situations, we could do an Ayurvedic cleanse. Cleanses can be done at any time of the year, but are recommended periodically and especially during seasonal transitions (Ritusandhi) like fall and spring. India, the land of Ayurvedic origin has six seasons where monsoon is when Agni or digestive and metabolic fire is at its lowest and that is the best time to cleanse; however, in the US, Agni is lowest in the spring.
- Individualized Protocol
While shorter cleanses can be a bit more generalized based on ritucharya (seasonal) guidelines, an initial consult will determine the context of your body constitution or prakriti and imbalance or vikrati based on which you will receive guidelines on how to proceed. A longer cleanse or Panchakarma is totally individualized and the entire protocol is designed based on the Rogi or client’s current disorders and the status of their physical, physiological, psychological and genetic health history. A shorter cleanse can take a week and Panchakarma takes roughly up to a month.
- Stages of Cleansing and a Focus on Rejuvenation
There are three stages of an Ayurvedic Cleanse. Preparation for the cleanse (Purvakarma); the actual cleanse (Pradhankarma) and post cleansing rejuvenation (Rasayana) which is vital. Cleanses can be depleting. Ever find that after a regular cleanse your hair is falling, skin is turning dry, there’s a drawn look about you and you end up feeling weak (and throw Vata out of balance). It is important to have a Rasayana phase after cleansing and to transition out of it slowly. I recall being told that you’re like a baby post cleansing and that’s how you want to look after yourself, with a focus on nourishment. Which is why a fall cleanse in the US particularly requires a proper rejuvenation phase; fall and early winter are anyway Vata aggravating.
- Holistic Cleansing; Mind, Body, Spirit—and a digital detox.
Cleansing involves attending not just to the body but also the mind. Most importantly, you pause to go on a journey of self-exploration; to understand through the Ayurvedic assessment how the elements and doshas (energy principals) impact your structure, function, tendencies and affinities and what is out of balance. This is knowledge that helps structure your nutrition and lifestyle for optimal health going forward. Also, during the cleanse you are encouraged to go on a digital detox, minimize media, negative interactions; to meditate and follow a guided schedule with some gentle yoga and introspection. There are lifestyle guidelines to be followed, for instance daytime sleep is contraindicated and one is advised only warm water to drink. A detailed cleanse is often done at a retreat.
- Focus on Nutrition
There is a focus on easy to digest, fresh, cooked food, avoiding caffeine, processed foods, cold or raw food and nutritional guidelines are given throughout the cleanse. Nutritional advice is given as an ongoing preventative mode of leading a healthy lifestyle and avoiding diseases.
- Herbal Support
Individualized herbs for detoxing and various health conditions are recommended during shorter or longer cleanses. During Panchakarma, there is a herbal protocol during each stage of the cleanse; for getting rid of Ama initially, for therapeutic ghee ingestion or Snehpana, for purgation or Virechana, for ingestion or external application for therapies during the Pradhankarma or main cleanse and for the Rasayana or rejuvenation phase.
Therapies are recommended for the Panchakarma or may be advised during shorter cleanses that could involve Abhyanga (with therapeutic oils) or Udwarthanam (dry powder massage with herbal remedies). Panchakarma itself implies five actions or therapies of which two are not allowed in the US (Vamana or therapeutic emissis and Raktamokshana or bloodletting). Virechana (therapeutic purgation), Nasya (elimination of toxins through the nose) and Basti (medicated enema) with other therapies as needed like Kati Basti (for joint disorders) and Shirodhara (for anxiety, insomnia and Vata disorders) are included in the Panchakarma sequence based on the Rogi’s (client) needs.
- Clear Benefits … and Contraindications
An Ayurvedic cleanse has clear benefits which can range from improving health to alleviating disorders. The cleanse detoxifies, restores the balance of doshas, reduces physical and mental stress, boosts immunity, increases energy levels and clarity and can help in de-addiction therapy and resetting healthy lifestyle habits. There are also clear contraindications. Cleansing is avoided during the menstrual cycle, for pregnant women or lactating mothers, for Rogis that have certain types of cancer or HIV, or are morbidly obese, have hypertension, emaciation or an active contagious disease.
- Supervised by an Ayurvedic Professional
In Ayurveda, even fasting is individualized. For instance, it is generally not advised for people with a Vata Vikrati. Cleansing is done under the support and guidance of a highly trained Ayurvedic professional with proper instructions on nutrition, herbs, therapies and follow up.
We may not have a month out of our schedules to do a detailed cleanse (though it is highly encouraged), yet there are times when a shorter cleanse can work wonders. Particularly at a time like this—during the pandemic when we’re stuck at home and a lot of us are anxious, making poor eating choices, and unable to follow through with lofty plans to attend to ourselves—an Ayurveda Enhanced Home Cleanse under the guidance of a professional can help reset health. If you’re reading this article, chances are that’s exactly what you’re looking for. We welcome you to take a step to optimal health and wellness with one of our Ayurveda Home Cleanses.