The ultimate goal of Ayurveda, India’s ancient system of natural wellness, is to help you find balance—in mind, body, and spirit. During an Ayurvedic consultation, a practitioner will offer you tailored suggestions on diet, herbs, and lifestyle practices to help you feel your best. And, in some cases, they may recommend more in-depth treatments, such as panchakarma.
What is panchakarma?
Panchakarma is a powerful, revitalizing Ayurvedic purification program that employs luxurious treatments like warm oil massage, steam baths, and aromatherapy to awaken your body’s inner intelligence and healing mechanisms. The Sanskrit word pancha-karma means "five actions," and refers to the many rejuvenating treatments involved in this program.
A wellness retreat unlike any other, panchakarma gives your mind and body a profound reset, leaving you feeling refreshed, revitalized, and rejuvenated. A number of published studies have associated panchakarma with positive health outcomes, including improved physical and psychological health, as well as improved cardiovascular risk factors. Learn more about the benefits of panchakarma.
The history of panchakarma
Panchakarma spas have grown in popularity in the West in recent years, but the history of panchakarma in the East spans centuries. In the ancient days, this royal treatment was reserved only for the rajas (kings) of India and their families.
A quote from the Charaka Samhita—classical Ayurvedic treatise from around 400 BC—describes the essentials of this powerful detox tool as follows:
"In a person whose digestive system has been cleansed and purified the metabolism is stimulated, disease is reduced, and normal health is maintained. Sense organs, mind, intellect and complexion are improved; strength, good nourishment, healthy progeny and potency are the result. Symptoms of aging do not appear so easily and the person lives long and free from disorders. For this reason, elimination therapy should be carried out correctly and at the right time."
Why do an Ayurvedic detox?
Your body is constantly regenerating and renewing itself on a cellular level, every day. But over time, things like stress, environmental pollutants, and the consumption of overly processed foods can disrupt those natural mechanisms, leaving you feeling run down and depleted.
For some people, all that’s needed is a little attention to diet, digestion, daily routine and supplements. But for others, a more profound rest may be extremely beneficial. That’s where panchakarma comes in.
What’s involved in a panchakarma retreat?
Panchakarma retreats take place in-residence at facilities such as The Raj Ayurveda Health Center and Spa. Treatments generally range from 3-7 days, though some people opt for an even longer stay of up to 21 days.
During your visit, you’ll have the opportunity to completely unwind and unplug. You’ll spend your days resting, eating nourishing vegetarian meals tailored to your unique mind-body type, and enjoying a wide range of authentic Ayurvedic treatments. You’ll also have the opportunity to gain new knowledge to support your wellness journey—like yoga routines, Ayurvedic cooking tips, and more.
Preparatory panchakarma regimen
Your panchakarma retreat begins long before you set foot in the spa. Here’s what’s involved:
- First, you’ll have a consultation with an Ayurvedic practitioner, either on the phone or in person. Your practitioner will develop a customized panchakarma program for you based on your current state of balance and wellness goals. At some point before your panchakarma retreat, an Ayurvedic practitioner will take your pulse to determine your state of balance.
- Next, you’ll follow a preparatory program at home for a few weeks. You’ll follow a specific Ayurvedic regimen involving a light (but still nourishing) diet and Ayurvedic herbs.
- Right before your stay, you’ll do a mini-cleanse at home to prepare your body for treatments ahead.
Common panchakarma treatments
Your Ayurvedic practitioner will determine the best treatments for you to have during your stay. Some of the most common panchakarma treatments include:
Abhyanga is a deeply relaxing, synchronized warm oil massage that involves two massage technicians. This gentle practice helps dislodge toxins from the body’s tissues. The herbalized oil is infused herbal essences and choice ingredients specially blended for your needs.
Abhyanga is carried out in silence and is included in most daily panchakarma treatments. Silence and rest are important components in the process of activating the body's own self-healing mechanisms.
This full-body, warm-oil massage treatment is carried out by two therapists applying extra pressure. Vishesh serves to relax the muscles and stimulates circulation in the tissues.
Garshan is a traditional massage done with raw silk gloves, which create gentle friction on the surface of the skin and increase circulation in the body. Garshan promotes healthy weight balance and helps with issues such as cellulite. Garshan is always followed by a warm oil treatment.
This invigorating massage is done with an exfoliating paste made from ground grains and herbal powders. Udvarthana helps to exfoliate the skin, increase circulation, and support healthy weight balance.
Pizhichill is truly a special treatment. Half-way between a warm bath and an oil massage, this royal treatment involves a synchronized massage given under a soothing flow of warm herbal oil. Pizhichill is highly appreciated by all guests and supports joint health and muscle relaxation.
During panchakarma, oil massages are often followed by Svedana, an herbal steam bath with specially-selected medicinal herbs. This treatment promotes natural detoxification through heat and steam. The term “Svedana” includes many different forms of heat treatment. The heat can be dry or damp, and may be applied locally or to the whole body.
At the end of each day, after the impurities from different parts of the body have been loosened and drawn into the intestinal tract, the client will receive a basti. These gentle internal cleansing treatments use either warm herbalized oil or water-based herbal decoctions to eliminate impurities from the intestinal tract. This is one of the most important aspects of treatment.
This is a deeply relaxing treatment, in which a stream of warm oil flows evenly over the forehead for some time. Shirodhara treatment is done in absolute silence, leading to profound relaxation and a balanced state of rest in mind and body.
Nasya supports healthy sinuses, calms the mind and memory, and supports normal hearing function through gentle treatments to the head, shoulders, and neck. Herbalized steam inhalations and compresses are the mainstays of this highly effective treatment. An additional benefit of nasya therapy: it is said to strengthen the mind and intellect.
In today's world, we are saturated with visual stimulation. After a long day of computer screens and texting, it’s easy for your eyes to feel strained and overused, which can lead to issues with vision and brain activity. Netra tarpana treatment has a relaxing effect on the eyes and surrounding tissue. It is carried out in conjunction with the gentle application of herbal oil to the face and is experienced by clients as very enjoyable and relaxing.
During a pinda sveda treatment, small linen bags (or boluses) filled with specially-prepared herbal mixtures are applied to the body to promote muscular comfort. For this treatment, highly effective Maharishi AyurVeda herbal oils are specially selected for the client, depending on the areas they’d like to target. The herbal extracts are chosen for their soothing properties.
After your panchakarma retreat
You’ll experience profound rejuvenation and relaxation during your stay, but many panchakarma guests say the benefits continue for weeks and months afterward.The key is not to rush back into regular activity too quickly and give your body time to integrate the full benefits of your cleanse.
For more information on authentic panchakarma treatments and your best detox, contact our full-service Ayurvedic detox expert spa: The Raj Maharishi Ayurveda Health Spa, in Fairfield, Iowa.
© 1999, 2021 Maharishi AyurVeda Products International, Inc. (MAPI). All Rights Reserved. MAPI does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. See additional information.