What is Panchakarma?
Panchakarma means five actions and in Ayurveda, Panchakarma is the fivefold detoxification therapy practised on a patient (not necessarily sick) once every year or two. Panchakarma therapy is offered by many Ayurvedic institutions all over the world and in the recent years have become very popular in North America due to many individuals opting to take the natural age old alternate medicines.
Let’s outline the basic five actions of a Panchakarma procedure.
1. Abhyanga – Massage:
In Ayurveda, massages are more than just relaxation, scented oils and lotions, expensive massage parlors and so on… Abhyanga can be performed every day, time permitted, or once a week. The oils used are normally herb infused or therapeutic essential oils in quality carrier oils. When performed on a regular basis, Abhyanga promotes the absorption of the herbal essences in the oil, and it helps the skin perform its various tasks efficiently.
The main accomplishments of an Abhyanga are increased circulation, soothed nerves, improved mental clarity and alertness, toned muscles, lubricated joints, improvement in purging of wastes, healthier and smoother skin and restored tranquil sleep at night.
2. Gharshana – Dry skin brushing and exfoliation:
Most followers of Ayurvedic principles perform this ritual for at least 5 minutes every day. Soft sponges, cotton cloths or dry brushes can be used to gently rub skin before a shower (not while one is wet during the shower). Gharshana starts with rubbing the head in a circular motion, neck and arms in long sweeps towards the direction of the heart and belly and joints again in a circular motion. The procedure is complete after long strokes over the legs and feet.
Gharshana performed daily helps unclog pores and tone the skin and eliminate toxins via the largest organ in the human body, which is of course, the skin. It also improves blood and lymphatic circulation and helps balance hormones.
3. Swedhana – Perspiring:
Swedhana is the twin therapy of Abhyanga and almost always follows the massage. A Swedhana treatment is normally a steam bath where herbs are added to the water that steams. When the body is touched by the herbal steam, the body temperature is elevated, encouraging the person to sweat, thus moving toxins out of the body.
Swedhana also relieves stress, reduces muscle and joint pains, improves circulation, liberates one from inflammation, promotes weight loss and rejuvenates the skin.
4. Shirodhara – Steady flow of oil over the forehead:
Shirodhara is a form of Ayurvedic therapy that involves gently pouring liquids over the forehead continuously for 20 to 30 minutes to promote relaxation and stimulate the pituitary gland. The soothing oil is streamed directly onto the ajna chakra (third eye, the point between the eyebrows) and the entire forehead.
Shirodhara has several benefits although today’s Americans get one mostly for the profound peace and bliss it brings. Most stress related conditions like insomnia, anxiety, chronic headaches, hypertension and asthma are cured by Shirodhara. Shirodhara also improves the functioning of sense organs and central nervous system, also elevates mood and fights depression.
5. Udvarthana – Dry Scrub
Udvarthana is also a massage, but not performed with oils. Udvarthana meaning upward strokes is generally performed with herbal powders to exfoliate the skin and to reduce cellulite. Udvarthana is mostly performed right after an Abhyanga treatment when the body is still oily and a Swedhana session is recommended right after.