Panchakarma

We are living in an inspiring time. One where more and more people are beginning to adopt lifestyle changes that encompass their overall wellness – with a focus not only on living longer but with more fulfillment, meaning, and mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

To find the solution for complete mind-body health and well-being, one need not look to the latest fads or trends. We can find true, effective health treatments using the ancient wisdom of generations before us. One such example is Panchakarma, a Sanskrit word meaning “five actions” that has been in practice within some of the oldest living cultures in the East for millennia, but whose principles have only recently been looked into by the West.

What is Panchakarma?

Panchakarma, or “PK,” is a traditional Ayurvedic approach to cleansing. Customized to your unique body type, it harnesses the natural intelligence of the body to restore optimal health and balance. It comprises a series of five different treatments that gently release physical and emotional toxins and stressors from the mind and body leaving you rejuvenated, deeply relaxed, vital and clear, with a renewed sense of well-being.

These five actions, detailed further in this article, are called:

  • Basti
  • Nasya
  • Swedana
  • Abhyanga
  • Snehana


There are different iterations of PK that may be adjusted to suit your needs or lifestyle, but they generally involve dietary changes for detoxification and cleansing, herbal cleanses and massages, steam treatments, nasal clearing, and other approaches that we will describe below. Although some of these have been adapted for modern times, they are true to the powerful benefits that Ayurveda offers.

More: What is Ayurveda?

Detoxing:how Panchakarma
promotes wellness

Panchakarma has such a profound effect on the mind and body, it has been recommended as the seasonal cleanse for year-round health. PK is a vital component within the overall Ayurvedic wellness lifestyle as it focuses on detoxification – the elimination of toxins that build up in the body through so many different sources:

  • Lifestyle imbalance
  • Overwork, fatigue and stress
  • Pollution/Air Particles
  • Poor diet

These toxins build up over time and cause imbalance in the mind and body, contributing to lethargy, impaired sleep, mental fog, dull aches and pains, and just a general sense of poor health and wellness. Does any of this sound all too familiar?

The body gives us these indicators though as a reminder to restore balance. Panchakarma is a deeply healing way to reset your body and renew your well-being on all levels — physical, mental, emotional and spiritual — using time-tested methods to support the whole person by cleansing and eliminating these toxins.

More: Five Amazing Benefits of Panchakarma

What is involved in cleansing?

Wellness Programs at Shankara Ayurveda Spa

You may be familiar with the concept of cleansing, and many different natural health enthusiasts promote the different forms this can take. But panchakarma  is different. It is like spring cleaning for the body. It clears away the sluggishness of “winter” and reawakens the beauty and life of “spring” within.

A great example is the story of Brenda, who visited the Art of Living Retreat Center for her healing journey. She felt that over the course of her life, toxins had built up in her body. She felt stressed and knew it was time for self-care. Brenda was able to clear the toxins by eating a specific diet of healthy, nutritious food, spending time in a supportive setting, and engaging in other Panchakarma techniques until she felt so cleansed that she was “ready to climb a mountain.”  

Other people report feeling:

  • More energy
  • Feeling lighter in body and mind
  • Weight-loss

The benefits of a PK cleanse are vast and available to everyone — we are all living in a new world filled with greater stressors, toxins, and pollution than ever before and self-care is of primary importance.

Cleansing with Panchakarma involves three steps:

The pre-cleanse prep

Panchakarma starts with a pre-cleanse to prep your body for the invigorating changes to come. With PK, the pre-cleanse prep may involve:

  • Pachan, the Pre-Cleanse Diet – Pachan is a diet that is meant to both give the body nutrients it may not be getting, but also (and perhaps more importantly) clear the body of unwanted, dormant toxins that may be burdening your digestive system. Your pre-cleanse diet may also be partnered with some herbal solutions to assist in the process of detoxification.
  • Snehana, or Oil Treatments – Internally and externally, healthy oils are used to moisturize and further flush out toxins. Sometimes, a detoxifying warm oil massage known as Abhyanga may be used to stimulate this process.
  • Swedana, or Steam Treatment – A therapy that utilizes herbal steam to release toxins from the body through the skin. The steam works with the former oil treatments to help purify your system.

While this is only the pre-cleanse stage, many people find that they are already feeling refreshed and invigorated once these steps are complete.

More: The Elements of Panchakarma, 3 Steps to Detox

The main cleanse

The main cleanse employs the five stages of Panchakarma, though, as we mentioned, the choices may change depending on your constitution. At one of our Panchakarma cleanses, for example, we may select a choice that includes:

  • Virechana – Specific and time-proven herbs are selected for their powerful ability to remove toxins throughout the body, including the blood, skin, sweat glands, most major organs, and of course, the digestive tract.
  • Basti – Perhaps one of the most highly regarded and effective treatments for detoxifying is Basti. Sesame oil is placed directly (and gently) into the colon to flush out toxins without having to go through the entire digestive tract. Since the colon houses many of the toxins, the result is a fast and thorough detoxification. Basti is only performed if you are comfortable, but most people that undergo the treatment find it incredibly refreshing. Other forms of Basti may be used on other areas of the body as well.
  • Nasya – Nasya is a technique that effectively flushes the sinuses, using herbal oils that move through the nasal passages to eliminate toxins that may be stuck within and address numerous nasal and sinus-related health imbalances.

There are also treatments like dough Basti, Marma point massage, and more that may all be beneficial depending on your specific constitution. Part of the power of Ayurveda is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, it is customized to the needs of each individual – their unique body type and health imbalance.

