By Linda Egenes
Mary Norvell, a lawyer from San Diego, suffered from a range of health problems. Plagued by debilitating pain in her neck, shoulders, back, and hip, she also was feeling muscle weakness in her knees, elbows, and hands. Worse, she couldn't fall asleep at night, which was affecting her mental and emotional health. Her digestion and elimination were off balance and out of control.
At the advice of her doctor, Mary decided to take a week of the Maharishi Rejuvenation physiological cleansing program (called Panchakarma in Sanskrit) at the Maharishi AyurVeda Health Center in Lancaster, Massachusetts.
"The spa treatments have been tremendously helpful," Mary says. "Today I am happy to say that the weakness in my right elbow is almost gone, as well as the pain and tightness in my neck, shoulder, left hip, and back. Now I'm falling asleep on schedule, and that is significant. My digestion and elimination are back to normal."
Like Mary, thousands of people around the world have taken the Maharishi Rejuvenation (Panchakarma) program at in-residence facilities like The Raj Maharishi AyurVeda Health Spa in Fairfield, Iowa. They have found benefits for a wide range of health issues, from allergies to fatigue.
How do these treatments work? A key feature is its focus on digestion.
An Ancient Rejuvenation Therapy Treats Digestion First
Vaidya Vaidya, the Ayurvedic expert at the Maharishi AyurVeda Health Center Lancaster, explains that people seek out panchakarma for a wide range of health issues, and most of these imbalances have their root in slow or disturbed digestion. "The panchakarma treatments are so effective because they help boost digestion and restore it to normal," he says.
Panchakarma, defined as the five actions or five therapies, is a central rejuvenation spa-regimen of Maharishi AyurVeda. According to the classical Ayurvedic text, Charaka Samhita, the five actions for purifying and rejuvenating the body include Virechana (cleansing of the small intestine — laxatives and purgatives), Basti (cleansing of the large intestine — enemas), and Nasya (purification of the nasal channels) and other treatments for rejuvenating the tissues and balancing the effects of stress on mind and body.
"Panchakarma is even more important in modern times because a high-stress lifestyle leads to disturbed digestion," says Vaidya Vaidya. "And when digestion is slow, digestive toxins called ama build-up and affect all the systems and organs of the body."
Vaidya Vaidya explains that traditional Vedic texts cite benefits such as balancing and supporting vitality, fertility, digestion, and memory, as well as enhanced luster of the skin, clear complexion, slowing of aging, strong and sweet voice, improved physical strength, enhanced power of the sense organs, support for healthy joints, and increased calmness and evenness in the mind and emotions.
A number of research studies have reported similar results. For example, a pilot study published in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality showed that, compared to control subjects, people who received Maharishi Rejuvenation (panchakarma) treatments reported significantly greater improvements in the following: well-being, energy and vitality, strength and stamina, appetite and digestive patterns, previous complaints, and rejuvenation and youthfulness.
Mary, like other visitors to the Maharishi AyurVeda Health Center Lancaster, received a range of rejuvenation treatments that were recommended to support her specific health and wellness goals. Throughout the week, she had several consultations with Vaidya Vaidya, and also took classes in Ayurvedic knowledge. She was given customized dietary recommendations to help restore balance to her mind-body system.
"Having a Maharishi AyurVeda expert (vaidya) who could offer recommendations for the underlying imbalances is extremely helpful," says Mary. "Here I've not only learned a great amount of Ayurvedic knowledge but have learned the scientific principles for this ancient health care system as well."
Mary also enjoyed the spacious and beautiful grounds at the Lancaster Health Center, which she found conducive to the relaxing and calming effects of the Maharishi Rejuvenation program.
While each person's program will vary according to their health concerns, one of the core therapies is soothing Ayurvedic oil massage (abhyanga), administered by two technicians working in synchrony. This helps loosen toxins from the tissues so they can be eliminated from the body. An even more luxurious massage called pitzichili uses cascades of warm, soothing oil that has been infused with herbs that are specifically balancing for the individual.
Nasya is an important panchakarma treatment, which gently cleanses and opens the nasal passages. The nose is considered in Ayurveda to be the gateway to the head. Ayurvedic texts indicate that nasya is beneficial for those with allergies and sinus problems, and the texts mention that it supports sleep, intelligence and memory, and bliss. A traditional Ayurvedic recommendation for wrinkles, complexion, occasional head pressure, and to support the eyes, shoulders, neck, and chest, nasya is also considered good for the hair.
Another spa treatment is virechana, a program of mild laxatives and purgatives. This therapy is said to cleanse toxins from the blood, sweat glands, kidneys, liver, spleen, and small intestine. "Virechana is good for Pitta disorders," explains Vaidya Vaidya. "It is useful in maintaining joint health and a healthy genitourinary system. It is also helpful for increasing digestive fire (agni) and for supporting mental clarity and radiant complexion."
