For the past few years, I’ve been very curious about the whole science of Ayurveda. In particular, Panchakarma was something I’ve been wanting to try. I was nervous but intrigued.
Panchakarma is a natural detox that promises to “reset” your body. But I admit I was a little afraid to go through all the programs, since I didn’t really know what to expect. Before I commit to anything, I like to do a lot of research, including asking for others’ advice and insight. Beyond that, I knew the price tag for Panchakarma was not cheap. I needed to make certain it was right for me.
What ultimately helped me make my decision? First, after a TON of research, I decided Panchakarma would be worth the investment. My health is an investment, not an expense. If any experience can help me feel more vibrant, I’m onboard, ready to reap all the benefits.
Also, the time was right. For me, winter is a quieter season. I felt it could give me the time and space to dedicate myself to the treatments. On top of that, Panchakarma can be incredibly useful during a seasonal transition, because it gives the body extra strength to support itself in preparation for the seasons ahead. My treatments would help me prepare for spring.
And that’s how I decided to take the leap and do something that was totally out of my comfort zone. After all, fear is only as deep as the mind allows.
Panchakarma is a science of the body and mind that is 5,000 years old. It is an ancient Ayurvedic purification and cleansing therapy that eliminates physical impurities and toxins from the body and rejuvenates mental function.
Panchakarma process is not to be taken lightly. It stems from a deep tradition, and that tradition should be honored in a safe, authentic way. Accordingly, Panchakarma requires following the recommendations of – and being supervised by – a well-trained Ayurvedic Panchakarma practitioner. My Panchakarma treatments were done with Dr. Manjula J. Paul, BAMS (soundshoreayurveda.com).
Pancha means “five,” and karma means “action or process.” Simply translated, it’s a set of five systematic actions used for the purification of the body.
It is a compendium of therapies that are highly individualized to each person’s needs. The treatment is based on the individual’s Ayurvedic constitution type, doshic imbalances, age, digestive strength, immune system, health condition, and many other factors. That means each person will have his or her own fully individual Panchakarma experience.
My Pre-Panchakarma Regimen
I started with a preparation week that required me to eliminate any vices, including caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and processed foods. Since I mostly follow a Paleo diet, that requirement was somewhat easy for me.
I began by putting together a shopping list of the items I’d need for the preparation week. I started my shopping at one of my favorite Indian stores in NYC, Dual Specialty Store, and found the rest of the items at Whole Foods Market. Since microwave use would be disallowed – Ayurveda teaches that it will drain prana (life) out of the foods – I purchased a HotLogic Mini. (As it turned out, this item was amazing. It worked wonders with heating up dishes.)
For each lunch and dinner during my preparation week and my treatment week, I consumed Kitchari, a traditional Ayurvedic dish of mung beans (dhal), quinoa, steamed vegetables, ghee, and classic Indian spices, topped off with some cilantro and fresh lemon juice, as well as Moong Soup (lentil soup). Though some people experience gas or bloating from eating beans, mung beans are considered easy to digest. In some cases, they can actually help with detoxification.
I was encouraged to ingest ghee orally before and after each meal. The goal of this practice is to loosen up the sticky ama – the toxins that build up in our bodies – and help “ripen” the bodily tissues to be ready to begin the ama scraping process. From what I understand, ingesting liquefied ghee helps to make the walls of the intestines and the digestive system slippery, helping all the unwanted stuff slide out with ease on the day of purgation. (In Ayurveda, ghee is used as a carrier for the nutrients in herbs, as well as for lubricating the intestinal tract and all the tissues inside the body. During an Ayurvedic cleanse, ghee is used as the preferred vehicle for oleation, a process of ingesting increasing amounts of oil over a series of mornings and evenings.)
The part that may have been the most challenging for me was to make each dish fresh daily. In Panchakarma, no reheated foods are allowed. I love to cook, but making the same freshly prepared dishes for 10 days straight was definitely rough.
