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What is it?

The term “Pancha Karma” consists of the 2 Sanskrit words pancha + karma, pancha means 5 and karma means actions or therapeutic methods and procedures. Specifically the term Panchakarma refers to the five main purification methods used in Ayurvedic detox therapy, although many more preparatory and post therapy applications are included and often refered to as “Panchakarma”.

There are 2 main methods of Pancha Karma used in India. The traditional and Northern method involves at least 6 weeks to complete. 1 week for Purva Karma or preparation, 4 weeks for Pancha Karma (the actual 5 action cleansing regimen) and 1 week for Rasayana or rejuvenation. This is the most effective method for thorough cleansing of the entire person. If the person is strong and has never undergone any detox therapies it is best to undergo this full Pancha Karma.

The symptomatic or Southern method can last as long as desired. This method focuses on immediate relief of ailments and is very effective for less serious problems that do not require deep cleansing. It rarely uses all 5 cleansing methods, generally employing a series one Karma in a particular sequence and combined with preparatory therapies to suit the appropriate health, lifestyle, diet and exercise regimen for an individual. This type of program can start from 7 days and go for any length desired if the proper preparation and rejuvenation is done at home before and after. The person will always feel more benefits if the cleanse is timed in accordance with the body’s natural responses.

3 stages of Pancha Karma Detox:

1. Purvakarma or preparatory procedures consisting mainly of tonifying Snehana Therapies (involving oil application), Swedhana Therapies (which induce sweating) and Ama-Pachana (toxin elimination and boosting metabolism via nutritional and herbal digestive therapies). These are first used to establish the ‘correct state of metabolism’ as preparation for elimination therapies. These also help to direct toxic accumulation, lymphatic and fat deposits back towards the sites of elimination.

2. Pradhankarma or the main Shodhana (elimination) therapies consisting of the five actions: Vamana (emetic therapy), Virechana (purgation therapy), Basti (enema therapy), Nasya (sinus & ENT therapy) and Raktamoksha (blood cleansing therapy).

3. Paschatkarma or post-therapeutic measures. Paschatkarma is the set of therapies used to regain the vigor and vitality of the body. Because cleansing therapies can put a lot of strain on the body, the digestive fire and immune system may become weak. These include: Samsarjankarma, special diet and lifestyle recommendations; Tonifying therapies are given for the main conditions for which the Pancha Karma was undertaken; Rasayana or rejuvenation therapies to enhance the metabolism to stimulate cellular repair and regeneration.

In cases where a client is weak, has a compromised immune system, metabolic disorders or under other special circumstances the palliative tonification and rejuvenation therapies are given prior to the preparatory therapies as well as after elimination procedures to ensure the physical endurance, needed for these elimination procedures.

Ayurveda recommends that everyone needs Pancha Karma, whether for symptom alleviation or for preventative purposes. Ideally it should be done three times a year, at the turn of spring, fall and winter. While today’s hectic lifestyle may not permit such a luxury it is also helpful to try receiving one or two weeks of these therapies once a year to keep in good health year after year.

These are very specific and technical therapies and should only be done under the supervision and direction of a well qualified Registered Ayurvedic Clinician or Specialist. Please inquire for details and to schedule your customized cleansing program.

It is important to understand that cleansing is a process and that different people respond to different methods in different ways. Also, every cleanse should be appropriately tailored to the individual. This is why any period of cleansing should begin with a consultation, whether it be in person or by phone. 

Pancha Karma Preparation

In Pancha Karma the preparation is key. The first step is to begin by using herbs, diet and lifestyle in order to increase the agni (digestive fire) to burn up all the undigested food and toxic accumulation in the body in preparation for the main cleansing procedures. When the body ingests inorganic or otherwise unabsorbable materials and if the immune and excretory system are not able to expel or process these materials, they are stored in the fat. These toxins make their environment more susceptible to accumulation, spreading and disease.

The second step of preparation is internal and external oleation: taking sneha: usually herbal clarified butter (with the water, sugars and proteins removed = pure animal fat) with bitter Ayurvedic herbs processed into it. Because ghee is animal fat, it is absorbed easily and stored as fat along with the toxic fat cells. The body’s natural reaction to anything bitter is to spit it out, likewise, human fat cells will spit out the bitter ghee and with it, the stored toxins. These toxins are thereby liquefied and more easily transported by the external oleation process to the digestive tract for elimination through the 5 main cleansing methods.

How different is this type of cleanse compared to fasting, juicing or cleanse kits?

