One can be overweight for a variety of reasons—genetics, diet, lack of physical activity, lack of proper sleep, hormonal imbalances, and medications, just to name a few.
Excess body fat increases the risk for several types of cancer and is also an open invitation to cardiac problems, respiratory ailments, digestive ailments, joint problems, and problems related to reproductive health. In addition to the host of physical ailments, being overweight has many psychological impacts including depression, anxiety, lack of self-worth, etc.
If you are tired of counting calories and frustrated with your lack of success in shedding those extra pounds despite trying everything from the latest fad diet to starving yourself to over-exercising—often, in fact, regaining those pounds faster than you lost them—then this article is for you.
Ayurveda Point of View
We often crave high carb or unhealthy foods (blame some of it on the conditioning of the mind from persistent media bombardment) and quick fixes when we are trying to control calorie intake. While we may feel guilty and blame ourselves when we get off track, according to Ayurveda it is the imbalance in tridoshas and the accumulated ama (toxins) in your body that interferes with weight loss. Did you know that cravings are the result of the body asking for nutrients? You may even wonder why your body should ask for nutrients when you are consuming all the right kinds of fresh seasonal fruits and veggies. The reason is, your body might not be able to absorb the nutrients fully from the food that you are eating if ama along with the vitiated doshas is slowing down your metabolism.
Ama is a by-product of poor metabolism which accumulates in the digestive system. Its sticky nature makes it difficult to eliminate. Over time, this accumulated ama not only impacts the digestive system, but all the functions including circulation, reproductive system, central nervous system, joints, and mental health. The ancient Ayurvedic treatments of Panchakarma radically help in the elimination of these toxins by bringing the doshas to equilibrium, and when these emotional and physiological toxins are eliminated from the body, you feel energized, cleansed, full of vitality—almost as if you were a new person.
Panchakarma Therapies for Reducing Weight
Panchakarma treatments not only set the system right, but also help you overcome self-damaging lifestyle patterns like overstressing, overeating, irregular diet, irregular sleep patterns, a sedentary lifestyle, and caffeine and tobacco addiction. In addition to weight reduction during the treatment, panchakarma reignites your metabolism and offers lifestyle correction which helps in sustainable weight loss even after the treatment is over.
Panchakarma pre-procedures include snehana—meaning oleation therapies—and swedana—the fomentation therapies. These preparatory processes loosen the toxins and bring them to the gastrointestinal tract from where they are flushed out during the main Panchakarma process. Lubricating medicated oils and ghee are used to move toxins through the body and combine with the fat soluble toxins accumulated in the different types of body tissues to be eliminated through the gastrointestinal tracts. Diet and reasonable lifestyle restrictions are also part of the Panchakarma treatments. Certain medications are administered orally that help in the processes.
The Snehana process comprises internal oleation called shenpan and external oleation comprising oil massages. Prescribed by the Ayurveda specialists based on your body type and conditions.
For snehpan, the most commonly used fat is ghee, or clarified butter. Medicated ghee is consumed daily in the early morning on an empty stomach in a quantity that is decided by the Ayurveda specialist, depending upon how your system responds to the previous day’s dosage and diet. The quantity of ghee is gradually increased with each passing day, until the body is ready for the next step. During Snehpan, food—limited to khichdi and hot water to drink—is consumed only after the ghee is digested. You cannot eat anything else during this time, not even in the smallest quantity. But rest assured, the results are remarkable and worth any discomfort you may feel. During the process, the specialist advises you regarding certain lifestyle restrictions like avoiding air conditioners, caffeine, or daytime naps. Snehpan also helps aid overcoming certain addictions like caffeine and junk food. People often lose weight during the process.
In Abhayanga, a full body massage is performed using medicated oils and specific massaging techniques which include varying degrees of pressure and specific kinds of strokes on various areas of the body. Warm oil massage not only softens the tissues in order to cleanse the system, but also helps to mobilize the body fat in addition to clearing the blockages in the veins and improving blood circulation.
Udhvarthana involves massage with dry herbal powders containing fat burning qualities in order to balance kapha dosha and reduce excess cellulite and fat from under the skin. The pressure is gradually increased to help in absorption of the herbs through the skin, in order to metabolize the accumulated visceral fat.
These massage therapies are followed by swedana therapies which use different techniques to induce perspiration in order to help in better absorption of medicated oils and herbs through the skin and further metabolizing the body fat. Most commonly used form of swedana is a medicated steam bath recommended immediately after the body massage. Swedana not only helps in the melting of stubborn fat layers, but is also deeply rejuvenating.
Pizhichil is an effective rejuvenation therapy in which a warm medicated oil bath with a gentle massage is given in a specific manner in order to induce perspiration.
Kizhi is a type of fomentation therapy which makes use of boluses of cotton cloth with herbs, sand, medicated rice filling. Elakizhi uses leaves of certain plants and herbs along with oil and some Ayurvedic formulations filled inside the boluses. For weight reduction, specific herbs that effectively melt body fat are used in elakizhi for massage.
Main Panchakarma Therapies
Though all the five main procedures of the panchakarma treatments directly or indirectly do help with weight loss, the main procedures which are particularly effective and are commonly employed for reducing weight are vaman, virechana, and basti—used to flush out the toxins that are brought to the digestive tract during the pre-processes.
In this therapy, controlled vomiting is used to eliminate the toxins from the upper gastro-intestinal tract and the chest region. Vaman primarily eliminates the vitiated and aggressive kapha dosha from the body. This helps in relieving stress and anxiety and results in improved mental clarity and senses including taste and smell. In addition to the respiratory system, metabolism and digestion are improved, which helps in sustainable weight loss. Typically, you’ll feel light and energetic.
This procedure includes elimination of toxins via anal route by means of controlled purgation. Virechan mainly takes care of vitiated pitta dosha which again, is the reason behind improper digestion, distorted metabolism, and malabsorption of nutrients—problems that lead to excessive craving and overeating.
In this treatment a medicated enema is given through the anal route; the medications used are special Ayurvedic preparations which cause the removal of excessive fat from the body. The enema goes into the intestine from where the effects of the herbs reach the whole body, thereby affecting the fat tissues of the entire body.
These treatments are not only helpful in weight reduction, but are also helpful in relieving ailments which are caused by obesity like Diabetes, hypothyroid, cancer, joint problems, PCOS and fertility problems.
Strict dietary and lifestyle restrictions have to be followed after Panchakarma treatments as the body is in a very delicate state and the digestive fire, which is very low immediately after the therapy, needs time to gain strength.
Whether you are on your Panchakarma journey because you want to lose weight, want more energy and overall health, or just want a seasonal whole-being reset, it is important to be kind to yourself and your body during this time. Incorporating the lifestyle recommendations, herbs and supplements, and daily practices learned during your Panchakarma will start you well on the road to your perfect weight.