What is wrong with today’s lifestyle, nowadays,has become more than a rhetorical question. With the air quality index (AQI) dipping abysmally low in certain parts of India, and the rise of food delivery apps at one’s beck and call (read: digital foot butlers), eating right and clean has gone for a toss. We all have been storing toxins in our system knowingly and unknowingly. With air, water, sound pollution, body pollution is on the rise too. Thus, staying healthy in an unhealthy world is of paramount importance. The urban lifestyle may look glamorous from the outside, but it comes with its own stress.
"Because we cannot scrub our inner body we need to learn a few skills to help cleanse our Tissues. Organs & Mind. This is the heart of AYURVEDA." ---Sebastian Pole
On Instagram, I have come across posts of many people (celebrities included) celebrating the third, fourth, and so on anniversary of their medical condition caused by stress and modern lifestyle. This is in no way an attempt to undermine their acceptance and celebration of their condition; but shouldn’t the celebrations and anniversaries be more about living clean, becoming toxin-free, and as such. So how do we address this wellness gap? One of the ways is through Panchakarma. Panchkarma is an effective way to close this gap as it shortens the distance between an individual and their health goals by putting them on the track of a healthy lifestyle.
image by CGH Earth Ayurveda
Enter the Panchkarma: a deep detoxification of the body, mind and soul. The word Panchkarma translates to a five-step procedure or a set of five actions that are performed on the body to help it get rid of the accumulated toxins. The human body, at any particular time, is said to store close to seven hundred toxic chemicals with varying levels of toxicity. What Panchkarma does is that it clears the clogged passages of the body, letting the energy flow freely. It is also said to prevent one, from future diseases and ailments.
The entire process of Panchkarma is primarily divided into three steps: Poorva Karma (It involves preparing the body for the main step i.e. Panchkarma; Poorva Karma involves the process of Snehan and Sweden to help the body shed toxins.), Pradhan Karma (It is the main step of Panchakarma involving five stages of purification namely Vaman, Virechana, Basti, Nasya and Rakta Mokshana.), and lastly, Paschat Karma (It is the follow-up phase during which the practitioner prescribes the dietary regimen to an individual).
However, Panchkarma treatment should be done by a certified Ayurvedic practitioner and ideally in an Ayurvedic center to make it work. Here’s why. As every human body is unique in terms of composition, an understanding of an ailment or a dosha requires a thorough understanding of prakriti (the body’s constitution.) Such a complex understanding generally requires a lot of theoretical and practical knowledge in order to determine the prognosis. Here’s where a certified Ayurvedic practitioner steps in. These practitioners advise whether Panchkarma needs to be done on a specific part of the body or has to be carried out on the entire body as per the current lifestyle and ailments of an individual. Such treatment plans can often easily take up to one hour or more on a case to case basis.
Because Panchkarma treatment is highly complex in nature, it should be carried out only by a certified Ayurveda practitioner. Hence, one must do their research before shortlisting a centre. One way to go about it is to find out all the information pertaining to the doctors and the legacy of Panchkarma centre. One can read client testimonials or ask around in their circles to gain a better sense about the centre. Also, make sure to look up the information about the educational qualifications and the experience of the doctor/s besides checking the centre’s accreditation.
“Health is a relationship between you and your body” -- Terri Guillemets
Therefore, it is essential to ensure that the centre’s Ayurvedic doctor is registered under the Medical Council of India apart from holding a degree in BAMS (Bachelor in Ayurveda & Medical Science). Any other degree beyond BAMS such as MAMS or a PhD is an added bonus as it establishes the legitimacy and credibility of a practitioner. One can also login to the NABH website to see if the particular centre bears an accreditation by it. The Kerala government has its own standards to classify an Ayurvedic centre on the basis of excellence. It classifies a centre into three categories (in order of highest to lowest) namely Ayur Diamond, Ayur Gold and Ayur Silver. Another important point that should be kept in mind here is that the yoga teachers are not qualified to practice a Panchkarma treatment on anyone. A Panchakarma treatment, as mentioned before, is done only by a certified Ayurveda practitioner and no one else.
image Krishnendu Ayurveda Kerala 108 year old centre
The age of the centre also plays an important role in choosing the right Panchkarma centre. The age here is a signifier of the wealth of experience a centre possesses. Therefore, the greater its age is, the more its experience will be in administering Panchkarma treatment. The legacy of the centre also indicates its familiarity of working with different kinds of people. One can find more information about the success rate of their treatments or their experience with Panchkarma for a specific issue over a call so as to get more clarity.
This is an extremely important point to consider if you are a foreign national. Enquire directly about their experience of working with foreign nationals and ask if they speak English or not, as the language can prove to be a major barrier in terms of communicating things correctly. Read their reviews on the Internet to get some more clarity on this.
If you are not fluent in English, make it a point to ask if they can speak your language, as it will help you grasp all the instructions given to you during the course of treatment. Based on your research, you can then shortlist the centre which understands the needs and issues of a westerner. Pro Tip: Don’t hold back any of your doubts as it is best to discuss all the concerns frankly with the centre’s administration before commencing the treatment.
It is generally, a wise idea, to have a working knowledge of breakdown of various treatments one would be given before commencing their Panchkarma. Having an idea about the number of treatments and/ therapies one would be getting on a daily basis helps an individual in framing their expectations from the centre. It also prepares them mentally as to what to expect on a daily or an overall basis. In general, most certified Ayurveda centres provide two treatments per day (subject to certain condition/s). For example: A 14 day Panchakarma program will have a minimum of 26 treatments excluding the day of your arrival. Similarly, an individual is given only treatment during their Virechan while carrying forward the remainder treatment over the rest of days.
