words; Rachel Duffell

The ‘five actions’, or panchakarma, to naturally detox body and mind

It’s so easy for our bodies to become unbalanced due to the stress of life today. With this imbalance come food cravings, weight gain, mood swings and even depression and anxiety. While detoxification might bring to mind cabbage soup diets, raw juice cleanses, and lemon water fasting, detoxing the Ayurvedic way is a natural and relaxed experience, not only recommended to cure ailments, support digestion, rejuvenate and revitalise, but to be undertaken as a preventative measure against illness.

The aim of Ayurvedic detox, or panchakarma, is to remove toxins from the body. According to Ayurveda, these toxins, including preservatives, DDT, dioxin, pollutants, pesticides and other damaging chemicals, accumulate as ama and it is this which needs to be removed from our fat cells where it is stored and evacuated naturally from the body via the colon, bladder, sweat glands, lungs, nasal passages, etc.

Panchakarma means ‘five actions’ and is comprised of five treatments, encouraged to be undertaken at the junction of the seasons or when illness arise, and in the case of the latter, for as long as they take to heal.

Panchakarma begins with a pre-purification process, or purvakarma where the body is prepared to release its toxins. Abhyanga, or full-body massage with medicated herbal oils, comes first, where long, sweeping strokes are applied to the body to start moving any toxins towards the colon. This stage can be accompanied by shirodhara, or oil-spilling where warm, herbalised oil is poured over the forehead. Both of these procedures help to calm and relieve stress. Swedana is also part of the preparation and is a sweating session which follows massage, again aiding in loosening the toxins from the body. 

Once the body is prepared the main purification process begins and can include vamana, where congestion in the lungs is eased through therapeutic vomiting, removing excess mucus. Virechana can address excess bile in the gall bladder, liver and small intestine through therapeutic purgation. The nasal passages are also cleared with medicated drops in a nasya procedure. Finally, the colon is treated with basti, or enemas using herbal decoctions and medicated oil preparations, which soothe constipation, digestive problems and other ailments.

These treatments are complemented by gentle activities such as yoga, breathing and meditation sessions. They are also supported nutritionally by the ingesting of ghee each morning which helps to loosen ama, the undigested food particles and toxins caused by eating unhealthy foods or by weak digestion, and drive it out of the body. Meals are best comprised of kitchari, an easy to digest, simple vegetarian porridge, eaten like a soup or stew. This reboots the digestive system without being harsh to it, ensuring the body is nourished and fulfilled. Many detoxes starve the body causing it stress so it is unable to perform natural detoxification functions. But during panchakarma and on a diet of easily digestible and nourishing kitchari, the body is at its optimal state to thrive and work on rebalancing itself for a state of wellbeing and health. A cleansed and purified digestive system allows balance to be restored which will be accompanied by a clear mind and sense of wellbeing. As well as playing a key role in panchakarma, a kitchari cleanse can be carried out by itself and can be tailored to a person’s dosha for optimal results.

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