Panchakarma is the ultimate mind-body healing experience for detoxifying the body, strengthening the immune system, and restoring balance and wellbeing !
Panchakarma is a Sanskrit word that means “five actions” or “five treatments”. So simply translated it’s a set of five systematic actions used for the purification of the body. Panchkarma is considered to be the most radical way to cleanse the body thereby eliminate once and for all the disease causing doshas and the toxins. It’s used to bring the aggravated Doshas into balance and to flush the accumulated Ama, or “toxins”, from the body using the normal modes of elimination like the intestines, sweat glands and urinary tract.
Aacharya Charak, the author of the most important ancient text on internal medicine, has described a wide use of Panchakarma therapy for almost all the major diseases.
And yes, this age-old science of purifying the body is not only good for alleviating disease but is also a useful tool in maintaining excellent health. In fact, Ayurveda advises undergoing Panchakarma at the seasonal changes, to improve the digestion or to improve the metabolic processes.
Among the most prominent specialists in Panchakarma therapies, Dr Anup Thakar, MD (ayu.), from the Gujarat Ayurvedic University, is recognized as one of the few experts in the clinical application of Panchakarma.
He kindly accepted to give us some explanations, and here it is !
Interview by Armanda Dos Santos
1. Doctor, Panchakarma is the most essential part of Ayurveda treatments. Could you explain here what’s Panchakarma exactly, its purpose and benefits?
Anup Thakar: Panchakarma is the process in which systematic cleaning of the body takes place without damaging the tissues. In other words it can be defined as a bio-purifiacation or “detox” of the body. They are five in numbers, including Vamana (therapeutic emesis), Virechana (therapeutic purgation), Basti (therapeutic decoction & oil enema), Nasya (therapeutic nasal administration), Raktamokshana (blood letting), and many other allied treatments required as pre and pro-procedures to the Panchkarma treatments.
The purpose of these Panchakarma procedures is to remove toxic substances and waste products from the body, and there is here 3 major purposes:
- Preventive – vamana in spring, virechana in autumn, basti in rainy season
- Curative – emesis for skin diseases, basti in paralysis or neurological disorders, purgation in liver disorders or pitta disorders.
- Rejuvenation – rasayana treatments will be more effective after panchakarma and before a pregnancy for a healthy progeny.
Concerning its benefits, it radically removes the morbific factors of disease from body including the gross channels (GIT, respiratory tract) up to the subtlest level (like cells, tissues, cell membranes etc.).
Such purification permits the biological system to return to normal, to rejuvenate spontaneously and also facilitates the desired therapeutic effects to treatment administrated thereafter. It eliminates toxins and metabolites from the body, cleans the macro and micro channels and maximise the absorption of nutrients and drugs.
Thus this therapy is used in Ayurveda for preservation, maintenance and conservation of health, and promotion of longevity.
2. Panchakarma accesses the most profound levels of our body, mind and soul. Then, how should a patient prepare the bodily tissues adequately before they are cleansed ?
Anup Thakar: Before Panchakarma a restricted diet to moderate quantity/light diet, or shifting to green gram soup, is advised to remove Ama, toxins, from the body and to ignite Agni, the digestive power. Drinking of hot water is advised usually for this purpose.
Food which is heavy to digest, not cooked freshly, cold, which causes constipation is prohibited. More over overeating, sex, late nights, excess physical or mental work, strong exposure to sun, wind, cold weather is also not advisable during Panchakarma.
3. Should Panchakarma be practiced by specific doctors ?
Anup Thakar: There are many Panchakarma practitioners all over the world. However, Panchakarma physician who is preferably having post gradute in Panchakarma is advisable. Ayurveda practitioner having proper exposure and training of doing Panchakarma therapy with sufficient experience also practices Panchakarma. The authenticity of procedures depends on the physician.
Ideally Panchakarma should be done in hospital under proper supervision only, but some of the karma also can be performed at OPD level.
Whether patient can keep doing daily routine is decided by the physician who plans specific Panchakarma. There are karmas, or treatments, like emesis or purgation, where hospital stay is needed. Whereas some procedures can be done on OPD base i.e. without disturbing patients routine, as Shirodhara, Pichu, Matrabasti, or Lepam.
As it’s a procedure for cleaning, so a kind of tiredness may be feeled by the patient, but moreover patients enjoy it. Sometimes patients may have aversion to some procedures, eg. for some patients to drink 200 ml of medicated bitter ghee at a time is difficut. Sometimes mild headache or tiredness may be there during interal oleation in high doses. Otherwise, in general, Panchakarma procedures are painless.
