Panchakarma: A Complete System Reboot Ayurvedic Style



The term panchakarma seems to be appearing everywhere after the recent explosion of exotic therapies and cleansing treatments on spa menus nationwide.

But panchakarma is more than an indulgent item on a spa menu. Rather, it can be likened to a complete system reboot. With roots delving thousands of years into the soil of traditional Ayurvedic practice in India, the word “panchakarma” literally translates from Sanskrit as five actions.

Although the exact actions may vary, panchakarma is an ancient series of cleansing practices and curative medicinal interventions orchestrated for treating specific diseases, removing toxins and waste products, decreasing stress, and returning balance to the body. Similar treatments have been in use for centuries throughout the world, including Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia, and South America. These panchakarma practices are now becoming updated and incorporated into modern medical settings, holistic health centers, and spas worldwide.

The basic premise of panchakarma is to remove lodged toxins and waste products, known in Ayurveda as ama. In the vast array of treatment regimens under the umbrella of panchakarma, the therapist facilitates the movement of ama from the body to the digestive system, where it can be eliminated. Massage, oil, and heat are three methods used to soften the body, increase lymphatic circulation, and remove these disease-promoting substances.

Abhyanga, or oil massage, used in traditional Ayurvedic practice differs from a Swedish massage in the type of oil used as well as in the massage strokes. Warm oil, applied liberally, softens muscles and other tissues, allowing trapped ama to soften and release. The therapist utilizes a sequence of long, sweeping strokes to stimulate lymphatic circulation and eliminate ama.

After the massage, swedana, or heat – either dry heat or steam – is used to encourage sweating and further remove ama. Other therapies are frequently integrated, including the application of detoxifying herbal pastes or powders, color therapy, aromatherapy, the use of marma or pressure points, and shirodhara. Shirodhara is a truly blissful traditional treatment that reduces stress. The application of a stream of warm oil over the forehead quiets the mind and creates a deep rejuvenating experience. Shirodhara can also be done on its own to relieve the pressures of everyday life. A panchakarma program at a center often features a set of therapies that encompasses abhyanga, swedana, and shirodhara. The combination of these treatments moves and removes built-up toxins and connects the receiver with a deep state of inner bliss.

Ayurvedic centers integrate an individualized diet to support the cleansing process. Cleansing continues in panchakarma once the massage, heat, and other treatments successfully transfer built-up toxins from the body into the digestive tract. Under the supervision of a qualified practitioner, individualized treatments including the use of cleansing herbs, medicinal enemas, salt water cleanses, herbal nose drops, and the ingestion of oil, are utilized to further support the process of system reboot. Most spas, clinics or facilities primarily concentrate on some of the milder, though still profoundly effective, cleansing regimes.

While some treatments are safe for almost anyone, others have contraindications. It is very important to remember that in any treatment regimen, people have varying experiences. While some fly through with the greatest of ease, others experience physical, emotional or spiritual challenges. It is therefore recommended to include rest and rejuvenation in panchakarma. This is one of the benefits of booking a residential program where you are provided with a complete retreat.

Just as Ayurveda has always been a treatment modality based on individual needs and circumstances, panchakarma has always been an individual process. Therapies are chosen based on a person’s innate constitution, strengths and weaknesses, imbalances, emotional states, and even the season.

Classical Ayurvedic texts recommended a course of panchakarma once or twice a year, an overwhelming commitment in our modern lives. But any supervised dip in the healing waters of panchakarma can release stress and create essential therapeutic shifts.

Panchakarma Resource List

Residential Spas

The Chopra Center at La Costa Resort & Spa Carlsbad, CA (888) 424-6772, Many people know about Ayurveda because of Deepak Chopra. His center offers panchakarma, rejuvenation, and a host of other programs.

Dhyana Center Sebastopol, CA (800) 796-6863, Retreat center in Sonoma, California. Panchakarma is offered in 3, 5, or 7-day sessions.

Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health Stockbridge, MA (800) 741-7353, The country’s largest yoga center has now added Ayurvedic treatments and panchakarma to their array of programs and services.

The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa Fairfield, IA (800) 248-9050, Programs prescribed by medical doctors; 3,5, and 7-day packages as well as longer stays are available.

Rasayana Cove Ayurvedic Retreat Ona, FL (863) 494-7565, Rasayana Cove only treats one individual or couple at a time.

Tree of Life Patagonia, AZ (520) 394-2520, 7-day fasting programs are offered at this live-food retreat center.

Veda Villa Germany 49-5402-642925, Residential panchakarma programs ranging from 3 to 14 days.


Ayurvedic Academy & Natural Medicine Clinic Seattle, WA (206) 729-9999,

Ayurveda Center of Hawaii (on Kauai) (808) 826-1811,

The Ayurvedic Institute Albuquerque, NM (505) 291-9698,

California College of Ayurveda Grass Valley, CA (530) 274-9100,

LifeSpa, Dr. John Douillard Boulder, CO (303) 516-4848,

Surya Spa Pacific Palisades, CA (310) 459-7715,

March/April 2005

Healing Lifestyles & Spas Team
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