Panchakarma is a powerful therapy that provides a unique opportunity for the system to repair and rejuvenate. Those undergoing this program gain the maximum from it if they focus completely on the healing process taking place. That is why an equally important part of Panchakarma therapy has to do with the patient’s lifestyle during the process. Certain changes in one’s diet and daily routine are necessary to insure the greatest results. These lifestyle adjustments begin with the onset of Purvakarma, the preparatory phase and continue through the end of Paschatkarma, the post-treatment phase.
For Panchakarma to work properly, external demands on the mind and body should be removed. The system can then devote its full resources to eliminating toxins and rejuvenating the dhatus which have been damaged by impurities. Activity or exertion pulls the action of the doshas to the extremities and impairs their ability to transport the impurities from the deep tissues to the G-I tract for elimination.
Ayurveda therefore recommends some lifestyle modifications to maximize the success of treatment, beginning with the onset of the preparatory therapies. Ideally, patients should put aside the usual preoccupation with work and family and devote themselves to rest — mentally and physically. They should have a relaxed schedule and avoid experiences that provoke strong emotions.
It’s important to forego sexual activity during and immediately after treatment to avoid any undue strain on the body’s energy systems. During this time, particularly, patients should not suppress natural urges, such as the need to urinate, defecate or pass gas — the suppression of natural urges always strains the body. Since Panchakarma is contraindicated during menstruation, it is important for women to time their treatment schedule accordingly.
Warm, comfortable and pleasant surroundings, free from drafts, characterize the ideal treatment environment. Baths should always be warm, because the body naturally defends and tightens against cold, whether it’s cold wind, water or drinks. Cold influences also decrease agni’s effectiveness and impair metabolism. In addition, they shrink the shrotas or body channels, which must remain open during Panchakarma to permit the flow of ama out of the dhatus and back to the G-I tract. Through these pathways the healing power of nutrients and medicinal herbs (rasayanas) flow to all parts of the body.
During this time it is important to reduce sensory input and give the senses a much needed rest. Because they are the bridge between our, external and internal worlds, it gives the mind and body rest as well. Patients are advised to avoid television, bright lights and loud music. If reading is necessary, it is best to do it in moderation. It is also recommended that we minimize speech during the time of treatment. We often don’t recognize the effort that goes into producing speech, but it is one of the main ways we expend energy in daily life. Patients should give up strenuous physical exercise during this process. The farther we can pull back into rest, the more dynamic we will be when we spring back into activity once the entire process is complete.
Meditating each day significantly supports successful treatment. Even more benefit comes when meditation is preceded by the gentle stretching and breathing exercises of asanas and pranayama. The benefit of these things has already been discussed.
The diet prescribed during treatment by the Ayurvedic physician constitutes a key element in the therapy. If we tax our digestion with heavy food, it interferes with purification and limits the benefits we might otherwise achieve.
The ideal Panchakarma diet consists of light, nourishing and easily digestible foods, such as steamed vegetables and kichari (yellow mung dal and basmati rice cooked together with very mild spices). The dietary regimen during Panchakarma emphasizes kichari for a number of reasons. It does not tax the digestive agni and when it enters prapaka digestion, it helps to liquefy ama. It is highly nourishing, digests easily and calms the mind. Finally, kichari balances all three doshas. Here is a good recipe for kichari:
1 cup split mung dal (yellow)
2 cups white basmati rice 1 inch fresh ginger root
1 small handful of cilantro leaves
2 tsp. ghee (clarified butter)
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. coriander powder
1/2 tsp. cumin powder
1/2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
1/4 tsp. mineral salts
1 pinch hing (asafoetida)
8 cups water (6 cups when using pressure cooker)
Wash the rice and dal together until the water runs clear. Add the eight cups of water and cook the covered rice and dal until it becomes soft. Saute the mustard seeds, whole cumin seeds, hing, cumin powder, coriander powder and turmeric, together with the ghee, in a separate sauce pan and cook for a few minutes. Stir the sauteed spices into the mostly cooked rice and dal and cook until done. Add the mineral salts and the cilantro leaves before serving.
The daily diet during treatment should avoid heavy foods which are difficult to digest, such as sweets, fried foods, meat and dairy products. Salty foods, pungent foods (chilies, onions and garlic) and sour foods (pickles, vinegar and citrus) should be greatly reduced. Stay away from fermented foods (yogurt, hard cheese, tofu, soy sauce) and foods with yeast (bread). Ayurveda strongly advises abstaining from cold foods and drinks (ice cream, iced teas and sodas), as well as alcohol and stimulants like caffeine. The Panchakarma facility will usually provide the patient with their meals since they know which foods are most conducive to purifying and rejuvenating the body.
If these guidelines are followed from the beginning of the pre-procedures to the end of the post-procedures, Panchakarma therapy will be a great success. The patient will enjoy a strong appetite and digestion and feel light and energetic. The mind will be clear and happy and experience satisfaction and enthusiasm for life.
Now that we have explained the primary and adjunctive therapies which Ayurveda uses to prepare the patient for Panchakarma, as well as the lifestyle adjustments necessary to insure its success, let’s turn our attention to the main eliminative procedures.