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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Expressive Arts: The Art of Consciousness

By Dr. Harrison Graves, MD
September 26, 2016

Art in our pottery studio is one activity offered during our spiritual retreats.

Did you know that art and music have a lot in common with yoga and meditation? Art has a similar power to elevate the consciousness, the awareness. Creating art, or sometimes just looking at art, can promote positive emotions like gratitude, happiness and joy.  In this blog we’ll find out how — as we dive into the art of consciousness.

Art, like meditation, stimulates the pleasure centers in the front part of the brain, the brain’s center for happiness and higher learning.  For many artists, creating art is a form of dharana, or concentration, the all important sixth limb of yoga. Dharana is prerequisite for dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption into bliss).

The act of creating art is so therapeutic that it became the catalyst behind an entire art therapy movement: Expressive Arts Therapy.

Expressive Arts Therapy
Expressive Arts Therapy (E.A.T.) is a form of art therapy that uses all of the artistic modalities — dance, drama, music, poetry and the visual arts — to enhance our overall well-being. The recent Guru Purnima celebration at Art of Living provided a treasure trove of  the expressive arts: classical Indian dance, inspirational films, poetry,  devotional singing and devotional music with harp, sitar, flute and tabla.

E.A.T. is a two part process: the creation of art and the discovery of its meaning. The arts are used to let go, express, and to release.

In the early 1940’s Expressive Arts Therapy became formally recognized and has since provided meaningful therapeutic experiences for people of all ages in a variety of treatment settings from hospitals to community centers. There is no right or wrong way in the arts which encourages the clients to be free with self-expression.

Expressive Arts Therapy is not about interpreting color or images. It is not necessarily used for diagnosis, although it can help assess an individual’s needs or progress. Its focus is not on a “beautiful” outcome. What’s important is the process of making art and exploring what the piece means to its creator.

Within the Expressive Art Movement is the idea that creativity itself is a path to the divine. Creating art can lead us to happiness and better emotional health.


Feelings: An Energy Source

Natalie Rogers, an Expressive Art Therapist, says “our feelings and emotions are an energy source. That energy can be channeled into the expressive arts to be released and transformed. The creative connection is a process that brings us to our inner core or essence which is our life energy (Creation Spirituality, 1993).”
In terms of the chakras, artistic expression pulls the energy up from the mundane to the sublime, from the lower chakras to the upper chakras. The fifth chakra, at the throat, is the home of creativity, art, communication and higher learning. It is the abode of music and mantra.

People have been using music as as tool for healing for centuries. The Greek physician Aescalapius played the harp for his patients to calm their minds. It was believed that healing the soul through music also healed the mind and the body. Listening to music bypasses the thinking mind and goes right to the part of the brain where the emotions reside.


Expressive Arts at AOLRC
The Art of Living Retreat Center and Spa welcomes its newest artist-in-residence: Thomas Koole, master pottery teacher and world-renowned artist. Thomas reminds us that the visual image can be used “not only as shared communication but also as a tool for self-realization.” Thomas’s work can be seen at

Thomas Koole, AOLC artist in residence
Thomas Koole, AOLC Artist in Residence

At AOLRC, creating art is perhaps the most fun way to cultivate present moment awareness.  You can express your Self today by making an appointment at the Art of Living Retreat Center pottery studio.

Art can heal us. It can fill us with inspiration and love. Those of us who lived like artists as children have the ability to bring back this powerful form of expression and self-healing. You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy putting paint on a canvas or creating a pottery bowl. Let your pleasure centers light up like those of a child.

Today we are surrounded by billboards and bombarded with ads which utilize art to persuade us to buy things — things we often don’t need. Imagine how we might create a more uplifting and colorful world by surrounding ourselves with beautiful and meaningful art — the art of consciousness, the art of higher awareness.


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


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ayurveda shirodhara therapy

Shirodhara: Ayurveda’s Bliss Therapy

By Dr. Harrison Graves, MD
July 11, 2016

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar tells us that “the first step in yoga is to let go, to relax.” A relaxed body will lead to a relaxed mind. Letting go doesn’t have to be difficult, however. It can even be blissful.


