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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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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