Panchakarma literally translates as “five actions” and is a complete cleansing and rejuvenation process that involves all systems of the body, mind and spirit. Why is it so important and considered a major part of ayurvedic medicine? Our bodies are remarkably intelligent and incredibly hard working. Every day of our lives, we are inundated with a constant stream of input that the body has to determine how to deal with-in a sense “digesting” everything we come into contact with-and keeping what we need and eliminating what we don’t. These days especially, we are faced with a lot of stressors from the environment, our food, emotional and psychological factors, to name a few. Inevitably, we begin to accumulate some degree of toxicity in our tissues during the processing of all of life’s events. Over time, this toxicity builds up and collects deep in the tissues, weakens our systems, and eventually leads to chronic and degenerative disease conditions.
Ayurvedic cleansing and panchakarma practices can help to reverse this process by giving the body a break and allowing it time to reset, recuperate and repair itself. Simply put, ayurvedic cleansing involves a series of diet modifications and other practices that one does over a specified period of time in order to cleanse all tissues of the body and prepare them to receive deep nourishment and rejuvenation. Please note that there are many approaches to ayurvedic cleansing and many can be done on your own, at home. However, panchakarma is an involved process that must be supervised by an ayurvedic practitioner.
A time to clean up your diet and lifestyle in preparation for an effective cleanse. This means removing all stimulants, alcohol and processed food from your diet. 7-14 days
This is the actual panchakarma period which consists of a simplified & detoxifying mono-diet, daily treatments, and the "karmas" or purificatory practices. 3-21 days
Having rendered the digestion very delicate during the purification process, care must be taken when transitioning back to a more normal diet. New foods are reintroduced and the diet is gradually diversified in a stair step approach. 7-14 days
Where other types of cleansing lack, this is when panchakarma really shines. Rejuvenation is the time to offer deep nourishment to the tissues and to promote healing at its deepest level. up to 30 days
The length of your panchakarma is entirely up to you, but please consider the time required to complete all of the different phases – affording each of them equal value and importance. In general, the longer your cleanse, the deeper your detox will be. A longer cleanse will also result in a more delicate digestive system for some time, requiring an increased dedication to the reintroduction phase of the process. It is critically important that you are able to complete the entire process for the best results and to avoid complications. It is generally best to not be travelling immediately following your cleanse as it is more difficult to make good food choices and get the relaxation you need while on the road.
As noted above, you may choose to do a cleanse ranging anywhere from 3-21 days. It is most important to know that you will need to take time off and limit your activities during the “active cleansing” phase of your panchakarma. This is necessary because when you are not busy with preparatory treatments and purification practices, you should be resting as much as possible. This avoids driving toxins deeper into the system and ensures the best possible results. Generally, a 7 day cleanse is ideal and still do-able for most people. As always, however, the plan can be tailored to meet specific needs.
Because this panchakarma is based on a mono-diet, it is much less provoking than many other forms of cleansing (such as fasting) and is generally safer for a diverse range of constitutions and imbalances. That said, panchakarma tends to move long-standing imbalances into circulation so that they can be eliminated. This is how our bodies repair themselves when we afford them the opportunity. As a result, panchakarma can be exhausting, emotionally taxing, and physically uncomfortable. Most people do not experience a great deal of discomfort, however, it is better to be prepared for some ups and downs than to expect to feel fabulous throughout the process. You should begin to experience the deeper benefits of panchakarma within a few days to a week after completing it, if not sooner. For menstruating women, the first cycle following panchakarma is an important part of the process, and can deliver a meaningful sense of completion. As a result, the fullest expression of positive change may not be experienced until one or two menstrual cycles after the panchakarma has ended.
This process can also stir up unresolved emotions as well as physical toxins so it is important to also be prepared for some emotional cleansing. It is quite common to have unexpected and somewhat unexplainable emotions crop up during the process. Ideally, we would simply witness these states as they arise, creating space to honor, move, and release our feelings in a healthy way. The emotional aspects of panchakarma can make it especially important to enlist a loving support team for your cleansing process.
Panchakarma is best done at the turn of the seasons, in the spring and fall, when our bodies are already ripe with a sense of transition. It is too intense to be practiced when the weather is very hot or very cold like at the height of summer or depth of winter.
To ensure that she is not bleeding during the active cleansing phase, a menstruating woman should plan to start her panchakarma as close to the end of her last menses as possible. Should her period come unexpectedly, she can continue on the kitchari diet, but should suspend all other practices (oiling, sweating and purification practices) until her menstruation is complete.
Panchakarma must be guided by an experienced panchakarma therapist. If you are new to ayurveda and have decided that you would like to proceed, you must first schedule a consultation with an ayurvedic practitioner. He/she can then evaluate your constitution and help you to prepare for panchakarma. Your individual needs and goals will determine how soon you are able to start-most people need at least one month of incorporating ayurvedic lifestyle habits before they can begin a cleanse. If you are already on an ayurvedic path, you may still need some pre-cleanse preparation before beginning your panchakarma.
