“Life is precious. So add life to your age and add age to your life”
Take a moment to reflect on the statement above and think what this means to you and how much you live by this on a day to day basis.
Do you honestly feel like each day you take the measures to add age to your life and if so in what way?
Or instead do you feel that most days you are on a constant fast forward. Waking up at the sound of your alarm clock groaning because your body is still exhausted. Furiously getting ready for work and sacrificing breakfast or quickly having a coffee on the go. Being stuck in peak hour traffic, instantly feeling your stress levels increase. Rushing into work, bombarded constantly by colleagues, emails, and telephone calls. Lunch time consisting of a sandwich eaten at your desk. Leaving work with the the good intention of going to the gym, however, due to pure exhaustion, finding yourself going home instead and ordering take away whilst zoning out in front of the television before retiring to bed. Ready to relive it again the next day.
And this is where I ask you to come back to the first statement above and really look at your life. To also evaluate how majority of people’s current lifestyle of not eating, drinking, exercising, and sleeping properly affects their body and mind negatively to the point that all of these contributing factors cause agitation and the storage of toxins within our bodies.
A publication was released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 15 March 2016 stating “an estimated 12.6 million died as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment…environmental risk factors, such as, air, water, and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation, contribute to more than 100 diseases and injuries ” (World Health Organisation, 2016).
In conjunction, Boseley, S. released an article in 2015 presenting her findings surrounding poor diet; “poor diet has emerged as the biggest contributor to early death around the world, according to new analysis from the leading authorities on the global disease, with red meat and sugar-sweetened beverages among the foods implicated in 21% of global deaths…Institute of Health and Metrics and Evaluation (IMHE) in the US says that a combination of varying factors, eating too few fruit and vegetables, nuts and wholegrains…is taking a toll on health in the UK and across the globe” (Boseley, S, 2015, Poor diet ‘biggest contributor to early deaths across the world’, The Guardian, 2016).
From looking at the outcomes of both of these articles it is scary to think how we are constantly subjected to this lifestyle that is so harmful for our health and incredibly damaging for the overall population. Naturally organisations such as the WHO and IMHE will continue to work towards implementing developments and programs to intitiate further progress towards a healthier environment and promoting a healthier lifestyle for the wider population, but it is also up to the individual, yourself, to actively seek a change in your own life.
Now with this thought, imagine being able to take your health and wellbeing into your own hands in an alternative way. A way to truly rejuvenate your body, soul and mind all in one process and improve your quality of life. To completely cleanse and reverse the effects and waste built up through the modern lifestyle. A method that has been developed over 5,000 years ago and is still as effective today as it was back when it was created. Read further to discover the new world of Panchkarma, an Ayurvedic treatment.
The word Ayurveda means ‘Science of Life’ and this traditional medicine, is one of the most natural ways of healing the body, developed in India over 5,000 years ago. Since this time it has captured the attention of the western world.
The exceptional teaching and reasoning behind Ayurveda as a healing system is that it is not to act as a quick fix, but rather that it becomes an integral and inherent part of our daily life. The beauty of Ayurveda is that it sends the simple message that health is more then just the absence of disease at that current time, rather it is built on the foundation of the integration between our environment, body, mind and soul. That we have the choice and power to influence and control the quality of our lives through reducing the toxins ingested and creating a healthy environment in which to live so that our overall health will flourish.
Ayurveda is based on the three doshas; vata, pitta, and kapha. These three doshas are considered the pillars of the body, responsible for the creation, preservation and destruction of our body. When our doshas are balanced and in harmony our organs and body tissues function properly leading a healthy and sustained life. When our doshas are disturbed, disease and deterioration in the body occurs.
Panchkarma is a special Ayurvedic treatment. A comprehensive system of knowledge and practices used to eliminate the toxins in our body, purify ourselves and restore the body back to its natural law. Panchkarma involves five type of actions or processes to eliminate aggravated doshas and malas (waste) in our body which causes disease and imbalances.
