To detox, literally means to remove TOXINS from the body. Where do these toxins come from? Well, in today’s era let me frame it this way:‘Where don’t the toxins come from!’ The air that we breathe in, the food that we eat, the environment that we live in, the water that we drink everything is heavily loaded with dirt, chemicals, radiations and junk. The humble attempts to consume organic, home grown food become wary soon and we realise that nothing much can be done on this front and we resume consuming whatever that is available praying for our health and safety. Haphazardous lifestyle adds to the already bad situation and we end up with never known before lifestyle disorders and syndromes which slowly kill our body’s engine. This engine needs regular servicing just like any other heavily (ab)used gadgetand that is precisely what a DETOX would do.
When our digestive energies, known as Agni (fire) are robust, we create healthy tissues, eliminate waste products efficiently and produce a subtle essence called OJAS. Ojas, which may be visualisedas the innermost essence of our psycho-somatic wellbeing, is the basis for clarity of perception, physical strength, and immunity. On the other hand, if our Agni is weakened, digestion is incomplete and creates toxins that get stored in the body. This toxic residue is known as AMA. When ama accumulates in the body, it blocks the flow of energy, information and nourishment throughout the system. Ayurved considers this build-up of toxins the underlying cause of all disease. A common example of this is the accumulation of saturated fat and cholesterol that is beyond the body’s capacity to metabolize. Over time, this leads to the blockage of the blood vessels and arteries and ultimately, to heart attacks. By some means the accumulated cholesterol is flushed away on regular basis out of the body and hence we won’t ever suffer from arterial blockages with fatty deposits. This is known as detoxification.
Ayurved has dealt with the concept of detoxification in minute details under the SHODHAN therapy. Shodhan or cleansing is advised when the DOSHA(VATA, PITTA and KAPHA) are vitiated to such levels along with the derangement of agni, that SHAMAN or the pacification of doshas is no longer possible with oral medications. This ShodhanChikitsahas 5 procedures namely VAMAN, VIRECHAN, BASTI, NASYA andRAKTAMOKSHAN popularly and collectively known as PANCHAKARM. Panchakarma can be again twofold, i.e. firstly for PREVENTION and later CURE.
The first part,i.e. prevention, comes under detoxification for general health of an individual. This comes under SEASONAL REGIMEN or RITUCHARYA. The 3 doshas under the influence of seasonal and climatic influence undergo changes in the body i.e. either increase or decrease. When in increased or aggravated stage they need to be cleansed from the system or else they lead to innumerable disorders or imbalances.This is checked by these purificatory procedures which are meticulously designed according to the season, constitution of the patient and the dosha that is vitiated. For eg., VAMAN( roughly therapeutic EMESIS) which works on the KAPHA dosha is ideally to be done in VASANT RITU (March-April) as the KAPHA is aggravated in this period. Likewise, for VATA it is BASTI(therapeutic ENEMA) in VARSHA (July- August) and for PITTA it is VIRECHAN(therapeutic PURGATION) in SHARAD RITU(September-October) .
The second part is SHODHAN for CURE or management. When any disorder becomes chronic or acute or there is severe dosha imbalance or the physician judiciously decides that oral medication won’t help, then the cleansing of the doshas is done with one or more of the PANCHAKARMAS. But this is no child’s play as there has to be proper assessment of the strength of the patient, the time(season, hour of the day or the age of the patient), the environmental factors, etc. Both the physician and the patient have to be alert and dedicated to the procedure. One can consider this as critical as a surgery in itself devoid of any cuts or wounds.
Now, it is very important to know how detoxifying procedures work in Ayurved. The idea is to restore the dosha to their state of balance. But there is a greater risk that while we bring down the aggravated dosha, we shouldn’t increase the other one or vice versa. For eg.,Vaman as described earlier causes expulsion of aggravated kapha wherein there is chance of increase in vata if the procedure is not executed properly or there is over dosage of Vaman medication. Such a procedure can be termed as faulty or wrong. It is very important for the patients to hence understand that these procedures cannot be done in a day or two as we have to first prepare the body for the procedure in PRE-PROCEDURES, then the MAIN procedure is done and the third stage is of POST PANCHAKARMA PROCEDURES which is basically dietary regimen to gradually bring back the body to normal. So, the total SHODHAN KARMA can take anything from 5 days to a month based on which karmas are selected from the five.At its core, an Ayurvedic cleanse is focused on drawing toxins and excess vata, pitta, and kapha out of the tissues and into the digestive tract so that they can be eliminated. While this is sometimes an uncomfortable process, the end result should be an improved sense of balance and overall health.
On the surface, Panchakarma may sound like any other cleanse popular these days like a liver cleanse or a kidney detox most of which are based on dietary regimens or the colon therapy but it is not. It is much deeper and multifaceted then the above. It aims to loosen and eliminate excess vata, pitta, kapha and ama(toxins) from the system and a diet of Ayurvediya preparations like yusha, yavagu which resemble soups or krushara i.e. KHICHADI, plays a central role in that process.