Remember that your food will absorb the energy of your mindset and state of being while you are cooking. You can assist your healing process by bringing good intentions and a sense of presence to your kitchen.
Kitchari is traditionally eaten three times a day during an Ayurvedic cleanse, but this simple oatmeal recipe is a good alternative, if preparing kitchari before breakfast is not realistic for you. This recipe can also provide a helpful break from the kitchari mono-diet – which is especially important if you tend to tire of similar foods easily.
While fruit and grains are typically considered a poor food combination, the cooking process generally renders stewed fruit lighter and more digestible. These particular fruits all have something in common with the taste profile of oatmeal; when cooked together, their more diverse qualities are able to mingle in a way that makes them more compatible.
Optional Warming Spices
Combine the raisins, cut fruit, 1 cup water, and any desired spices in a small saucepan and bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the fruit is tender and well cooked (apples may take a tad longer). Add the oats, the remaining ½ cup of water, stir, and return to a boil. When the mixture boils, stir thoroughly, remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 5-10 minutes, until the oats are soft and the water is absorbed. Cool and serve.
Fruits By Dosha:
For vata, favor apricots and peaches.
For pitta, favor apples and pears.
For kapha, any of the fruit is fine. If you are primarily focused on balancing kapha, you may also want to try this delicious kapha pacifying modification: simply combine a couple of varieties of cut fruit, omit the oats and the second batch of water, follow the rest of the recipe as it is, and enjoy a breakfast of stewed fruit.
Spices By Dosha and Season:
For vata, kapha, and cooler seasons, the optional spices offer a tasty addition of warmth to this dish. If there is pitta imbalance, favor cinnamon and cardamom, and consider reducing the quantity. For severe pitta imbalance (or if the season is hot) consider foregoing the spices altogether. The oatmeal with cooked fruit is surprisingly tasty on its own.
Kitchari is a stew type meal that is prepared from basmati rice and split mung dal. During a cleanse, appropriate vegetables provide texture, flavor, and an important source of fiber. Kitchari is very easy to digest, which makes it a wonderful food for any cleansing regimen. It allows the digestive system to rest, allocating extra energy to the body’s natural detoxification processes. The quantities in this recipe provide a good starting point for a day’s supply of kitchari, but as you learn your preferences and habits, you are welcome to adjust the quantities to better fit your needs.
Soak the split mung dal overnight (or for at least 4 hours). Strain the soaking water, combine with the rice and rinse the mixture at least twice, or until the water runs clear, and set aside. In a medium saucepan or soup pot, warm the ghee over medium heat. Add the black mustard seeds, cumin seeds and sauté for a couple of minutes, until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Add the turmeric, coriander, fennel, hing, and fresh ginger. Stir briefly, until aromatic. Stir the rice and dal mixture into the spices and sauté for a few moments, stirring constantly. Add the 6 cups of water, turn heat to high, and bring to a boil. When the soup comes to a boil, stir in the salt, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, cut your vegetables into small, bite-sized pieces. About halfway through the kitchari’s cooking process, stir in the vegetables and allow the stew to return to a boil. Continue to simmer until the rice, dal, and vegetables are fully cooked. Remove from heat, cool, and serve. Note: some vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, might require more cooking time and may be added earlier, if necessary.
Aim to have very little water remaining when finished. The consistency should be that of a vegetable stew as opposed to a broth. While you want the beans, rice, and vegetables to be thoroughly cooked, excess water and over-stirring can cause the ingredients to become thick and gummy. Garnish the kitchari with your choice of fresh cilantro, coriander chutney, and sesame chutney. Enjoy!
This tridoshic recipe from The Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amadea Morningstar is very tasty and is especially useful for reducing excess pitta.
Blend the lemon juice, water and fresh coriander until the coriander is chopped. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until it is like a paste.
Use sparingly. This chutney can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to one week. For a silkier texture, use only the leaves and the tops of the fresh coriander stalks.
This tridoshic recipe from Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing by Usha and Vasant Lad, is especially good for people with vata and kapha imbalance. Reduce cayenne pepper to ¼ teaspoon if there is any pitta imbalance.
Blend ingredients together and garnish kitchari with about 1 teaspoon of the mixture.
Place all the ingredients in a pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for fifteen minutes, or until the seeds begin to sink. Remove from heat and strain. Store the tea in a thermos or in the refrigerator, but do not drink it cooler than room temperature.
Boil water. Remove from heat and add herbs, salt, and lime. Steep 10 minutes, strain, add turbinado, and drink warm or at room temperature.