The term ‘Panchakarma’ is part of the Ayurvedic lexicon. It is a cleansing and rejuvenation program for the body that involves five-fold detox or bio-purification therapies. The word ‘pancha’ means five and ‘karma’ means action. Panchakarma refers to the five procedures mentioned in the Wellness and Illness category of ancient Vedic texts.
Persistent fatigue, body aches, digestive issues, chronic headaches etc. are symptoms that the balance of our body is out of sync with the natural cycles. This is where Panchakarma helps by cleansing and restoring the natural balance of the body and mind.
The 5 therapeutic treatments in Panchakarma are:
- Vamana (therapeutic emetic)
- Virechana (therapeutic purgative)
- Basti (therapeutic enema)
- Nasya (nasal errhines)
- Rakta mokshana (therapeutic blood-letting using leech therapy or phlebotomy)
The 5 therapies can be performed sequentially or any one of them can be opted for on its own, depending on the individual requirement.
Panchakarma promotes well-being in healthy individuals and assists in the reversal and remission of diseases in those who suffer from health problems.
Ancient Vedic texts designate Panchakarma as a ‘Shodhana Karma’ that purifies the morbid channels of the body. Once the channels are cleansed of all toxins, they carry healthy nourishment to the body tissues and aid in the renewal and maintenance of immune system and overall health.
It should be noted that when the aforesaid cleansing process occurs in an individual’s body – which is already affected by disease – it speeds up the process of reverse pathogenesis and accelerates the disease reversal. It is one of the fundamental principles of disease management in Ayurveda.
The air you breathe, the water you drink, and the food you eat are all ridden with multiple toxins. There is enough evidence to show that all lifestyle disorders have a precursor of environmental toxins as the cause.
Predominantly, the aetiology of all autoimmune disorders including Hypothyroidism, Obesity, Diabetes, Cancer, PCOS, GERD, Ulcerative Colitis, IBS etc., are based in toxins, otherwise known as Ama (endotoxins) in Ayurveda.
There are two type of toxins – water-soluble and fat-soluble. The water-soluble toxins are flushed out of the body either through the urine or sweat. The residue which remains in the cells are the fat-soluble toxins.
Specially treated ghee and oils used in Panchakarma circulate through the cells and combine with these fat-soluble toxins. Through a series of massages, circulation is rerouted to the gut and the toxins are eliminated either through purgatives or emetics.
Eventually, the fat-soluble toxins are completely eradicated from the cells, and individuals successfully achieve and experience bio-purification at a molecular level.
In a nutshell, the effect of Panchakarma is essentially to scrub and cleanse the insides of your body to ensure its smooth functioning, and consequently of the mind.
Panchakarma is a dual-affective process because it focuses on ailment remission and wellbeing.
- Panchakarma aids in the elimination of bodily toxins as a result of which the body’s aging process slows down considerably. When the body is biologically purified and cleansed, the physiology is restored optimally and pathology is reversed.
- Panchakarma promotes tissue nourishment in the body; the nutrients reach their desired destinations and their bio availability is enhanced.
- Panchakarma restores the balance of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha – they are the three vital humors of the body.
- Panchakarma optimizes body metabolism and digestion and improves natural immunity against ailments.
Vamana is the therapeutic emetic process useful in ailments where there is predominance of “Kapha”. Ailments of the chest cavity like chronic cough, allergic bronchitis, indigestion, hyper acidity, tumors, sinusitis etc. are treated using this procedure.
Virechana is the therapeutic purgative treatment. Metabolic disorders caused by the predominance of “Pitta”, like diabetes, obesity, PCOS, autoimmune disorders, reproductive issues, hormonal imbalance, anemia etc. are treated using Virechana.
Basti is the therapeutic enema procedure. It helps in alleviating ailments where there is predominance of “Vata” and in rheumatoid arthritis, paralysis, flatulence, constipation, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, hemorrhoids, duodenal ulcers, ulcerative colitis etc.