Normally, nutrition flows from the digestive tract into the bloodstream and from there into the tissues. During panchakarma, we intentionally smother the digestive fire and reverse the direction of that flow, allowing toxins and impurities to move from the deep tissues, into the bloodstream, and back to the alimentary canal where they can more easily be eliminated. Panchakarma like Vaman and Virechanintensifies the process in order to cleanse impurities from the very deepest layers of the body. This is why panchakarma is such a potent cleanse. However, this disruption to the flow of nutrients in the body necessitates a great deal of care after the procedure is complete in order to return things to normal.
The first requirement of a successful panchakarma procedure is an experienced physician followed by good medicines and apparatus, nurses and then comes the patient.
In the PRE-STAGE the patient is given an idea about the whole procedure and the consent to proceed is taken. A diet chart is given which explains about the diet intake for the whole procedure. Some medications are given to boost the agni or the digestion. Then, based on the constitution of the patient, the disease to be targeted and the season or the dosha that is affected; an oil or medicated ghee is given for 3-5days to lubricate the tissues from within. The oil or ghee is expected to reach minute pores of the tissues and release the toxins bringing them to the gastro-intestinal tract only to be flushed out. After the body is well lubricated from within, external oil application(SNEHAN) and steam(SWEDAN) is given for 3 days for opening the bodily pores. This is how the body is prepared for the actual procedure which can be VAMAN or VIRECHAN. The other three do not require such preparation.
The actual procedure takes just a day. The respective medicine is given for either VAMAN(EMETIC THERAPY) or VIRECHAN(PURGATIVE THERAPY) and then the patient is monitored throughout the day.
The POST- STAGE is basically after care with mild oral medications if required or a dietary regimen which will help regain the normal digestive capacity by the body. This may be for 3-4 days.
BASTI or medicated enemas which are either oil or decoction enemas, NASYAM or NASAL cleanse, RAKTAMOKSHAN or Blood-letting by the means of instruments or leeches don’t essentially require the PREPARATORY or POST PROCEDURE stages. Nonetheless, each procedure has its set of indications, contraindications, do’s and don’ts. In any case, debilitated, weak individuals, children, pregnant women, breastfeeding women, elderly and individuals suffering from certain chronic disorders shouldn’t do any major detoxifying procedures unless prescribed and guided by the physician.
The panchakarma cleansing process affects the whole body at physical, mental and emotional levels. When large quantities of toxins that were caught in the systems for years gradually get eliminated; one may experience nausea, insomnia, headaches, heaviness or general flu like symptoms along with mood swings or emotional turbulences as well. But the final effects are overwhelmingly fantastic. The general benefits include:
• Sense of stability and clarity to the body and mind.
• An improved sense of energy, vitality, and enthusiasm for life.
• A healthy body weight and improvedagni.
• Normal sleep cycles, hunger cycles, monthly menstrual cycles.
• Regular and balanced elimination.
• Preparation of the tissues for deep nourishment and rejuvenation.
• Improved hair, skin and functions of the sensory organs.
• Slowdown in the process of ageing.
• Optimal health for the mind and body.
Individually panchakarma procedures are useful in respective conditions.
• VAMAN- acts mainly on kaphadosha. Useful in respiratory disorders which are basically congestive and associated with mucous or phlegm, headaches, digestive disorders like hyperacidity, chronic fevers etc.
• VIRECHAN- acts mainly on pitta dosha. Useful in disorders associated with increase of body heat. Certain skin disorders, digestive disorders, arthritis, inflammations etc.
• BASTI- acts mainly on vatadosha. Useful in disorders associated with pain and numbness in the body like various neurological diseases, arthritis, osteoporosis, constipation, headaches etc.
• NASYA- useful in diseases related to the head region. Upper respiratory disorders, cranial disorders,migraines, memory disorders, eye and ear disorders etc
• RAKTAMOKSHAN – useful in disorders of blood. Certain skin disorders, inflammations, hypertension, headaches, splenic and liver disorders.
As a cautionary statement, remember random massages like Shirodhara or other such treatments are not PANCHAKARMA procedures. Avoid getting misguided. As the actual panchakarma procedures are quite overwhelming, engaging and time consuming too, an individual who wants to achieve milder detoxification can consult with a physician and plan for shorter programmes for 3-5 days which aim at dietary corrections, sensory cleansing therapies, oral medications combined with hydrotherapies or targeted massages with treatments like dharas, lepa(wraps), churnaswed(scrubs or poltices), milder enema sessions etc. These smaller programmes pave the way for bigger ones plus they are less engaging in terms of time and other impositions like seasonal restrictions and there is no need for intake of oil or ghee in such huge amounts required for the traditional panchakarma therapies which also ideally requires hospitalization for a day or two. The effect won’t be as huge as that of the panchakarma procedures but one will left feeling much healthier, lighter and younger than before.
Conclusively, even a diet regimen can be followed to achieve some amount of detoxification. One can see an Ayurved physician for the same. Many complicated disorders come crumbling down with simple dietary corrections. Even three to five days programmes combining minor therapies can make exemplary difference in one’s life which is why these smaller programmes are easy and popular.
But something like PANCHAKARMA is designed for a higher purpose and requires precision and patience to reap the healthy benefits.
Dr. SUJAL PATIL TORGAL
TRAYA NATURAL HEALTH CENTRE