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What is an Ayurvedic Panchakarma?

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

Panchakarma’ is a Sanskrit word derived from ‘pancha’ meaning five and ‘karma’ meaning therapy.

Panchakarma consists of 5 major detox therapies, procedures that are written down in ancient Ayurvedic texts like Sushrut Tantra, written in 2000 BCE and in subsequent texts like Charaka Samhita in 1000 BCE and many more that followed.

Charaka Samhita is considered as the epic text for Kayachikitsa or Internal Medicine. Along with the reiteration of the basic principles of Ayurveda, it has detailed description of diseases, methods of diagnosis and modalities of their treatment. Panchkarma, the speciality branch of Ayurvedic treatments, has been thoroughly described in this book, in terms of techniques, to whom and how it is to be administered, its benefits and side-effects and the remedies for that.

The 5 therapies of panckarma are:

Vaman (Therapeutic Emesis) done for diseases like obesity, menstrual disorders, allergic rhinitis, etc.

Virechan (Therapeutic Purgation) done for skin disorders, infertility, etc.

Basti (Ayurvedic Enema) There are approximately 6 to 7 different kinds of enemas effective in diseases like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Gout, IUGR (low weight of fetus), Collitis, etc.

Nasya (Nasal Drops) for sinusitis, hair related disorders, improving memory, distressing, etc.

Raktamokshan (Blood Letting). This is done with the help of syringes or leeches which are bred for using in clinics. Very effective in a few skin diseases, few joint disorders, etc.

A lot of people think an Ayurvedic massage is a type of Panchakarma. That's quite far from the truth. The Panchakarmas are elaborate treatment plans that are supported by few miniature therapies which increase their effectiveness. An Ayurvedic massage is one of them.

There are many more mini therapies. Some are:

Snehan (oleation): Application of oil either by using light strokes or pressure during massage.

Detoxification Massage

Rejuvination Massage

Swedan (Hot Fomentation): Dry hot fomentation or Fomentation using steam and oils.

Vashpa Sweda (Steam Bath)

Nadi Sweda (Steam fomentation on local area)

Pottali Sweda (Hot Fomentation using medicines tied in a muslin cloth and then heated in the required medium)

Patra Pottali (Using fresh herbs tied in a muslin cloth and dipped in hot medicated oil)

Shashtik Pinda (Using rice cooked in herbs, tied in a muslin cloth and then dipped in boiling medicated milk)

Choorna Pottali (Using herbal powders tied in a muslin cloth and heated on a dry hot pan)

Mamsa Pottali (Using meat tied in a muslin cloth and heated on a dry hot pan)

Dhara (Pouring liquids on the affected body part or the forehead)

Shirodhara (Pouring warm medicated oil on the fore head)

Taila dhara (Pouring medicated)

Takra Dhara (Pouring medicated)

Ksheer Dhara (Pouring medicated)

Kashaya Dhara (Pouring herbal decoctions)

Sthanik Basti (Oil therapy for local body part)

Shiro Basti (Head)

Netra Basti (Eyes)

Manya Basti (cervical spine)

Kati Basti (Lumbar spine and lower back)

Hrud Basti (On Chest for heart)

Janu Basti (Kness)

Dhoom Pan (Inhalation of herbal smoke)

Lepa (herbal and mud packs and can be hot/ warm/ cold)

Mukhalepa (Face Pack)

Sarvangalepa (Body pack)

Ekangalepa (on affected body part)

Potis (hot pack prepared using fresh green herbs with wheat flour and few spices)

Talopoddichil (Head pack for brain related and mind related disorders)

Agni Karma (cauterization)

Kshar Karma (caustic therapy)

Panchakarmas are only advised after consultation and medical examination of an individual. The Panchakarma is customized according to the requirement of the body of an individual as Ayurveda treats every body and disease as unique.

Panchakarmas could have side effects like every other medicine, and adverse effects if done incorrectly. Making sure that you have taken the advice of a qualified Ayurvedic Doctor, who has the qualifications, skills and experience in managing Panchakarmas, is crucial for your treatment.

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