A basti, or mild herbal enema, is another traditional panchakarma treatment. "According to the classical Ayurvedic texts, basti balances Vata, and because Vata leads the other doshas, it is a very important treatment for all imbalances," says Vaidya Vaidya. There are two kinds of basti: a nutritional basti and a cleansing basti. In general, basti is traditionally recommended in the Ayurvedic texts for Vata imbalances such as constipation, tremor, stiffness, and discomfort in the back and hips — and to support bone and joint health.
Reducing Toxins and Other Complaints
Another common problem is exposure to environmental pollution in our food and water, which results in the build-up of harmful toxins in the body. Research published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine in 2002 has shown that Maharishi Rejuvenation (panchakarma) treatments significantly reduce harmful fat-soluble occupational and agricultural toxins. The results of the two-month longitudinal study showed that PCBs and Beta-HCH levels were reduced by 46 percent and 58 percent respectively in the Maharishi AyurVeda detoxification group. Without this detox program, the expected drop in PCBs and Beta-HCH over two months would be only a fraction of one percent. And previously, no method had been scientifically verified to reduce levels of these lipid-soluble toxicants in the human body without causing negative side effects.
For example, a woman who came for treatments several years ago had been tested and showed high levels of heavy metals. After one week of treatment, she went back to her doctor and was tested again. The level of toxins tested normal. Now she comes regularly for cleansing panchakarma treatments.
A man complained of a back problem and was having problems sitting and walking. After five days of massage and other Maharishi Panchakarma spa treatments at Lancaster, he reported that he was experiencing better mobility and the pain had subsided.
"Maharishi Panchakarma is ideal for keeping the tissues healthy," says Vaidya Vaidya. "And healthy tissues — the blood, muscle, fat, bone, etc. — are the basis for good health."
Bonus: Ayurvedic Rejuvenation Tips
by Maharishi AyurVeda
EAT TO LIVE ... LONG!
"Aaharah Praanah," says Ayurveda, which means "food is a synonym for life." Food nourishes more than the body. It determines the quality of your very consciousness. What you eat, how you cook, when and in what company you eat... these seemingly small details have a big impact on your overall health and, ultimately, your life span.
Use plenty of spices and herbs in cooking. Spices are not only taste-enhancers but also great healers. Sprinkle some freshly-cracked black pepper on your sandwich, and it helps you absorb the nutrients readily. A pinch of turmeric in your soup not only adds color but also works as an excellent antioxidant. Combined in the right proportions, spices lend their synergy to everyday soups and curries. If you are not sure how to blend them, try Maharishi AyurVeda's gourmet Spice Mixtures, which will spice up your food with no fuss and lots of flavors.
To derive maximum benefit from your spices, sauté them in clarified butter or ghee before adding them to prepared foods. Ghee helps the body absorb the lipid-soluble part of spices with ease. It's highly aromatic and delicious, too.
Sleep Your Way to a Longer Life
Ayurveda believes that disease and disorders develop as the result of accumulated ama, or toxins, in the body. While physical ama leads to disturbed digestion and forms the breeding ground for disease, mental ama can impact resistance to day-to-day stress. Lack of good-quality sleep is a major factor in generating high levels of mental ama. Nature intended sleep as a nightly ritual of rest and rejuvenation. When sleep does not come easy or is disturbed, the day's piled-up stresses, or ama, fail to be cleansed. A good night's sleep, on the other hand, increases ojas, or vital life force.
Ayurveda has several remedies for disturbed sleep. Drink a glass of warm milk with a little honey just before you sleep. This has a settling influence on the mind and body. Milk contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is a precursor of serotonin, a brain chemical that facilitates sleep. Use honey that has not been heat-treated, and be sure not to heat it above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, as this eliminates its beneficial qualities.
Transcendental Meditation® helps combat the daily build-up of stress, making it easier for the mind to shut off for the night.
The herbal formulations in Maharishi AyurVeda's Blissful Sleep System can help correct specific sleep imbalances naturally and gently.
Ayurvedic healers have always emphasized the value of regularity in everything, be it rest, play, or work. They observed it in the daily and seasonal rhythms of life itself and adapted it to their own lifestyles. Most of it is practical advice: go with the flow of nature as often as you can. Go to bed on time — never after 10:00 p.m., if possible. Wake up early. Spend time and attention on your morning ablutions, including the daily self-massage (abhyanga). Eat a good, fibrous breakfast, and have lunch at noon, when the body's agni, or digestive fires, are at their peak. Meditate twice a day — Transcendental Meditation® is a proven stress-reduction technique. Spend time with your family.
One of the key elements of regular routine is good elimination. Although getting more fiber in your diet can help, Maharishi AyurVeda's Detoxification System is a highly effective support system for good digestive health. It helps purify the liver, supports balanced fat metabolism, reduces digestive impurities, curbs the buildup of impurities in fat and muscle tissue, strengthens the entire urinary tract, and aids liver function for pure blood and better absorption of nutrients.
Keep in Step with Seasons
Though you can choose any time of the year to cleanse your body, Ayurveda believes that spring is king. It is, after all, Nature's own chosen time to regenerate, renew, and cleanse the environment of winter's accumulated rough, dry, and cold qualities.