4. Doctor, is there any side effects when undergoing a Panchakarma and after how many days can we feel the benefits of it ?
Anup Thakar: For scientific and authentic procedures there is no side effects, but for the procedure to be successful, its success depends on physician as well as the patient.
There is a list of Do’s and Dont’s in Panchakarama which has to be followed stricly. If the patient do not follow the instructions, then he or she may face problems or unpleasent effets. If procedure goes smoothly, then patients don’t have to suffer.
The benefits of Panchakarma are long lasting with some do’s and don’t s which patients have to follow. Minimum 1-2 years effect with one time Panchakarma will get. It may last for more than 2 years also, if the patient follows the Pathya-pathaya (Do’s and Dont’s), after treatment.
5. How often should a Panchakarma be done ?
Anup Thakar: It depends. In general a healthy person should undergo Panchakarma at least once a year. For a diseased person (according to conditions), it may vary: twice in a year for skin disease or may be more, depending on the severity. Continuously for at least 3 months for paralysis and other renowned neurological conditions. And regularly for obesity treatment.
6. Should we understand here that Panchakarma is advisable for any disease or imbalance?
Anup Thakar: Panchakarma is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat almost all diseases, particularly those that are chronic, metabolic, degenerative, non-infectious or stress-related in origin.
Panchakarma has been used to treat allergies, asthma, arthritis, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, colitis, high cholesterol, depression, diabetes, digestive disorders, heart disease, hypertension, immune problems, chronic inflammation, insomnia, nervous disorders, obesity, skin problems, chronic ulcers etc. Panchakarma may be also used alongside intensive conventional treatments including chemotherapy and surgery, to support healing and recovery. It is also recommended for sportsmen in the preparation period, as well as for rehabilitation in the cases of psycho-emotional traumas. It is safe and non-toxic, and can be used as prevention and to increase general well-being.
However, Panchakarma is limited in treating traumatic injuries, infections and conditions requiring immediate surgery or invasive procedures. In order to achieve better results without any complications these treatments should be carried out under the strict supervision of institutionally qualified Panchakarma physician.
7. And what about children ? In other words, can Panchakarma be practiced at any age?
Anup Thakar: As such there are no age restrictions. For acute conditions, such as cerebral palsy patients, basti, massage, nasya, shiropichu can be done since 6 months or 1 year of age.
In General, 18- 60 years old is the age criteria for Panchakarma. Virechana or vamana are not practiced after 60 years old usually, but basti can be done after 80s. Many of the Panchakarma treatments like shirodhara, pichu, matrabasti, can be performed at any age.
In a healthy baby daily massage should be done with specific medicated oils such as bala lakshadi taila, bala ashwagandhadi taila or dhanwantharam taila.
There are varieties of procedures to do in babies like nasya to enhance IQ, shiropichu to reduce ADHD, oil massage to increase weight, dry powder massage to reduce weight.
Some procedures are very helpful for autism, asthma, recurrent respiratory infections, neuro-muscular diseases and psychological disorders of children.
8. How is Panchakarma considered within the Indian culture ?
Anup Thakar: Panchakarma has very deep routed culture in India, and it is explained in Bhagvatgita and Rugvda as well.
There are some traditions of Panchakarma in India, and it’s followed by families since long ago.
Traditionally Panchakarma is followed by people everywhere in India: daily body massage, head massage before bath, use of peya (rice with water) in diet and undergo purgation on holidays is some of the common practices in many parts of India.
9. Doctor, is there similar equivalent procedure to Panchakarma in Modern medicine ?
Anup Thakar: No. In my knowledge, no therapy in any other type of medicine similiar to Panchakarma is exisisting. It’s an unique and very much scientific and natural way of biopurification or detox of the body.
Stomach wash is different effect than vamana, diarrhoea is not so far similar to virechana, enema is different concept than basti, nasal drops are not as effective as nasya. Panchakarma has different concept, medicines, pharmacodynamic, kinetic and effects.
10. Let me ask you what’s the point of view of conventional medicine on Panchakarma?
Anup Thakar: Recently followers or practitioners of conventional medicine has started to accept Panchakarma after so long researches and clinical evidences on Panchakarma. Many specialists on medicine are referring the patients for Panchakarma.
Thank you doctor !
Interview by Armanda Dos Santos