Nasya is the nasal errhines treatment that cures diseases in all areas of the head and neck. ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) disorders such as cervical spondylitis, stiffness of the jawbone, eye diseases, headache, frozen shoulder, facial paralysis, goiter etc. also find relief through Nasya. Medicated oils or herbal powders are administered through the nostrils to facilitate bio-availability of these herbs in all the target organs of head and neck.
Rakta Mokshana is also known as bloodletting therapy. By withdrawing blood from the body, it treats different types of blood disorders, chronic wounds, ulcers, psoriasis, dermatitis and all skin disorders.
Obesity is a metabolic disorder caused by impaired metabolism. Panchakarma improves metabolism by cleansing the body of toxins.
When the body’s metabolism is low, the energy foods or carbohydrates do not get metabolized and instead gets stored as visceral fat, which is the bad fat that causes obesity.
With the help of Panchakarma therapies, you can easily lose between 2-9 kg, with slight variance based on BMI readings.
Virechana and basti are the best-suited weight loss treatment procedures in Panchakarma. Virechana (therapeutic purgation) is ideal as there are no invasive procedures involved at all. Basti (medicated enema), particularly lekhana basti, entails the administration of medicated decoction through the ano-rectal route, just like a regular enema.
Basti is traditionally known as the ‘Ardha Chikitsa’ or ‘half treatment’ to achieve homeostasis or relative equilibrium in body weight. Lekhana Basti which is a combination of medicated and oils alternatively gives excellent results.
Since obesity is a metabolic disorder, Virechana is ideal for weight loss because the therapy involves cleansing that improves metabolism both at macro level in the gut and micro levels in the cells. This is known as ‘Dhatu Agni’ or cell metabolism.
Virechana treatment cleanses the entire gut through the purgative action. By helping the good gut microbiome to flourish and flushing out the bad gut bacteria along with toxins, Virechana promotes weight loss and well-being.
Virechana has been found beneficial in lowering phospholipids, cholesterol, and improving liver functions. Several studies have confirmed the ability of this therapeutic procedure to reduce visceral fat on the liver, kidney, heart, and muscle adipose tissue.
Yes. Several studies have been conducted on the efficacy of Panchakarma treatment on weight loss.
Here are some clinical evidences for weight loss through Panchakarma:
- This study shows how merely 6 days of Panchakarma treatment resulted in statistically significant changes in plasma levels of phosphatidylcholines (PC) and sphingomyelins. PC supports Liver Functions & keeps cholesterol levels in check.
- Another experimental evaluation published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary Alternative Medicine showed decrease in fatty acids in the liver, kidney, heart, and muscle adipose tissue after Virechana.
PMID: 26207023 ; J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2016 Jul;21(3):194-201. doi: 10.1177/2156587215596283. Epub 2015 Jul 22.
Panchakarma treatment starts with Deepana and Panchana where the gut is cleansed. After the cleansing, you move to Snehapana and the dietary restrictions begin. Then comes Abhyanga and steam which is the massage and sauna procedure.
The treatment program starts with Deepana and Pachana where digestives and carminatives are administered to prepare the gut for the cleansing process. During this phase, patients are advised to follow a regular diet. There are no dietary restrictions yet.
Snehapana involves the intake of specially medicated ghee on empty stomach. At this stage of the treatment, the dietary restrictions kick in.
The individual can consume warm rice soup only when hungry or when or when symptoms of the ghee being digested are seen (also known as Samyak Jeerna Lakshanas).
It is important to note that the energy provided by the medicated ghee is enough to sustain a person for most part of the day.
Cold, raw, and processed foods are not allowed. Only hot water should be consumed, not water from the fridge. This allows the gut to rest, and not become overworked during the processes of digestion and metabolism
Only easy to digest foods like rice gruel, moong dal and rice khichdi (stewed rice) are recommended during the treatment.
During Abhyanga and steam, the diet combination changes again. It is recommended that you consume hot rice soup, moong dal, and rice khichdi. No spices are allowed except for a few pepper corns and rock salt.
This combination of foods is prescribed to enable the ghee to bind with the toxins at cellular levels and show samyak snigdha lakshanas or signs of perfect Snehapana (internal oleation).