PK is more than a cleanse. It transforms your health, provides deep rest, and restores your vitality and is often recommended as a supportive tool for transitioning through change.

More: Panchakarma – The Ultimate Cleanse

The post-cleanse

Following the primary cleanse, most people feel thoroughly restored and rejuvenated, with a fresh perspective, renewed energy, and uplifted sense of self. There is something almost magical about it because living with toxins for so long, the body and mind become accustomed to a lower level of vitality but after detoxifying, you feel revitalized, ready to enjoy life in a whole new way.

Still, there is one more step in the process – the post-cleanse.

To maintain this new-found optimum health and well-being, the most supportive next step is a commitment to habit and lifestyle change to prevent future build-up of toxicity in the mind and body. Reverting to past habits and lifestyle that hinders health would be detrimental in the short and long term.

Thus the post cleanse involves:

  • Learning how to maintain healthy eating habits for your constitution.
  • Challenging yourself to make smarter and better lifestyle choices.
  • Utilizing the herbs and natural medicines that are so effective with Ayurveda.

Fortunately, at a place like the Art of Living Retreat Center, an Ayurvedic expert is available to help you craft a supportive wellness plan tailored to your needs and lifestyle.

Remember that PK itself is there to take the toxins that have built up in day to day life and essentially flush them out, so that your body feels healthy and renewed. Those benefits only work when the individual is willing to engage in behaviors that keep those future toxins away.

More: Panchakarma and its Deep Tissue Cleanse

Who is Panchakarma for?

Everyone. From an Ayurvedic perspective, toxins are the underlying cause of disease. Optimal health is experienced through a strong digestive system and elimination of toxins from the body – Panchakarma provides the solution to support both of these body-mind strengthening elements. Many also choose Panchakarma due to its reputed (and experienced) benefits – often completing an annual or biannual cleanse to maintain year-round health.

Panchakarma is also recommended for:

  • Those Over 40 – By the time you reach 40, especially if you have not yet had a cleanse, the likelihood of accumulated toxins is high. Changes naturally occur with age but feeling ‘older’ can often be due to toxicity held in the body from years of lifestyle choices and environmental factors.
  • Seasons – PK helps the body transition between seasons and can act as a preventative care system. For example in the fall, a cleanse is important for preparing and strengthening the body’s immunity ready for the cooler winter months. Likewise, spring is a popular time to cleanse as an antidote to the inactivity and holiday indulgences that may have accompanied the long winter months and subsequent toxicity build-up in the body.
  • Health Concerns or Challenges – If you struggle with chronic issues, or have pressing health concerns and would like a support that complements and goes beyond modern medicine, often PK is a great choice for you.

More: When is the Best Time to Detox

Experience an
authentic Panchakarma retreat

Silence - The Art of Living Retreat Center

Located in the spectacular setting of the Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina, the Art of Living Retreat Center is home to the award-winning Shankara Ayurveda Spa and one of the nation’s leading Panchakarma retreats. Recognized as providing the best Ayurvedic programs in the US, Shankara Ayurveda Spa combines the wisdom of ancient Ayurveda with contemporary wellness to bring you the ultimate therapeutic experience. It’s also the only Panchakarma retreat in the US where you can experience the traditional Ayurvedic cleanse without any alterations.

Whether you are new to the retreat experience or a seasoned guest – this peaceful sanctuary is the ideal place to begin your journey to ultimate wellness.

De-stress, soothe your mind or restore your health, the Panchakarma retreat is the perfect program to jumpstart your healing journey. Many of the Spa guests come from out of state and even out of the country to enjoy the benefits of this transformative program. Here’s why:

  • Rated America’s #1 Ayurveda Spa by Organic Spa
  • A serene, supportive setting – dedicated to your well-being
  • Immersive experience
  • Experts in Panchakarma therapies and Ayurvedic wellness
  • Customized to each individual
  • Fresh mountain air and healthy, nutritious meals
  • Guests receive an individual wellness plan

Shankara Ayurveda Spa is a highly regarded Ayurvedic center, with accommodations and options that are perfect for supporting your path to wellness. There are a range of retreats and cleanses to choose from. Whether you’re looking to relax, recharge or rejuvenate – discover how the retreat experience can fit in your life to support you.

If you feel inspired to try Panchakarma and experience complete mind and body rejuvenation, contact the Art of Living Retreat Center today or browse the retreat calendar and find the ideal program to suit your wellness goals.

More: Calendar of Retreats

Panchakarma guest experiences

The following are just a few of the individual stories from previous Panchakarma retreat guests at Shankara Ayurveda Spa – here they share the ways in which it benefitted their lives. To discover more, click on the links provided.

Elizabeth’s Panchakarma experience

Elizabeth decided on Panchakarma, not because of a particular health imbalance but to learn more about the power of Ayurveda and discover what it could do for her. She soon realized how transformative the retreat would be and instantly found that the experience “let her breathe better” both figuratively and literally, and has since adopted Ayurveda into her life.

Learn more about Elizabeth’s Story

Peggy’s Panchakarma experience

Peggy had recently retired and felt something was amiss. She knew that a week of relaxation and self-reflection would help her transition to the next phase of her life – though she had experienced immersive retreats before, what she experienced with Panchakarma was so much more.

From the therapies to the Ayurvedic knowledge sessions and meditation, Peggy learned more about herself than ever she thought possible and felt younger and happier than she remembered.

Learn more about Peggy’s Experience: Part 1 and Part 2.

Talk to an expert

Are you curious about the power of Panchakarma? Schedule a complementary Wellness Consultation and begin your health and wellness journey!

Call Us828-264-8382