One of Ayurveda’s favorite ways to relax and let go is Shirodhara, perhaps the most soothing oil treatment “the Science of Life” has to offer. Shirodhara (Shiro = head and dhara = flow) comes to us from Ayurveda, the 5000 year old system of holistic healing from India. It’s purpose is to reduce stress and induce a state of deep relaxation. Shirodhara has been used to help relieve insomnia, anxieties, fears, stress headaches and other nervous system disorders. Guests normally experience a deep relaxation during the treatment.

Letting go can be a blissful process.

The Process

During the treatment, a thin stream of warm, herb-infused oil (like sesame) is gently poured from a copper pot onto the forehead for a prolonged period of time (about 50 minutes). The trained therapist gently directs the stream over the third eye and other important marma (energy) points found across the forehead. The end result is a state of calmness and deep relaxation — a feeling of balanced rest for the body and mind. It is called “bliss therapy” because of the profound effect that Shirodhara has upon the consciousness.


The benefits of Shirodhara are magnified when when performed immediately after an Ayurvedic massage, or abhyanga. Just as abyhanga calms the restless body and Shirodhara calms the restless mind.

Having recently experienced the soothing effect of a Shirodhara oil treatment at AOLC, one client, E.D., told me, “I wanted it to never end.”


Shirodhara and the Doshas

At the Art of Living Shankara Spa, heart-centered LMT’S (Licensed Massage Therapists), specially trained in Ayurvedic therapies, perform the treatments.  An experienced Ayurvedic master selects an herb-infused organic oil specific to each guest’s mind-body constitution: Vata, Pitta or Kapha dosha.

Shirodhara is especially grounding for Vata types. Depending on your constitution, it can also be an important part of panchakarma, the classic Ayurvedic cleanse for rejuvenating and detoxifying the mind and body. To find out more about the variety of Ayurvedic services that are possible, please check out the Ayurvedic treatments page.

Ayurveda shows that you can make letting go a blissful process.  

Experience deep relaxation and tranquility as you learn how to let go. For learning to release from a spiritual perspective, check out this video of Sri Sri on “Letting Go and Holding On.”


(Note: Special thanks to Medha Garuda, Ayurvedic Programs Coordinator at AOLC, for her kind assistance in preparing this blog.)

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


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Ayurvedic Detox: The Natural Way to Cleanse

By Dr. Harrison Graves, MD
May 11, 2016

     With all the hype about detoxes and cleanses today, it can be overwhelming to know how to detox the right way. In this series of blogs, Ayurveda, the 5000 year old “science of life and longevity,” will give us some answers. Ayurvedic detox shows us how to minimize the toxins that come into our lives and maximize the toxins that go out.


     Spring and fall are especially important times of the year to detoxify the body-mind. A spring detox can serve as an antidote for the inactivity and holiday indulgences that may have accompanied the long winter months.

ayurvedic detox treatment jpg:flickr creative commons:License Some rights reserved by copy

Why Ayurvedic Detox?

Physical Toxins

     Ayurveda considers the buildup of toxins, physical and mental and environmental, to be the underlying cause of many diseases. Toxins can enter our world by what we eat, drink, breathe in and process in any way.

      Physical toxins (junk food, for example) build up ama, the sticky waste-product of digestion, throughout the body. Ama builds up whenever the digestive system is either too weak or too overloaded with the wrong foods. Ama in the digestive tract leads to poor absorption of nutrients and GI tract disease. If ama is not cleared from the body and continues to build up, ama’s toxic goo can leave the digestive tract and start circulating throughout the body.

      Examples of ama accumulation outside the digestive tract include the build up of fatty deposits (plaque) in the arteries of the body. These deposits create blockages that can impede blood flow to the heart and brain, contributing to heart attacks and stroke. Ama on the teeth (dental plaque) can be a cause for gum disease and tooth loss.

      Signs that physical toxins have built up in the body include a heavy white coating (ama) on the tongue, decreased energy, foul body, breath and stool odor, indigestion and excessive gas, body aches, foggy thinking and sleepiness after eating.

Ayurvedic detox shows us how to minimize the toxins that come into our lives and maximize the toxins that go out.