I decided to undergo Panchkarma myself which was conducted over 11 days. The first 8 days of prepatory/preliminary treatment, known as Poorva Karma. 1 day of the purificatory therapy, known as Padhan Karma. The last 2 days of the follow-up/after care procedure, known as Paschat Karma. However, the doctor will determine the number of days suitable for each person based upon their specific health reasons with the process ranging from 7 days up to 21 days. Here is what you might expect if your doctor prescribes this type of treatment for you:
Consultation – diet and herbs
The consultation with my ayurvedic doctor consisted of series of questions such as my sleeping patterns, diet, exercise regime, appetite, skin conditions, family history of diseases, my perspiration during the day, and even went into my mentrual cycle, urination, and bowel movements (no hiding anything here). After the questions were conducted the doctor measured my pulse, looked at my tongue and my eyes for further examination to formulate his prognosis.
The doctor confirmed that I am have a body constitution of vata/pitta with a mild vata imblance due to slightly restless mind at night and being sensitive to noise and light when sleeping. In addition, the occasional spot of eczema every now and again (don’t worry I do not look like a leper), but otherwise told me that I am in tip top shape!
Based on my analysis the doctor recommended the type of yoga and meditation/pranayama that would be helpful for me to balance my doshas. He also explained that it was very important to lead a vegetarian lifestyle (phew atleast I already have this one covered) and also went through with me a recommended diet which I noticed is one that I already lead.
In some cases the doctor will also specify certain herbs or ayurvedic medicines that are specific to your diagnosis. These herbs/ayurvedic medicine combined with the diet and yoga/medication are all are aimed at detoxifying your body and rejuvenating your internal organs.
The doctor prescribed Ashwagandha tablets for myself to be taken after the Panchkarma treatment had finished to continue with the detoxification of my body. Ashwagandha is a powerful healing and rejuvenating herb in ayurvedic medicine. This herb was prescribed to me mainly to calm my vata mind during sleep as the main benefits of Ashwagandha is to assist people on a day to day basis with insomnia, anxiety, stress, increase immunity, increase concentration and memory, stabilise blood sugar, and assisiting in the maintenance of energy levels throughout the day.
Poorva Karma (Prepatory Procedures of Pachkarma)
This phase of Panchkarma was my favourite and most enjoyable by far. I mean who would say no to having daily massages and various types of pamper sessions…not me!
However, this stage of the process is not just about receiving the massages and feeling pampered (that is just the added bonus). Poorva Karma is an essential preliminary stage in order to prepare the body ready for Pradhana Karama the main process of Panchkarma and the purification stage.
In Poorva Karma the aim is to unload the stored ama (toxins) in the body that has been accumulated over time through our daily lifestyle so that it can be easily moved into the deep structures of our gastro-intestinal tract that will be futher eliminated during panchkarma.
In this part of the treatment the patient will be prescribed a medicated ghee (yes you will feel as if you are eating lard…but it’s medicated if that helps ease your mind) taken on a daily basis followed by ginger tea to increase your agni (digestive fire) which is part of the Snehana Karma (aka oleation). In addition, you will be given other ayurvedic medicine to assist with the detoxification process.
Now for the fun part; the external Snehana Karma (oleation process) to soften the toxins and lubricate our body used in partnership with Swedana Karma (aka steam treatment) used to release the sticky and adherent doshas that are lodged into our peripheral tissues through the inducing sweat to soften and melt the toxins.
As stated before each part of the Panchkarma process is developed by the ayurvedic doctor according to your specific needs required to cleanse your body. The doctor prescribed the following schedule for me to give you an idea:
- Day 1 and 2: Abhyangam (traditional Ayurvedic massage) and Nasya Karma (Nasal medication)
- Day 3 to 5: Abhyangam, Nasya Karma and Shiro dhara
- Day 6 to 8: Abhyangam, Nasya Karma and Sarvanga Sweda
Below you will find more information and the benefits on each of the different types of treatments used within the preliminary stage:
- Abhyangam (traditional Ayurvedic massage):
This massage was unlike any other that I had experienced before back at home or even whilst traveling in other countries. Abhyangam is a blissfully comforting full body massage (and yes I mean FULL BODY massage, so make sure you aren’t shy as you will be massaged EVERYWHERE) involving the use of warm oil that is chosen specifically for their healing properties to assist in the process of not only softening the toxins but improving overall body and mind health so that they will operate at their peak performance.
