*Editor’s Note: Elephant is not your doctor or hospital. Our lawyers would say “this web site is not designed to, and should not be construed to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment. Always consult a health professional before trying out new home therapies or changing your diet.” But we can’t afford lawyers, and you knew all that. ~ Ed
I first discovered Ayurveda, the ancient Indian medical system, when I was a professional mountaineer.
When climbing at altitude in the Himalayas, I would occasionally see a black tar-like substance adhering to rock faces. I discovered that this was shilajit, known as a panacea, or cure-all, and revered by the local people.
I became fascinated and found that it was suitable for enhancing energy and mitigating the effects of being at altitude. Twenty years on, I am now considered by many to be an authority on the subject, and, from my clinic in Ireland, we supply shilajit to customers worldwide. We may read online of the promise of shilajit to detoxify the body, and I often get asked if this is true.
When time is taken to study and understand Ayurvedic and traditional Tibetan medicine, it becomes apparent that the optimum way to ingest a medicine such as shilajit is actually after a process of detoxifying. A simple detox can be as basic as just eating fruit and vegetables, doing a juice cleanse, eliminating sugar, removing foods that trigger allergies or for which we have an intolerance, or just simplifying our diet and using natural, unprocessed food.
Anything that eases the load on our internal organs will allow them to work more effectively, and they can do a better job of processing what they encounter.
In addition to the above suggestions, there are more advanced detox treatments, designed to optimise health and treat disease, one of which has a 5,000-year history and is still evolving today. Ayurvedic medicine states that before a disease can be cured, a pathway must be created to first eliminate toxic materials from the body. These toxic materials are called vitiated doshas, and the method used to remove these toxic materials is called panchakarma therapy.
How does panchakarma therapy work?
To manifest long-lasting beneficial effects, panchakarma therapy purifies and cleanses all the tissues of the body to create harmony within the tridoshas—vata, pitta, kapha—and also the manasadoshas—satva, raja, and tama.
If we are looking for a scientific correlation, then we can think of the doshas as neurohumours, the chemical substances that form in a neuron and can activate or modify the function of a neighbouring neuron, muscle, or gland.
Doshas are not able to be seen, but when not in balance, we can see the results of the imbalances. When we are in perfect homeostasis or total harmony, they appear non-existent. As a homeopathic physician observes disturbances in someone’s vital force by way of a patient’s mental, emotional, and physical symptoms, and other more subtle qualities, the Ayurvedic practitioner similarly sees imbalances of the doshas.
Panchakarma therapy purifies by working on two levels: the gross level and the cellular level. At the gross level, various organs and systems of our body are cleansed, such as the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal tract, and the chest. Purification at the cellular level will purify and cleanse our body’s cells, cell membranes, and molecules.
It is not just a therapeutic regimen, but a complete method of internal purification of the body using five clear stages. It promotes and preserves optimal health, properly cleansing the channels of the body and eliminating toxic materials. Ayurvedic medicines and healing diets can follow.
Beneficial effects of panchakarma therapy
Panchakarma therapy helps to bring our body toward healthy homoeostasis as it rejuvenates and revitalises all our tissues. It also amplifies the action of any medicines or supplements that are taken directly afterward. It can remove waste products and toxins and enhances the physiological functions of all our body’s systems, such as improving the absorption rate of the digestive system and also correcting our metabolism.
Panchakarma can have a full therapeutic role in promoting preventive, curative, and rehabilitative procedures. It is believed to affect the cleansing of microcirculatory channels by eliminating the toxic metabolites from the body, which can assist in the process of curing disease. Scientific studies indicate that the cleansing procedures appear to help with the eradicating of chronic diseases.
Panchakarma is advised during the seasonal changes and is perfect for eliminating colds and flu, which can affect us at any time, not just during the winter months. If we do ever get sick, but take good care of ourselves as it passes, a cold or the flu can have a natural detoxifying effect on the body. But if we partake in panchakarma therapy, the detoxification prevents the illness from happening. The treatment can be administered seasonally and can leave us in vibrant health, or at least move us in the right direction toward it.
It doesn’t matter if we are in the peak of health or have a disease, panchakarma therapy can benefit us. It will also treat a multitude of ailments, including arthritis, paralysis and neuromuscular diseases, and respiratory, gastrointestinal, ear, nose, and throat complaints, and several blood-related disorders.
There are some contraindications to be aware of, such as when the patient has an acute fever, certain debilitating diseases, or cancers and tumours of some organs. It can also be unsuitable if we are young, elderly, or pregnant. To determine if it is suitable for you, contact an Ayurvedic physician directly.
Although it may be reasonably tough-going at times, as the body eliminates deep-seated toxins and sometimes releases corresponding emotions, panchakarma is a profoundly nourishing process. It is not uncommon for someone to repeat it many times and over different seasons during a lifetime, as we experience greater fluidity and balance in all areas of life, and the improved sense of well-being points to a potentially increased lifespan.
The three stages of classical panchakarma
Panchakarma has three clear stages and five processes of detoxification.
Purva karma (stage one): preparatory procedures
Purva karma prepares the body for comprehensive and thorough cleansing. Purva karma can involve the application of, and ingestion of, oils and fats, induced sweating, and also education on which herbs will improve digestion and metabolism.
Pradhana karma (stage two): main cleansing procedures
These five processes of panchakarma eliminate toxic materials from the body:
1. Vaman karma (emesis): Cleanses the stomach.
2. Virechana karma (purgation): Cleanses the small intestine.
3. Vasti karma (enema): Cleanses the large intestine.
4. Nasya karma (errhines): Nasal drops that clear the respiratory passage.
5. Raktamokshana (bloodletting): An optional procedure for those who have an excess of blood in the body. It may sound unusual, but western medicine also uses it, under the less concerning name of “therapeutic phlebotomy.”
Although possible, it would be rare for a patient to have all five procedures, especially in the west. The protocol would depend on our current state of health, what disease may be present, and how far it has progressed.
Pashchata karma (stage three): post-procedures
These are to help us recuperate. Pashchata karma includes diet and lifestyle changes and taking rejuvenating Ayurvedic herbs and medicines such as shilajit.
Find a skilled, experienced physician
Panchakarma must only be given by a qualified and highly experienced Ayurvedic practitioner for it to be safe and work optimally. This article is not a replacement for qualified advice from a professional.
Do some homework before deciding who to choose. A skilled physician knows that our health can only benefit from good rapport and collaboration between practitioner and patient, and will welcome a dialogue before we commit to any treatment.
Don’t hesitate to ask them what to expect and what it will cost. Proactive inquiry reflects that we are taking responsibility for our health.