Different fasts generally target different organs or systems in the body depending on the substances, foods and herbs used during the fast. Complete fasting, i.e. not eating or drinking anything (but water) is almost never advisable. When the digestive system is given a rest by stopping to feed it, it begins to digest the previously undigested materials and eventually, the fat deposits in the body (this takes a long time). Unfortunately, most people’s immune systems are not strong enough to support the body when it is not receiving vitamins, nutrients nor other energy from an external source. In fact if a person feels they need cleansing, they probably have a large accumulation of toxins. They should not starve themselves since their body would not have any backup when its natural defences are low and there are already toxins in the body which will easily flourish and cause aggravation if there is no support for the immune system.

Many different juice fasts are very effective in cleansing particular organs and systems of the body but often deplete the person or make them weak to such a degree that they cannot function in every day life. Fasting more than a day is best for people with a strong constitution and healthy will and immune system. Certain fasts are used in conjunction with Pancha Karma as part of Stambhana or reduction therapy.

Using ready-made cleanse kits, especially so called "Ayurveda cleanse kits" and other commercially available brands is very much against Ayurvedic principles. Since Ayurveda emphasizes attention to the individual's specific condition and elemental balance thereby related, it is imprudent to apply remedies which are only specific to an organ or system of the body without the application or support for the individual's constitution. Furthermore, such kits do not emphasize appropriate preparation and individually tailored diet, fitness and lifestyle recommendations and support. Most often these kits are produced by corporations akin to pharmaceutical companies whose bottom line is sales over results. Kits produced by small businesses and individual "practitioners" share many of the same flaws.  

The rise in popularity of herbal and "alternative medicine" systems has certainly offered the general public with many options and lots of information related to DIY healthcare. A blessing and a curse, the plethora of options out there in the alternative scene offers some of the much needed attention to the valid systems of science which are based in herbal medicine and "alternative" procedures while ironically - the lack of regulations regarding the practice and manufacture of these medicines allows the empowerment of those who wish to profit from the "alternative" trends. This is reflected by inadequately educated individuals and organizations claiming to offer genuine services and products while neglecting to comply with the scope of practice, registration association standards, traditional texts and ethical codes. Since no penalties exist for fraudulent practice of unregulated systems of medicine in Canada, anyone - with the resources and inclination to offer a service or product which under regulation would require years of education and assessment - can watch a video online, read some websites, books or take some short courses and go ahead and start offering potentially dangerous products and services while advertising "alternative medicine". 

If your car breaks down, you go to see a qualified mechanic (unless you are one). Most people don't look online and figure out how to fix it. The mechanic had to get educated and likely is certified or registered to practice by an association who evaluated and inspected his education and practice. 

If you are ambitious, perhaps you decide to enroll in a 10 day course on how to fix cars. So, do you try to turn your misfortune into an opportunity?  Do you say to yourself, well if I can fix my own, then maybe I can get paid to fix someone else's? 

Ask yourself, would I hire someone to fix my car after a 10 day course? A 1 month course?   No, of course not! Call the mechanic! Even if I can fix one problem, what if something else goes wrong while I fix it....I never took a course for that! 

So how valuable is your body?    More than your car?

Can you trust or correctly interpret the information available to you and correctly make decisions about your own health knowing that many of those who empower your self medication mainly do so to ensure their continued commerce? 

You may succeed in self medicating to a certain degree, just as you may be able to make simple repairs to your vehicle, however there will always come a time to bring it to the professionals. If it gets really bad, then you will want to see the best specialist possible. Many people waste a lot of time and resources with this type of behavior when so much can be saved by seeing a professional and simply by checking a few simple things: 

 "Alternative Practitioners": 

Is he/she registered to practice by a third party association?

Is he/she educated and certified by credible instructors/institutions?

How long was the education/is it in on par with the scope of practice?

Does he/she have experience addressing concerns like mine?

How many years has he/she been in practice?

"Alternative Supplements/Kits/Cleanses/Tools/Herbs/Food": 

Is the person who recommended the product qualified?

Did I receive a personal assessment recommending the product?

What are the possible side effects of the product?

Who manufactures this product? What is in it?

Is the manufacturer qualified to produce this product?

Misinterpretation of sacred information has been a plague to humanity since the beginning of civilization, causing wars and wiping out countries and cultures. For this reason much of the healing knowledge of Ayurveda has been kept secret and only passed from teacher to disciple after appropriate assessment and trials. The revival of these traditions and their publicity has indeed benefited many while heeding the warning that this medicine of the people carries with it the tradition of reverence for the knowledge and those who keep it. The understanding of practices which to many seem like home remedies should be tied to the person who recommends them. Medicine should not be prescribed based on information from some type of hearsay, gossip, blog, video or textbook but instead because the person prescribing (or a qualified specialist consultant) has had first hand experience using the remedy for a case similar to which they are referring for.  

Any fasting or cleansing should first be advised by a well qualified, experienced and Registered health professional after thorough personal consultation (that does not include reading it on the internet or in a book or being advised by a friend or a health food store employee).

Copyright Samya Ayurveda Inc.