But, it is a good idea to raise the query regarding the number of treatments in the Panchakarma package beforehand only as it helps plan the things accordingly besides giving a fair idea about an average cost of each treatment. The budget centres normally provide fewer treatments than the luxury ones, but they do make it a point to mention this in their information brochure or website (ask if not specified). In a nutshell, have a detailed discussion about this with the centre so as to ensure that you both are on the same page.
image Kairali Ayurveda Kerala NABH certified Ayurveda Retreat
Cleanliness is next to Godliness. As Panchkarma is about the detoxification of body, mind and soul; it is imperative that the same cleanliness is maintained and kept throughout the centre’s premises. If you are staying at the centre, make sure that rooms are dusted and swept on a daily basis. One can look at the pictures of the centre or read the reviews of those who have been there to ascertain the level of cleanliness. They can also request the management to give them a video tour of the centre to figure out the hygiene practices and protocols followed.
A Panchkarma treatment is at its effective best when one has easy access to the Ayurvedic doctor at the centre. Therefore, it is advisable to ask about the availability of the doctor post your sessions. One might need to visit the doctor for seeking guidance and knowing about their recovery progress. It is advisable to meet the doctor every alternate day for half an hour to discuss all these things once the planned sessions are done. One should also ask if the doctor is available for a video or a telephonic consultation in case any need arises.
It is advised to have a detailed discussion about the therapies you would be undergoing for. Any centre that offers ‘same therapy for all’ is a big no-no. Only go for the centres that offer bespoke therapies based on the individual’s needs and body constitution. Personalization is the prime ethos of any Panchakarma treatment. Don’t hesitate to ask the doctor to breakdown every therapy and kind of oils and herbs used in each, for your understanding.
Also, remember to ask if you need to modify your existing diet or cut down your portions. The key here is to let all the doubts out! No question is silly enough. So ask, ask and ask. In a nutshell, these are some of the questions you should be definitely asking your doctor: what kinds of therapies are required for me? Are these therapies customized as per my dosha?
You can gauge the centre’s environment through many ways. The environment here, doesn’t essentially refer to the physical environment, but also encompasses the ethos, mission, and vision of the centre. One can gauge the environment by doing the research on the Internet and getting in touch with someone (if possible) to listen to their experience firsthand. They can also figure out the centre’s environment by how promptly and patiently they answer all the queries. They can also schedule a visit to the centre if possible to know about the vibe of the place.
image Kairali Ayurveda Kerala
In most Panchkarma centres, a light and vegetarian meal is given so as to not to overload the digestive system with junk. The participants are normally given khichdi to eat, as the Ayurveda lays importance on the Vipaka aspect (the after-taste of the meal.) A Panchakarma diet is strict and Sattvic. Therefore, one is discouraged to eat food items such as smoothies, pizzas, meat, and breads and more during the course of the treatment as these items can obstruct the healing mechanism rendering the entire exercise pointless.
Yes, you can follow a set of guidelines before you arrive at the centre for your treatment and begin your self -detoxification program before your arrival. One can opt for a short duration Ayurvedic cleanse at home before they start their Panchakarma treatment. These cleanses are simple to follow, and can be done at the comfort of home. Basically, an Ayurvedic cleanse prepares the body for the detoxification, in other words, it makes the body ‘Panchkarma ready.’ An Ayurvedic cleansing requires one to eat Sattvic food items such as khichdi, fruits, steamed green vegetables and such while avoiding the items that are hard to digest.
Further, it requires one to eat their meals on time. Ayurveda suggests one to eat a heavy lunch followed by a light dinner. It also stresses on using fresh and locally produced ingredients for each and every meal. Some of the other ways to do an Ayurvedic cleanse involve setting a schedule (and sticking to it) on a daily basis, reducing the screen time, taking adequate small breaks in between the work, sleeping on time, meditating on a daily basis (even for small time) and giving yourself a self-massage. You can also consult the centre to know if you need to follow any other specific protocol as per your line of treatment.
“It’s not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself & to make your happiness a priority it’s necessary” ---Mardy hale
Follow-ups are essential for some people. Therefore, it is advisable to ask the details about the post treatment plan and consultation. One should also ask upfront if these consultations would be done in physical, telephonic or a hybrid format and if they are required to pay extra for these. Normally, change of seasons demand the repeat of a Panchakarma treatment, which means that an individual ideally should go for a Panchkarma, thrice a year. A lot of centres call their post treatment plan ‘rasayana program’, which essentially is a blueprint of all the activities you should be doing, foods you should be eating or ignoring, to make your treatment effective.
A lot of people think that they can go back to old ways once they are done with Panchakarma. However, this is not the case. Expecting different results by doing things the same way, is a tall order of sorts. The post care process is as important as any other step, and thus has to be followed with due diligence to make the treatment work.
Choosing a right centre hence is extremely important for any Panchakarma treatment. One should therefore not make their decision solely on the basis of discounts offered. A Panchkarma is not a spa treatment; it is an Ayurvedic treatment process to help the toxins flush out from the entire system. Therefore, they should take account of all the factors mentioned above into their consideration set before making a final decision. This beautiful Sanskrit quotation of “Swasthya swastha Rakshanam Athurasyasa Vikara Prashmanam (translation: people who are healthy should maintain their healthiness and people who are unhealthy should be made free from diseases'') sums up the entire essence of Ayurveda science, Panchkarma included.