Panchakarma, done at this time, is a wonderful way to cleanse and detoxify the body through healing massages and baths. Research on panchakarma indicates that it is a very powerful way to increase biological youthfulness and improve overall well-being.
If you meet the demands of the seasons year-round, you can maintain both body and mind in peak health. In summer, stay cool with healthy shakes and sherbets — cool, not ice-cold. Eat lots of sweet, juicy fruits. In the fall, fill up on figs, prunes, and raisins to fortify the body and improve elimination. Let the winter months be as nourishing as you can make them, for both body and soul.
Take Herbs for Rejuvenation
While your own efforts will take you a long way in your journey towards a long, healthy life, a little help from Mother Nature will make matters much easier. Nature has an astounding pharmacy, and each herb it creates has its own concentrated synergy and intelligence. Researchers at Maharishi AyurVeda pick the best and the ripest of herbs, fruits, and spices, then combine and process them to ensure maximum benefit.
The most respected of MAPI rasayanas (elixirs) is Amrit, which strengthens the immune system and refines the functioning of the physiology. Amrit promotes bala, or vital energy. Scientific studies have now established that Amrit fights free radical damage 1,000 times more effectively than any other antioxidant. While Amrit is excellent for overall mind/body health, targeted herbal formulations can help you address any specific imbalances you encounter during the day to help balance the mind and emotions.
Spend Time in Nature
Summer is Pitta season when temperatures rise—both outdoors and in your body. Taking a stroll in nature is one of the best ways to pacify Pitta dosha, soothe your senses, and unwind from your regular workweek schedule. Stroll among the bountiful flowers, listen to the songbirds chirping, and enjoy nature at its finest.
Studies have shown that after just 15 minutes of being in nature, your stress levels go down. People who spend more time in nature also tend to be happier and less tense, according to scientists.
Being around water—or better yet, in it—is especially soothing for the senses and Pitta dosha. Swimming, paddle boarding, and kayaking are all wonderfully cooling and rejuvenating. And after spending weeks on end sitting in front of a computer, nothing feels better.
Walking at sunrise is heavenly. The birds are celebrating the new day, and you can hear it loud and clear. You can’t help but smile. The weather is cooler in the morning, which is especially good for Pitta dosha.
Take Time to Slow Down
While it can be tempting to squeeze lots of fun activities into your time off, sometimes what your body really needs is just to unwind and take it slow for a day or two. Take a yoga class, enjoy an extra-long meditation, or read a book while swaying in a hammock in the backyard. If the weather’s cooler, you might even take a relaxing bath with a few drops of dosha balancing aroma oil. When you slow your body down, you’re giving your mind and emotions time to decompress, too.
Engage purposefully. Avoid activities that you know bring your temperature up and favor the ones that, when complete, leave you with a sense of happiness and calm.
Connect with Friends & Family
According to Ayurveda, spending time with loved ones is a behavioral rasayana—something that causes your mind to influence your body in a concrete, uplifting way. When your mind and emotions are happy, your body releases feel-good chemicals that promote health. Conversely, when you’re stressed or unhappy, your system floods with neurochemicals that can compromise your health. In the rushed pace of the average weekday, it may not always be easy to visit good friends and family, but staycations give you time to nurture connections that nurture your heart.
If you like to cook, have people over for an easy meal, or take a leisurely walk in a nearby park. Head to the swimming pool together, or catch an outdoor movie under the stars (popcorn with Organic Pitta Churna is a balancing and delicious treat!). Simply spending time together is the most important thing, regardless of what you do.
Have Some DIY Spa Fun
Rather than rushing around tackling errands, be sure to take some time to simply relax and unwind. Better yet, treat yourself to some DIY Ayurvedic spa skin treatments. Soaring temps can lead to Pitta-related skin issues like eruptions and rashes. To soothe an irritated complexion, try this easy-to-make Ayurvedic cleanser for sensitive Pitta skin (kids will love helping out and sampling the goods, too).
- 2 teaspoons quick-cooking oats
- ¼ teaspoon almond powder
- ¼ teaspoon rose petal powder
- ¼ teaspoon lavender flower powder
- 2 tablespoons whole raw milk
Stir ingredients together and apply gently to the face with fingertips. Let the scrub set, then gently flake the mask off into the basin. If the mask feels too sticky, use warm water to rinse. Dab face with a soft towel and follow with Youthful Skin Cream to moisturize.
Eat Fresh, Seasonal Foods
During summer, sweet and juicy fruits are in abundance! Hit your local farmer’s market (a fun family outing in itself) for fresh, seasonal fruits, veggies, pesto and other sauces, baked goods, and nutrient-rich, nourishing fare. Bonus: sweet, juicy fruits are very pacifying for Pitta dosha.
Have an Ayurvedic Picnic
One way to combine almost all the suggestions in this list is to plan a simple, relaxing Ayurvedic picnic out in nature with friends and family.
With these healthy, holistic tips for rejuvenating your mind, body, and spirit, you’ll be well on your way to feeling your best and brightest.
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