Mental Toxins

     Mental toxins can come from many sources, from a toxic relationship at home to stress at work to toxic media overstimulation (“If it bleeds, it leads” newscasting). Signs of mental toxins include anger, worry and depression.

     In Ayurveda, mental toxins are not managed with prescription drugs. No Xanax. No Zoloft. Instead, Ayurveda uses the tools of meditation, pranayama (breath-work) and pratyahara (management of the sensory input) to cleanse the mind of mental toxins.

Pratyahara, that all-important fifth limb of yoga, refers to all of the things taken in by the five senses. Examples of good pratyahara, good mental nutrition, include spending more time in the beauty of nature, in the forest or by the sea, and less time in front of the TV. Good pratyahara also means being around people who are loving and supportive, the opposite of toxic.


Environmental Toxins

     Environmental toxins come from outside the body and include foods tainted with pesticides and chemical fertilizers, as well as many additives and preservatives. Other toxins in the environment come from polluted air (carbon monoxide), polluted water (lead, mercury, etc.) and household cleaning supplies.

Ayurvedic Detox: The Natural Way to Cleanse

     Recognizing the value of regular cleansing and rejuvenation, Ayurveda has given us many ways to detox, from Ayurvedic herbs taken by mouth to therapeutic massage with herb-infused oils to  meditation and yoga. Perhaps the easiest way to start detoxifying is a simple and natural organic vegetarian diet that contains all six tastes of Ayurveda, sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent, something critically important to maintaining the health of the bodily tissues, the dhatus (see previous blog: “The Six Tastes of Ayurveda“). Now let’s take a closer look at some of Ayurveda’s other detox methods. Ayurvedic detox is the holistic way to keep the body-mind healthy, energized and balanced. In this series of blogs, I offer you the most effective Ayurvedic tips I know for reducing the toxins in your every day life.


Ayurvedic Herbs: Easy and Natural

     Ayurveda recommends the use of specific herbs that can cleanse the organs and rejuvenate the tissues. Some of the most important Ayurvedic herbs are triphala, ashwagandha, guggulu, ginger, tumeric and neem. These herbs help by enhancing our bodies’ own ability to detoxify.  They have also been shown to contain helpful natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, as well as several anti-cancer chemicals. At the energetic level, they help balance our doshas (body-mind types) as well.

     The appropriate doses of certain herbs may vary, depending on a person’s constitution and other issues.  However, most people can benefit from the following three detoxifying herbs — triphala, tumeric and ginger. Check with your health care provider or practitioner for specific recommendations based on your body type, your medical conditions and other medications you may be taking.


Triphala: A 3-in-1 Ayurvedic Cleanse

     Triphala (the “three fruits”) is used in Ayurveda as a detoxifier, rejuvenative, and mild laxative. According to a recent article published in the Nutrition Journal, Triphala is one of the most antioxidant-rich compounds in nature, containing a significantly higher antioxidant content than most foods and single herbs. It is a combination of three key Ayurvedic herbs — Haritaki, Amalaki and Bibhitaki — excellent for rejuvenation and GI tract health.


     Tumeric is one of nature’s best and most widely used anti-inflammatories. It is available as a powder for use in cooking and in capsule form. The recommended dose is 500-1000 mg/day. 


      Ginger has a strong cleansing effect on the body, mobilizing toxins and restoring balance. It benefits the digestive system and helps reduce cravings for sweet and salty foods. Prepare ginger tea by adding one teaspoon of grated or sliced fresh ginger root to a cup of hot water. Fill your thermos bottle so that you can sip ginger tea throughout the day.


Next Blogs:

     In our next two blogs we will explore other forms of detox used in Ayurveda, from tongue scraping and sweating (svedana) to meditation and panchakarma, the ultimate Ayurvedic detox.

If you’re interested in learning more about the traditional Ayurvedic cleanse, Panchakarma, check out our guide to Panchakarma.

weight loss guide from retreat center

To your health and happiness!

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 spa , Ayurveda , Ayurveda 101 , ayurveda cleanse , ayurveda detox , cleanse , Detox , harrison graves , sri sri ravi shankar , wellness

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