The Panchkarma Experience

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shutterstock_280955174.jpgIndia is home to the age-old medicinal practice of Ayurveda, that brings harmony and balance to the mind, body and soul using herbs, lifestyle changes and health therapy treatments. 

Ayurveda originated in the south of India, and you can find excellent health therapy retreats in Kerala.   You can also find many reputable leading Ayurveda retreats in the north as well, especially in and around Rishikesh, the town famous for being the “Yoga Capital of the World“, located in the foothills of the Himalayas.

So, What is Panchkarma?


Panchkarma is one of the most popular holistic detox therapies of India. It is a five-step, total mind-body rejuvenation experience that comprises of herbal oil massages, steam baths, cleansing enemas and other purifying practices.

Panchkarma is amazing because it aids in the automatic healing of many ailments as it removes toxins that have been buried deep within the body’s tissues. It brings the three bodies (physical, astral and causal) into balance, renewing a sense of clarity and inner-peace between them.  A friend of mine who described her own Panchkarma experience said it cured her hypothyroidism.

I would strongly advise against getting a Panchkarma treatment outside of India. Many of the herbs used in the treatment are local, and for legal and logistical reasons won’t be available in the Western world. Many Ayurveda health practitioners in India have carried this ancient healing method for generations, and their treatment secrets have been kept safeguarded within the family.

You simply cannot get the real Panchkarma treatment outside of India.


Panchkarma aims to correct imbalances in your body as well as eliminate ama out of your system. Ama are toxins accumulated within the body’s organs and channels of elimination (colon, sweat glands, lungs, bladder, urinary tract, stomach, intestines, etc).

Due to one’s repeated dietary indiscretions, poor exercise patterns, lifestyle, and genetic predisposition, the digestive enzymes, metabolic co-factors, hormones, and digestive fire which regulate the body’s internal homeostasis become disorganized. This leads to the accumulation and spread of toxins throughout our physical body resulting in disease. 

Benefits of Panchkarma include:

  • Cleared toxins from the entire system
  • Balanced Doshas
  • Healed digestive system
  • Enhanced immunity
  • Decreased stress
  • Anti-aging
  • Improved skin luster
  • Weight-loss (if overweight)
  • Deep relaxation
  • Enhanced mindfulness

The Experience

A Panchkarma treatment is definitely not for the faint of heart.  It’s an intense process and will test you to a level you have never experienced before. As such, you will walk away a renewed person, open to the possibilities of life.

A Panchkarma “retreat” is a misnomer, and it is definitely not a spa holiday with poolside massages and green juices. It is a mind-body experience that will ooze toxins out of all orifices of your body – butt, nose and ears included.

My first panchkarma experience was exactly as such. Lying on a wooden massage table naked, as two women with strong sturdy hands massaged me with a thick layer of pungent mustard oil.  As the treatment rolled out,  I had had several of these, including Nasya, Shirodhara and Basti treatments.  The diet included rice-lentil porridge (Khichri), and lots of ghee.

The five traditional therapies of Panchkarma are:

Basti = Herbalized oil enemas
Nasya = Nasal irrigation
Vamana = Therapeutic Vomiting
Virechana = Purgation
Raktamokshana = Blood Letting

Practices like therapeutic vomiting and blood letting are no longer practiced today and have been replaced with more relaxing, mild therapies such as oil-massages and gentle therapies.

Panchkarma is a serious commitment! 

While you aren’t physically doing anything, things are being “done to you”. In fact, that’s what makes it so difficult. Your body is releasing years and years of stored emotional and physical toxins, and even though you are sitting still the entire day, you end up exhausted by the time your day’s treatments are over.

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