During my massages the therapist used the combination of Ksheerala Oil and Kottamchukkadi oil on my body. Both of these oils were chosen specifically as per my diagnosis from the doctor as Ksheerala Oil contains the benefit of assisting with insomnia and regulating sleep whilst also relaxing and toning the muscles. This oil is made up of sesame oil, milk and Bala which are great properties in soothing vata imbalances, soothing excited nerves, refreshes the body and mind, and also lubricates dry skin…all of which are qualities of a vata person. Kottamchukkadi oil is also used in the treatment of vata imblances with its main benefits to help soothe stiffness, numbness, arthirits, and inflammation.
Kumkumadi Oil was used during the face massage. This oil contains specific herbs to assist with improving skin complexion and texture, the removal of blemishes, dark circles, wrinkles, etc, nourishes the skin, makes the skin radiant, and also has anti ageing properties.
The actual Abhyangam massage is used to help the skin, our largest organ, to perform at its peak to both release the toxins and also absorb the nourishments into our body tissues for further development. This massage is not used only in the preliminary stage of Panchkarma. It is used on a daily basis in the mornings for those living an ayurvedic lifestyle in the form of a self-massage to improve circulation, tone the muscles and entire body’s physiology, calm the nerves, increase mental alertness, eliminate the impurities in the body, lubricate the skin, and increase stamina throughout the day whilst providing a peaceful sleep.
- Nasya Karma (Nasal medication):
This therapy, similar to that of Abyangam, is utilised during Panchkarma and as a self directed therapy on a daily basis.
Nasya Karma is a very important practice, as this involves special herbalised oils administered through the nostrils. The client is asked to inhale the oil and the therapist will direct the client to do alternate nose breathing, finishing off this treatment with a nose massage.
The benefits of this treatment is to create a protective barrier to allergens, pollutants and bacteria from entering the nasal passages. In addition, to lubricate the nasal passages which is very important for a vata person as one of their qualities is dryness.
The nasal passages is the gateway to our mind and our senses. Ensuring that there is a clear gateway is essential as this is where Prana (life force) is absorbed through our breathing. Effectively bringing prana into our body is essential for the function of our mind, nervous system, and our senses so that our immune system remains strong, we do not become stagnant, and our memory remains sharp.
During my treatment Anu Oil was used and is effective for preventing diseases in the upper body. Anu oil is used specifically to improve memory (one of vata’s qualities is poor memory) and to improve the function of the eyes, ears, nose and tongue.
- Shiro dhara:
Shiro dhara was my favourite treatments out of all four that I encountered during this preliminary treatment process. It may have taken me three times to wash the oil out of my hair after each session, but it was so worth it.
This treatment brings both your mind and body to pure peacefulness with the main objective to stimulate the ‘third-eye’, awakening the body’s intuitive knowledge. I found this treatment to be absolutely divine, which was evident as during each treatment I drifted off into a tranquil sleep waking up feeling completely rejuvenated.
This treatment involves the continous flow of herbal oil, milk or buttermilk through a specially designed copper pot onto the forehead. During my Shiro dhara sessions sesame oil was used, which is especially beneficial for vata imblances, and in general is particularly nourishing, healing and lubricating. Sesame oil is particularly beneficial for scalp and hair growth containing vitamin E and B, magnesium, phosphorus, protein and calcium.
The aim of Shiro dhara is to relieve stress, anxiety, and insomnia. To increase mental clarity and focus, help relax, increase the nervous system, increase prana (life force), rejuvenate the entire face, heighten the senses, and balance the vata dosha.
- Sarvanga Sweda
Sarvanga Sweda involves the process of inducing sweat. The patient is placed in a wooden box whereby hot steam is filtered through a hose for approximately 10-15 minutes.
This is one of the best treatments in ayurveda to expel of the vata imbalances and is carried out after abhyangam. The benefit of this process is through the body releasing and sweating out the toxins. I felt automatically lighter and re-energised as my toxins were being flushed out of my body and my cells were given the opportunity to revitalise themselves.
