Panchakarma: The Self-Care Method No One is Talking About
“Pancha-what!?” Most people are unfamiliar with what Panchakarma is… I know I was six months ago. Panchakarma stems from Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, which is the oldest health system in the world derived from the Vedic texts written in India nearly 5,000 years ago. Read more about Ayurveda in my recent blog post, here.
Panchakarma is at the center of hospitals in India, and I desperately wish America and other western cultures would follow suit. At Panchakarma centers, the goal is to assess what imbalances you have in your body and your life, and to allow the body to go into a deep rest in order for it to heal. Our bodies are actually quite brilliant on their own and their ability to heal, if it’s in the right environment. And with Ayurveda, it’s all about digestion; the quality of your digestion equates to the quality of your health.
At a panchakarma session, expect healthy, clean, easily digestible meals according to your dosha (your ayurvedic mind-body constitution), spa-like treatments, and plenty of good-quality sleep and rest in order to activate your parasympathetic nervous system (our rest and digest state of being). This also allows your body to deeply detox all toxins it accumulates from stress, food, poor digestion, the environment, and products.
This parasympathetic rest mode helps your body (and mind) access its natural healing abilities. So often living in a western world, we live with our sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, freeze) activated nearly 24/7. When we “rest”, we are never truly restored and rested. Sometimes it takes days of calm and relaxation, and even on vacation, our mind is still going a million miles a minute.
My Experience at Panchakarma
I got back from my first panchakarma experience last month at a retreat center in Fairfield, Iowa, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, called The Raj. The Raj is located in an intentional city, called the Maharishi Vedic City, and is seen as a model of “ideal city life.” It recently became the nation’s first all-organic city by banning the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
“The Raj is the only facility outside of India specifically built to offer the traditional Ayurvedic detoxification treatments, known as Panchakarma […] At the heart of The Raj programs are the profound Ayurvedic purification treatments that once helped maintain long life for the royal families of India. Known as Panchakarma, these customized rejuvenation therapies help restore balance and reawaken the body’s natural healing mechanisms, promoting vitality and good health. Panchakarma is tremendously powerful and uplifting with its ability to detoxify the body and reduce stress, while nurturing both the body and well-being.”
Three Days at The Raj
When my mom and I pulled in, it felt like we were going to a fancy spa in the middle of nowhere. We drove four hours from Kansas City, the drive being beautiful and easy. When we arrived at The Raj, we settled into our room (which was very nice, just like a hotel), went for a walk to explore the area (with fields, trees and a lake out back), and later had dinner with the other guests. We had the choice of a fennel or ginger shot before dinner (depending on your “dosha” / imbalance), and green / coconut and apple chutneys to aid in digestion. We ate a meal of kitchari: consisting of soup (called dahl), grain (rice or quinoa), veggies, and chapati (mung bean pancake), and of course, hot tea. We even got dessert: a crepe filled with berries. Everything was organic, fresh and so delicious!
The next day, we each met with the Ayurvedic practitioner on staff, and she checked my pulse and assessed my Prakriti (my natural doshic constitution), which is Pitta (Fire / Water) and Kapha (Earth / Water), as well as my vikruit (my doshic imbalance), which is Pitta and Vata (Air / Ether), which I already knew due to my current Ayurvedic practitioner’s assessment. Based on this assessment along with my symptoms presented to her, she came up with a treatment plan for me to follow during the duration of my stay. This included: Pitta tea (for my pitta imbalance), kanji drink during the day, and fennel shots before meals to aid in digestion, Pitta spices during meals, as well as several daily body treatments including:
- Abhyanga every day: A four handed, full-body hot oil massage (with olive oil, sesame oil, and bala herb for my body, and coconut oil on my face). The hot oil especially activates the parasympathetic nervous system, as well as improves circulation in the body, providing a purifying and cleansing influence to the physiology, balancing vata, and increasing the secretion of hormones from the skin.
- Shirodhara: This consisted of aot oil dripped back and forth on my forehead continuously for 30 minutes to aid in calming the mind. This helps with anxiety, sleep, insomnia and reduces vata imbalance.
- Basti: for two days in a row. This is an oil and herbal infused enema to help cleanse and deeply nourish the body.
- Padathara: This consisted of a foot massage and continuous flow of cool oil poured over the feet for 20 minutes. It reduces vata imbalances and brings good sleep.
We also learned Transcendental Meditation (TM) while we were there, which was optional, and an extremely beneficial type of meditation. It’s evidence-based and proven to drastically reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and improve our inner peace, emotional, mental state, and spiritual states.
I only received treatment for three days (which is the minimum amount of time you can spend there), and I wish I was there much longer. I can see why this process is so deeply healing and rejuvenating and is the answer to–what people truly need and crave in healthcare–especially when struggling with health issues. Panchakarma is the ultimate self-care! It was truly an amazing experience and I can’t wait to go back later this year.
Why should I do Panchakarma?
At the end of the day, what people really need is to de-stress, detox, eat good food, get good sleep, improve their digestion, eliminate toxins, get gentle exercise, meditate, hydrate, get oil massage and other luxurious full body treatments, and enter a deep state of relaxation. This is how our bodies and minds heal on their own. We must support our body and mind through our environment, what we put into them, and how we treat them. Can you imagine if there was somewhere you could go like this that was also covered by health insurance!?
Panchakarma is exactly what hospitals offer in India, and I can only imagine how things would be so entirely different if that were the case in America and other western countries. I came to The Raj mostly to balance my hormones; an issue I’ve been struggling with ever since I got off birth control nearly two years ago. Western medicine’s only solution is to put you back on birth control, or other forms of synthetic medications that causes these horrible health issues in the first place. I’m not a big fan of the pharmaceutical industry and how doctors are trained in our western society. The past two years especially, I wasn’t in agreeance with western medicine, so I turned to more holistic Eastern medicine methods, ones that truly see the mind-body connection. I started working with an Ayurvedic practitioner in January, changed my diet entirely, got off medication, added some amazing supplements, stopped drinking coffee, minimized alcohol, and got rid of all toxic, chemical-filled products.
When To Do Panchakarma?
If any of this is resonating with you, I’d highly recommend you start working with an Ayurvedic practitioner and go try Panchakarma. It’s truly life-changing and is the most caring thing you can do for yourself. I also love that it is NOT a cookie-cutter healing methodology. It’s much more personalized, and is based on your individual mind-body type and imbalances.
I’d also highly recommend this practice for anyone who is experiencing any type of ongoing mental health issue, chronic illness, or fatigue. Anything and everything from anxiety, depression, PTSD, grief, lyme disease, endometriosis (pitta imbalance), heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or even poor nutrition, tobacco use, excessive alcohol use, to aid with recovery, lack of physical activity, etc, can greatly benefit from Panchakarma. But even more so, come for the PREVENTATIVE measures before you’re struggling with a chronic health issue.
Diet, lifestyle, and stress impacts us more than we realize. We must eliminate all toxins our body accumulates on a daily basis from stress, food, environment, products we use, and poor digestion. The Raj (or any ayurvedic practitioner) recommends coming at least once or twice a year if you can afford to do so, as well as three months before you try to conceive, because that’s when the eggs and sperm are created in your body, in order to have the healthiest baby possible, according to Dr. Claudia Welch. Regardless of your reasoning, you will receive enormous benefits when healing yourself from the inside out.
Now I would love to hear from you.
What do you think about Panchakarma? Would you try it? If you’ve tried it before, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below and I look forward to connecting and going deeper with you. Sending much love, self-care, and gratitude.