Panchakarma: The Ultimate Cleanse

By Dr. Harrison Graves, MD
September 30, 2016

Ayurveda, the holistic medicine from India, has given us the ultimate way to cleanse the body-mind: Panchakarma. Panchakarma means the “five actions,” or five therapies. A Panchakarma retreat uses these time-tested therapies to release physical toxins from the body and deep rooted stress from the mind. It also helps restore the body’s own ability to heal. 

 Panchakarma was developed thousands of years ago by the physician-yogis of India. Its five therapies refer to the five cleansing and rejuvenating procedures described in Ayurvedic textbooks.

Panchakarma in the West uses three of these five Ayurvedic methods for detoxifying. Each is prescribed based on one’s body-mind type or dosha: vata, pitta, kapha.  

A Panchakarma retreat is most effective when a detoxification diet is part of the treatment. The staff at the Shankara Ayurvedic Spa is well aware of the importance of food as medicine. Every individual undergoing Panchakarma receives a nourishing Ayurvedic diet which is monitored by the doctor.

The Process

Think of a Panchakarma retreat as a three step process: mobilization of toxins, elimination of toxins, and body-mind rejuvenation.

Step 1: Mobilizing Toxins

Panchakarma begins with oleation — the application and ingestion of oils and ghee.  Ghee taken by mouth loosens and mobilize toxins from the stomach and intestines. Deep soothing massages with warmed medicated oils release toxins from the soft tissues while making the process a delight. 

Step 2: Elimination and Release

After oleation, comes Swedana (sweating therapy), in the sauna or steam room. Sweating therapy allows toxins to be eliminated through the skin. The heat also improves circulation and releases tension.

The toxins mobilized in Step 1 are also released using a series of daily basti’s, or therapeutic enemas. Basti is much more than an enema, however. It refers to a special type of colon cleanse that uses herb infused oils to remove toxins from the intestinal tract.

Step 3: Body-Mind Rejuvenation

Once the toxins have been released, the time is ripe to nourish the body with natural foods, with meditation and gentle yoga.

The Shankara  Spa Experience

A Panchakarma Cleanse at the Art of Living Shankara Spa is a delightful and de-stressing experience. Customized just for you, your Panchakarma retreat includes:

  • Initial Ayurvedic consultation with pulse assessment by an Ayurvedic Health Practitioner 
  • About 2 1/2 hours of daily Ayurvedic treatments, customized to your personal wellness program
  • Abhyanga (warm oil massage): providing rest, relaxation and rejuvenation to the body 
  • Swedna (Spa steam room therapy)  
  • Shirodhara (Bliss Therapy): Shirodhara refers to a continuous stream of warm oil over the forehead; promotes relaxation, tranquility and mental clarity
  • Therapeutic, organic diet designed to optimize your experience in treatments
  • In addition,  Ayurvedic cooking classes and daily satsang/kirtan are available.


Releasing Emotional Toxins

Emotional toxins can be just as damaging as physical toxins.  Examples include the suffering caused by a toxic relationship at home or an undue criticism at work. It’s important to remember that your mind and heart are continually digesting energy and information as well as foods.

If toxic emotions like anger, jealousy or grievances are not cleared, they can lead to stress related illnesses. These may include ulcers, hypertension and stroke. If your body-mind is made strong by meditation, you will be able to reinforce the positive emotions (happiness, contentment, joy and gratitude) that nourish you. —  and to eliminate those negative emotions that no longer serve you.

Cleansing the Mind: Mantra and Pranayama

Both Ayurveda and Yoga recommend mantric chanting and conscious breathing as an important part of holistic healing. Some mantras, like Aum and OM Shanti, are soothing to the nervous system. Other mantras, like the Gayatri, a mantra for higher consciousness, are chanted for wisdom and illumination.

In addition, pranayama, conscious breathing, is essential. Exercises like nadi shodhana and the yogic breath can provide rapid relieve for anxiety. Pranayama is the fastest way to calm the worries and hurries of the mind.

According to Ayurveda, good health depends upon our ability to fully assimilate all aspects of life. Than means taking in that which nourishes us and eliminating the rest. If we don’t completely digest our food, experiences and emotions, toxins will accumulate in our body and mind. The end result is imbalance and disease.

Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.