Padhan Karma (Purification Procedure of Panchkarma)
Padhan Karma is the main step of Panchkarma when one of the purification methods are administered depending upon your diagnosis and your dosha imbalance. The five different types of purification processes include:
- Vamana: Emesis Therapy – kapha imbalances
- Virechana: Purgation Therapy – pitta imbalances
- Basti: Enema – vata imbalances
- Nasya: Nasal Insufflations – used for all doshas
- Raktamoksha: Bloodletting – used for all doshas
Although my diagnosis was a slight vata imbalance my doctor prescribed Virechana, Purgation Therapy, for my purification process (I was very relieved at hearing this because blood letting and having an enema did not seem as pleasant).
After my 8 days of preliminary treatments my body and mind was ready for the main stage of Panchkarma.
On the 9th day of my Panchkarma treatment I was given one tablet of Ichhabhedi Ras (a herbal laxative) to be taken in the morning (best time is 6am-7am) on an empty stomach with plenty of water. After taking the herbal laxative it was just a waiting game for the effect to kick in, which it sure did after 30 minutes. I will refrain from sharing the details with you but this tablet did the trick in purging my body for approximately 4 hours accompanied by severe cramps (make sure you have a good movie or two to pass the time and be in very close proximity tona bathroom). I am not saying this at all to scare you away, even though when I was going through this process I did think to myself ‘WHY DID I NOT JUST OPT FOR THE MASSAGES?! IS THIS WHAT CHILD LABOUR FEELS LIKE?!.
This was just my experience and everyone’s bodies are unique and will react differently
to the treatments. The main thing that you need to remind yourself of the benefits. That you are doing your body a favour in reversing the effects of modern lifestyle and eiliminating the toxins that have been accumulating in your body. The good news is that after the 4 hours of purging and pain it was all over and I was allowed to have a glass of hot water to stop the purging followed by a bowl of congee (plain boiled rice in water), which made me feel mirculously better. Not just as a result of being able to feed my body with some nutrients again, but the actual purification process resulted in a renewed energy, strength and feeling of clarity in my mind which I was lacking through the preliminary treatment of Panchkarma.
The actual Virechana procedure is used mainly to balance the pitta dosha and purify the blood, whilst releasing the toxins from the body. This treatment should only be done under the supervision of the doctor and after the preliminary stage of Panchkarma as it concentrates on forcing the toxins out of your body that have been accumulated in the gall bladder and liver. This therapy aims at cleansing the gastro-intestinal tract, sweat glands, small intestine, colon, kidneys, stomach, liver, and spleen.
Paschat Karma (Follow-Up/Post Procedure of Panchkarma)
The Padhan Karma stage of Panchkarma can be very demanding and exhausting for the body, but you will come out with amazing energy and a new proclaimed feelimg of lightness. During the aftercare stage it is important to follow the doctors orders as your body needs time and proper treatment to rehabilitate itself. Also, a word of caution, be prepared for the first few days following the purification process that your digestion system will be slightly slow and you will be blocked. However, it will pass after a few days and regulate itself again.
The after care was most vital for the first 2 days following the purification process surrounding diet and daily activity level. This is to ensure you do not put too much stress on your body. Just concentrating on less exhausting exercises such as yoga and walking and after a few days increasing to other activities such as running, weights, cycling, etc based on your own energy levels.
In regards to the diet I was advised the below as a way to slowly ease my body back into eating solids. This is the strict diet that was provided for the aftercare:
- Day of Purification Process: Only congee (plain rice boiled in water) for lunch and dinner
- Day 1 and 2 of after care: Breakfast of plain porridge in water. Lunch and dinner of plain Kichiri, an ayurvedic stew prepared with rice, mung beans and clarified butter. This is used to rejuvenate the system and prepare it for healing. Only ginger lemon tea allowed.
Following on from the first 2 days of the after-care diet you are able to ease back into normal diet and exercise, however, being mindful of still following a good healthy balanced diet, exercise regime, meditation\pranayama, attempts to limit stress and exposure to unhealthy environments to ensure that you are nourishing your body, mind and soul without accumulating the toxins once again.