Ayurveda teaches us that optimum health relies on our ability to metabolize life fully—not just in terms of the food we’re eating, but also our emotions and experiences. When we’re not able to assimilate nourishment, toxins build up, causing emotional unrest and physical illness.
Through the cleansing power of panchakarma, we can release these toxins and allow the body’s innate healing capacity to work as it should, restoring us to our natural state of wholeness.
Panchakarma is one of the most powerful tools for wellness of the body, mind, and spirit. When choosing a panchakarma program, there are a few important factors to consider. Choosing the one that’s best for you will ensure that you derive the most benefits from this time-honored healing process.
Make it Personal
Treatments should be chosen based on individual needs, and recommended with the guidance of an Ayurvedic health counselor. Ayurveda is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and neither is panchakarma. Your treatments will be specific to your type of (prakriti), and to which element, if any, is out of balance. This can be determined through an extensive consultation or through a shorter pulse assessment.
The therapists who administer panchakarma treatments should have extensive training in Ayurvedic treatment methods, along with practical experience and education in essentials like human anatomy and physiology. Additionally, practitioners should themselves provide a living example of personal health and wellness, and undergo ongoing Ayurvedic training throughout their career.
What’s Included in Panchakarma?
The Sanskrit word “panchakarma” translates to “five actions,” which refers to the five treatments that are included as part of panchakarma. Not all people need all five treatments, so look for a program that is fully customizable to your needs.
Some of the treatments that may be offered include:
Vamana: Vamana is therapeutic emesis that helps eliminate toxins, especially in the respiratory tract.
Virechana: Therapeutic purgation helps remove accumulated toxins from the liver and gallbladder, cleansing the GI tract.
Nasya: During nasya, herbalized oils are administered through the nostrils to clear toxin buildup from throughout the head and neck.
Basti: Colonic irrigation, or basti, cleanses toxins from all three doshas (vata, pitta, and kapha) to rejuvenate the entire body.
Shirodhara: During shirodhara treatment, continuous pouring of warm oil on the forehead helps to calm the doshas, creating a very meditative state and a relaxed mind.
Abhyanga: This warm oil massage loosens toxins for a deeper level of rejuvenation.
Swedhana: Swedhana can be likened to an herbal sauna, and is a treatment designed to encourage sweating to release toxins.
Are Your Meals Prepared For You?
When it comes to food, a key question is: are your meals prepared for you? This means you do not have to go searching for food or spend your relaxation time cooking up fresh food two to three times a day. If someone is cooking for you, is the diet specific to the cleanse that you’re undergoing? Will the type of food nourish and support your journey?
This will leave you more time to relax. And more relaxing means more cleansing during panchakarma, especially if the food is right. The detox diet helps nourish your system and stimulates cleansing from the inside out. The treatments help you cleanse from the outside-in. When taken together, the therapies and specialized diet are a potent combination.
Diets can range from the arduously austere to the luxurious. I once spent 3 days eating nothing but lightly cooked mung beans and drinking ghee. At the same time, you can have a good experience with lightly cooked, simple Ayurvedic food combined with a few days of simply kichadi. On the other hand, while a luxurious diet may be tasty, you’ll make faster progress with a simple, moderated diet for panchakarma.
Residential or Non-residential?
Will you have to fight traffic every day racing from work to treatment to home (or hotel)? This is the essential question behind programs that are residential or non-residential.
When you choose a residential option, you get to stay on site, relax a little more and not race anywhere (not racing is a big break from the run of our everyday routine and cleansing in and of itself). While staying onsite makes it easy to walk to sessions and treatments, staying off site can help you balance other commitments and your cleanse, if you need to do both the same week.
Location, Location, Location
If you are traveling to a residential site, the old saying “Location, location, location,” is just as relevant in cleansing as it is in real estate. Is the location peaceful, comforting and helpful to the cleanse? Do you relax naturally being there?
Location can make a big difference, especially if you’ll spend a good amount of time relaxing there. Daily meditation, yoga, and yogic chanting may all be included as part of your panchakarma retreat.
Finally, perhaps the most essential must-have in an excellent panchakarma program is a comprehensive level of support and flexibility that’s tailored toward each individual participant. Because the concept of Ayurveda is based in balancing doshas, the combination of which is unique in each person, not every treatment is right for everyone.
When choosing a program, food, residential options, location, support and personalization are some key factors to consider.. While panchakarma can deliver dramatic healing in all aspects of your physical and emotional well-being, this ancient practice can benefit from a proper setting.
If you’ve done a panchakarma program, what made the biggest difference in your experience? Please let us know in the comments below.
If you’d like to find out more about panchakarma and how it can help improve your quality of life, you can go through our ebook that overviews the ins and outs of Panchakarma.
Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.