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Ayurvedic Cleanse: The Natural Way to Detox (Part 2)

By Dr. Harrison Graves, MD
May 22, 2016

Ayurveda, the holistic medicine from India, has given us a treasure trove of methods to minimize the toxins that come into our lives and maximize the toxins that go out. In our last blog, we learned the best place to start an Ayurvedic cleanse is with an organic vegetarian diet, packed with all six tastes of Ayurveda — sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent. We also covered some of the basic healing herbs used in Ayurveda, from Triphala to Ashwagandha.

In this blog (# 2 of series), we’ll explore two more methods for cleansing the physical body — tongue scraping and svedana (sweating) — and one method for cleansing the mind: pranayama (conscious breathing).

Tongue Scraping

In Ayurveda, ama refers to any accumulation of toxic residue in the body. This can result from improper eating, poor digestion, or a reflection of an imbalance somewhere in the gastrointestinal system. Perhaps the most direct way of removing ama from the body is by tongue scraping. This oral hygiene practice has been used for thousands of years to remove toxins from the tongue better than a toothbrush. If your taste buds are covered with ama (bacteria and plaque), it makes it harder to taste foods. A lack of satisfying taste can lead to going overboard with salt and sweets, with the end result being overeating and weight gain.

ayurvedic cleanse tongue scraper
Tongue scrapers can be made of copper, plastic, or even silver, as shown above.

How To Use A Tongue Scraper

Place the tongue scraper as far back on your tongue as is comfortable. Using firm but gentle pressure, slide the scraper from the back of your tongue to the tip 5-10 times. Rinse and clean off the scraper and repeat until there’s no chalky residue left. Takes about 1 to 2 minutes. If you don’t have a tongue scraper, get into the habit of brushing your tongue with the toothbrush.

In Ayurveda, a good tongue examination is a useful way of evaluating the health of the entire body. Looking closely at your tongue each morning is also an opportunity for self-awareness, where you can reflect on your food choices of the last several days.


Svedana (Sweating)

Svedana is another Ayurvedic cleanse technique for removing physical toxins. When the body is heated up in a sauna or steam bath, the blood vessels dilate, increasing circulation to the tissues. Sweating then moves toxins out of the tissues so that they can more easily be eliminated from the body. Daily sauna/steam therapy is ideal — at home or at the gym or health club. If a daily sauna is not available to you, you can run a very hot bath or shower to create a sauna effect, or even sit in a warm tub of water.

Let your body guide you as far as the proper amount of time for heat exposure. Because there are different mind-body types, some may feel ready to step out of the sauna or shower after 5 to 10 minutes, while others can remain for 15 to 20 minutes. Placing a cool, moist cloth on your head reduces the chance of lightheadedness and allows the head to stay cool while the body heats up. In addition, some people may prefer a moist sauna, while others prefer dry heat. Experiment a little to see what serves you best.

Sit quietly and imagine toxins being mobilized and eliminated by your Ayurvedic cleanse.  When showering afterwords, visualize the released toxins flowing off of your body. Drink plenty of water before and after the sauna.


Pranayama (Breathing Exercises)

In both Yoga and Ayurveda, conscious breathing — breathing with a purpose, breathing with awareness — is an important part of daily cleansing. The yogic breath is a special form of long deep breathing that clears the lungs of carbon dioxide and increases oxygen intake. Long deep breathing massages the internal organs, stimulates metabolism and provides the body with more vital energy. The yogic breath is the first line treatment for panic attack.

Another practice that is profoundly relaxing and cleansing is nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing — an ancient yogic technique for restoring balance to the body-mind. One of the more vigorous breathing exercises in yoga is bhastrika, or “bellows breath,” a breathing technique used to energize the body’s life force (prana) and clear the mind. The next time you feel sluggish, instead of reaching for a cup of coffee, try an energetic breathing practice, instead.


Contraindications: Do not practice bhastrika if you’re pregnant, have uncontrolled hypertension, seizures, or panic attacks. You should also avoid practicing bellows breath on a full stomach. Wait at least two hours after eating.

In our next blog, part 3 of the series, we’ll explore Panchakarma, the ultimate Ayurvedic cleanse experience for detoxifying the body, strengthening the immune system and restoring balance and wellbeing.


Interested in learning more about how Ayurveda can improve your health? To find out more, schedule a free consultation with our Ayurveda specialist.

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Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.


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TAGS: art of living , ayurvedic cleanse , ayurvedic detox , Detox , harrison graves md , Panchakarma , pranayama , svedana , tongue scraper

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