On the day of the Virechana procedure, complete rest is advised. Only hot water and a liquid diet of rice soup or moong dal soup with rock salt is allowed.
On the next day, if hungry, moong dal khichdi in semisolid form can be consumed, else continue with rice or moong dal soup.
The day after, khichdi made with moong dal and rice with peppercorns and ghee is given.
Normal healthy diet is resumed 3 days after the Virechana treatment.
Udvarthana is an anti-cellulite massage using dry-herb powders such as kolakulathadichoorna, kottamchukkadichoorna or triphalachoorna.
A film of oil followed by herbal powders is applied on the body, and then massaged into the skin using a special massage technique that applies friction. This massage is helpful in reducing the subcutaneous fatty tissue.
The Udvarthana massage is predominantly done using the palm and thumb. It features strokes that are in the opposite direction of the hair follicle growth. Oil and herbal powders are used in the massage.
The massage movements gradually intensify in pressure to help mobilize the abdominal and body fat. As the herbs have fat burning qualities, continuous massage movements on the skin increase blood circulation. Trans-dermal absorption of the fat-burning herbs aid the metabolism of visceral fat.
After the massage concludes, traditional box steam is used to open up the pores and enable the herbal medications to penetrate deeper.
Panchakarma treatment for weight loss can last between 7 to 28 days, depending on the BMI of the individual. If the BMI is high, then the treatments can go on for about two weeks or a month.
On the other hand, individuals with lower BMI can achieve the desired results in about a week or two.
In both cases it is mandatory to make life style changes and adhere to healthy dietary and fitness choices to ensure the weight loss is sustainable.
Panchakarma is ideal for individuals who want to overcome bad lifestyle patterns and habits such as irregular diet, overeating, sedentary habits, and stress.
If you have experienced post-partum weight gain, this may be an excellent way for you to bring your weight back under control. Post-menopause or post-hysterectomy weight gain can also be treated with the help of Panchakarma as it balances the hormones.
The treatment is also suitable for those whose weight gain has resulted in metabolic disorders like PCOS, Diabetes, Hypothyroid, Cancer, Osteo Arthritis etc.
Panchakarma is not recommended if you suffer from any of the following conditions.
- Chronic constipation
- Anxiety disorders
- Rectal prolapse
- Chronic hemorrhoids
- Post-surgery, or less than 1 year after a C-section delivery
- Bleeding disorders
- Heart diseases
Panchakarma is not suitable for pregnant women, children, or those above 60 years of age either.
Sharad Ritu (autumn) which falls after mid-September till the onset of winter in December, is the best time for Virechana treatment.
Basti is ideally performed during Varsha Ritu (rainiy season) because Vata increases during rains and Basti is the best way to balance Vata in the body.
But broadly speaking, you can opt for the treatment any time of the year. Rather than wait for the right season, start the treatment at your earliest convenience so you can bring your weight under control before it triggers serious lifestyle disorders.
Panchakarma weight loss techniques like Virechana and Basti have no side effects if the procedure is done under expert guidance and all the dietary and lifestyle recommendations are adhered to. If the physician’s recommendations are not followed, it may lead to reduced or excessive detox.
While you can do Panchakarma treatments at home, it is recommended that you do it in a controlled environment where it is easy for you to adhere to the strict diet regimen and other restrictions. During the treatment, you must also regularly be in touch with the physician. If you are confident that all requirements can be properly adhered to, you may organize the treatment at home.
A complete program of Panchakarma for weight loss – including rejuvenation after detox – will cost between INR 15,000 to INR 50,000 on an outpatient basis. A comprehensive residential program cost can vary between INR 1,00,000 to INR 4,00,000 based on the number of days.
The costs may vary based on the number of therapy sessions, which are determined by the patient’s BMI and comorbidities.
It is recommended that you consult an Ayurveda specialist, and conduct the Panchakarma for weight loss program at a health and wellness center, under his/her watch so that optimal guidance and results can be achieved.
Self-administration of Panchakarma therapies is not advisable, regardless of whether you have a previous track-record of having undergone the therapies in the past.
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Edited by Nisha Salim