I have tried writing this blog post many times, but each time it becomes far too long and starts to resemble the first draft of a novel! Here I’ve tried to give a small insight to my own panchakarma experience which I did for the first time over Christmas 2019 and the turn of a new decade. This Ayurvedic detox therapy is truly transformational.
Firstly, ‘panchakarma’ means the 5 treatments. These include:
- Basti: Herbalized oil enemas
- Nasya: Nasal irrigation
- Vamana: Therapeutic Vomiting
- Virechana: Purgation
- Raktamokshana: Blood Letting
Over the 3 weeks I was keenly and clearly sticking to my panchakarma programme, including pre and post protocols, I had properly administered just one of the five actions: virechana. To do all five wholly, you would need months. I had jumped at the opportunity over the Christmas period when I could take time away from my different work avenues and explore my body, mind and spirit deeply before hosting my own yoga retreat in Morocco.
This was my time for 1-1 healing with Dr Jolly, an incredible site of knowledge, wisdom and skill. We had conducted a phone consultation weeks prior but from the moment we met, he was accessing my behaviours, tendencies, pulse, tongue, facial features, general aura and any imbalances. This continued throughout every day and determined the prescription of herbs, oils, treatments, yoga and food to be consumed; both type and quantity. This was all done with the aim of bringing my doshas (energetic constitutions) back into harmony, since both my vata and pitta was raised, as well as tending to my agni (digestive fire) which is seen as the key indicator of health in Ayurveda. As well as the physical and mental factors, panchakarma is a very spiritual practice which when administered properly, has profound benefits such as awakening kundalini energy in order to live at a higher vibration, connecting more deeply to one’s spiritual path.
Two of the most important factors in panchakarma are oilation and warmth. The warmth within and around creates ample conditions for the sticky ama, also known as ‘toxic sludge’, to release and unclog the body; the masses of oil lubricate the ama further and help it to keep moving. The word “sneha” means both oil and love in sanskrit; this is an interesting parallel – the process of being oiled from the inside and out every single day is like bathing your being in love! The more the body is kept safe and warm, the more toxicity it feels able to release, including repressed emotions, physical blockages and dull waste materials. Each therapy administered a huge amount of oil and every single morning during my pre-panchakarma phase, I had to guzzle medicated ghee down my throat – definitely one of the most challenging parts of the experience!
I had about 3 hours of therapies each day, a programme chosen specifically for my unique needs. The days of pre-panchakarma were physically intense (I still had some bruises a month after), working hard to dislodge that sticky, gloopy (described as a thick cheesy consistency) ama and draw it into the belly. As well as abhyanga massage, I had Kizhi, a treatment where heated herbal bags are hit onto the body and also abdominal massage, nasya (nasal drops) and swedana (herbal steam). Knots of tensions were released, along with the emotional storage. I started to experience real discomfort in my right hip, which seemed odd when I was being treated to back to back massages each day, but Dr Jolly had warned me that old aches and pains could arise again, this highlighted an area of tenderness in my body which is always my weak spot. On the day of my pachakarma, I did not go into the spa but stayed at the cottage I had rented close by. This was the day of purging and therefore the body is physically exhausted, the releasing of toxins throughout the whole day is enough of a treatment! In the days of post panchakarma, it was more gentle and was about rebuilding my body (particularly my agni), mind and spirit after this deep cleansing. Some of these treatments included shirodhara, nabhi basthi and also kundalini yoga practices.
I’d never had shirodhara myself before but had heard a lot about how relaxing it was so has been looking forward to this. However, going for panchakarma is not like going for a calming treatment where they want you to leave happy; panchakarma is intense! Dr Jolly administered very powerful herbs into the oil that was poured over my third eye in sacred symbols and mantras. It was strange; at first I felt like a small baby being soothed gently and totally held in this safe space, then, all of a sudden, I felt incredibly anxious and I told myself it was because I was really hungry and that I was going to be so upset if I had to eat plain rice soup again, utterly caught up in the unravelling story I was creating inside of my head. I felt so hot and desperately wanted to get up but had no idea of where and how all of this oil was pouring down on me, I didn’t feel I could move. Dr Jolly could sense there was something wrong immediately. Afterwards he explained that with the herbs he’d used, it was very normal for these past emotions to arise. My anxiety didn’t settle when we stopped, I had to go outside for a walk before I could sit and eat… and yes it was the rice soup. Literally overcooked rice in loads of water with the odd touch of spice. Very soothing for the digestion which had gone through a lot, certainly not exciting for the taste buds. I came back down to the present and realised, I was ok. The experience felt extreme at the time but now I can understand it as my emotional attachment and anger within bubbling to the surface after being stuck inside me for so long. This is the process of panchakarma shaking up all old, stagnant, toxic energy within, both physical and mental. Although very difficult to deal with in the moment of intensity as it manifests, this is what allows us to truly feel and most importantly, to then release.
Again, this post is getting long now but I just wanted to share one of the tougher experiences to demonstrate the power of panchakarma which is not just going away on a retreat to be pampered and relax. While it’s absolutely incredible and luxurious in many ways, it’s also challenging. It’s a journey of facing your inner samskaras (long held beliefs) and crystallised emotions as they get stirred up to the surface. I am now two months on from my panchakarama experience and I have shed so much. My attachment that has been deep seated and held within me for years has softened greatly.
Do you know what your attachment(s) is? A panchakarma can really help to face and overcome this. Dr Jolly worked tirelessly to help balance my chakras and cleanse my aura, I believe that this is really where all of our physical imbalances and attachments stem from. To call panchakarma simply a cleanse or detox for sure does it a disservice. I hope that sharing this tiny snippet of my experience helps you to understand this holistic practice of healing which has been taught and administered since ancient times.