Ever wondered why does the body induce vomiting or diarrhea? Have you observed that we feel better after vomiting, most of the times? What is the body trying to do when we have fever?
All these are natural response of our body to heal itself by getting rid of unwanted materials like toxins, wastes, unprocessed or partially processed particles/molecules etc.! Yes, that’s true. Our body has got some natural responses to cleanse itself and we feel better if it succeeds in that. We may end up in some other health issues if we try to suppress it! Like skin problems when you suppress the vomiting response!
Now, you may ask what to do then? Will it not lead to dehydration if you don’t stop it? No, it will not! If you know when to stop and when not. That is where Ayurveda gives beautiful explanation of supporting the body in its process of cleansing and protecting the vitals. It says, you just need to understand the process what body is doing and support it. In the mean time you should also see that the vitals are maintained and the body is not harmed in the process. It is just like using the fire judiciously and carefully to cook without burning the house. There is no point putting the fire off for the fear of burning the house! You just need to know how to use it properly. That is what we do in Panchakarma cleansing.
Ama (pronounced Aama) is a term to describe all those materials or molecules which are useless or harmful to the body. So it can be harmful toxins, unprocessed food or metabolic products, partially processed molecules, collected waste materials, deformed materials and so on. When they start accumulating in the body then it affects normal functioning. Hence, it will try to do a cleansing by itself by means of vomiting or diarrhea and at times it will try to burn them by increasing the body temperature in the form of fever. Then the treatments should be aimed at supporting the cleansing process and protecting the body from the effects of these cleansing efforts.
The best way to support the body and stay healthy is by doing a regular cleanse so that your body need not trigger a cleanse response and make you sick! Yes, that is where the role of seasonal and annual cleansing comes into play.
We indulge in eating, activities, sleep and also get affected by the season, climate, pollution, and adulteration. As a result there can be accumulation of unwanted materials or toxins in our body. Then our body tries to get rid of them in various ways like burning or drying up by raising our body temperature (as in fever) or expelling out by vomiting or diarrhea! If that attempt is not successful then it can lodge into various organs, tissues or cells and create chronic health problems. Apart from this another process happening in our body can be degeneration, that is, wear and tear or death of cells and tissues by natural process of ageing or due to improper nourishment and maintenance. That is why Ayurveda classifies diseases into mainly two categories. They are over nutrition related and under nutrition related diseases. In other words, accumulation related diseases and degeneration related diseases.
Now, understanding how diseases occur in our body helps us to plan remedies for them as well. That is, all we need to do while treating the disease is to help our body in reversing the process of manifestation of the same. Basically, we have to cleanse and declutter if it is due to accumulation, and strengthen the body if it is degenerative. Panchakarma treatments are meant for cleansing and Rasaayana (rejuvenation) therapies are for strengthening and nourishing.
The word Panchakarma is derived from two different words. ‘Pancha’ means five and ‘karma’ means procedure. So, Panchakarma is a collective word for five different cleansing procedures done in Ayurveda. They are, 1)Vamana (emesis therapy) 2)Virechana (purgation therapy) 3)Vasti (enema therapy) 4)Nasya (nasal therapy) and 5)Rakta Mokshana (bloodletting therapy). These are selected and performed based on the type of imbalance, amount of Ama, location of Ama, body type, season and such other factors which will be decided by the expert during a consultation and follow up observations. They can be recommended in a series or a combination of a few from them or just only one as per the indications.
Ghee (clarified butter) is used in the preparatory phase of emesis and purgation therapies. Ghee is a pure form of fat and it is appreciated for its abilities to improve digestive fire, penetrate into deeper cells and reach up to brain cells by crossing the blood brain barrier along with its basic properties of nourishing and lubricating the body. Our cells are highly lipophilic (fat loving) and ghee being a fat from the animal source, is friendlier to them. During the preparation for Panchakarma cleansing, ghee is given in an increasing dose for 3 to 7 days, so that it can saturate every cell of the body and loosen the toxins/dosha/ama and also lubricate all the channels to facilitate easy movement of the ama from the cells to the gut. Then herbs are given to induce emesis or purging to expel these toxins out.
Enema therapy can be a combination of oil enema and herbal decoction enema. Oil enema is smaller in quantity and is nourishing and lubricating to the intestines, nerves, gut brain and is pacifying to Vata. Decoction enema is a cleansing type of enema and larger in quantity. It helps to eliminate toxins and also to pacify Vata and other doshas based on the herbal combinations. The treatment course will be a combination of both the types and their numbers will vary based on the problem and intensity.
Nasya (nasal instillation) therapy can be cleansing, pacifying or nourishing in nature based on the problem and dosha. It is done by instillation of liquids like herbal juices, oils or herbal powder etc into both nostril as per indications. Mostly this is used in disorders of organs above the clavicle, which is in the head and neck region.
Bloodletting can be done by using various methods depending upon the condition and indications. One of the famous methods is the Leech therapy that can be used effectively in Herpes zoster (Shingles), non-healing ulcers, varicose veins, skin diseases, acne etc.
After the cleansing is done, a specific diet and activity pattern will be recommended to gradually build the strength and digestive capacities up. Throughout the programme, a strict diet and activity restrictions will be there and sticking to them will enhance the benefits of these treatments and avoid untoward effects or complications during the process. It is also important to remember to follow a healthy diet and lifestyle, as per the expert advice, even after completing the course of treatment to avail further benefits and sustain them in long run.