The daily journal below captures the highlights of my Panchakarma treatment experience.
I started each morning – well, the mornings of the days that I didn’t feel weak during treatment – with gentle yoga and meditation.
During Panchakarma, exercise is not recommended. Truly, I found I needed all the energy I had to go through the treatments. Only meditation was recommended, so that your mind would be in as Zen-like a state as possible while having the treatments.
Each day’s Panchakarma treatment began with a complete Ayurvedic assessment, including a pulse evaluation that gives precise insight into imbalances among the three energies (or doshas) of the body. Each time, I was amazed by what Dr. Paul was able to discover through the pulse assessment. It was a fascinating part of the experience!
Day 1 also included:
I felt incredibly tired, with zero energy. I also experienced a small amount of bloating. Today’s Panchakarma treatment included:
I can honestly say that, by this point, I was not sad to think of giving up the drinking of that lovely ghee before each meal and before bed. I did it because I knew it was important. But the ghee would not be missed.
I felt a little lethargic and fatigued. Similar to yesterday, today’s treatment consisted of:
I have to admit that keeping my home life organized and making the same dishes each day – doing all the washing, cutting, and cooking both mornings and nights – while preparing a separate dinner for my husband (he was not into trying my Indian dishes) became challenging. But I made it work. I just kept saying to myself, you’re almost there. Knowing it was only a 10-day commitment made it doable.
Today’s treatment included:
After the first couple of times of the purgation therapy, I was thinking, this isn’t bad. However, after the eighth, ninth, and tenth time at 2:00 in the morning, I’d had enough. I was starting to feel weaker, and I just wanted it to end. At one point, I laid down on my kitchen floor because it felt nice and cool and I felt so wiped out, trying to get up enough strength to get back to my bed. Once in bed, I happily passed out.
For me, purgation was the most difficult part of Panchakarma. I’ve never felt so ill, and it was a little scary how weak I felt after it was over.
I woke up feeling so exhausted. I spoke with Dr. Paul, who said that everyone experiences the purgation differently. Apparently, I had a lot of body toxins to be released.
While I’ve felt like I’ve been in the clouds, on day 5, it felt like the sun finally started to break through.
The only treatment on day 5 was Basti, an herbal enema specially prepared to pull toxins out of the colon. Basti is the final stage of any Panchakarma treatment. Basti is considered one of the most important therapies, as it keeps a check on the Vata dosha. It also moves the other two doshas, Kapha and Pitta, which results in their imbalance. Keeping Vata under control is a proactive measure that helps keep diseases at bay.
Even though you aren’t physically doing anything, Panchakarma is serious work. In fact, that’s what makes it so difficult. Your body is releasing years and years of stored emotional and physical toxins. Even though you are essentially sitting still the entire day, you end up exhausted by the time your day’s treatments are over. As I’ve shared, the purgation was particularly hard on me. Even a few days later, I felt wiped out.
Panchakarma treatment was certainly interesting. At times I didn’t think I was going to finish the program. However, I pushed through it, and – with the help of some tough love from Dr. Paul – I felt there was no way I couldn’t finish. Having gone as far as I had, there was no way I could stop.
Panchakarma was a genuinely unique experience. I can honestly say that, afterward, I felt a sense of balance with my body and my mind. I had improved both my digestive function and my mental state, and I’d also heightened my memory and brain functions. In addition, I had lost eight pounds. Friends and family complimented me on how rested I look, and on having a sort of glow about me.
Looking back, I can now see that my Panchakarma treatment was the greatest gift I’ve ever given myself. When was the last time you did something for the first time?
If you decide Panchakarma treatment is right for you, don’t spend too much time reading about other people’s experiences. Just commit, doing your best to be fully present so that you can enjoy your experience. After all, everyone who goes through Panchakarma has a totally different experience. My research had left me worried about what to expect, and I can see now that – especially during the beginning of the process – I had a hard time just being in the moment and appreciating my own experience.