Panchakarma is an intensive Ayurvedic detoxification process. The word means ‘Five Action’ in Sanskrit which refers to the 5 different methods of detoxification that are employed.
Typically the process lasts anywhere from between 15-30 days and involves staying in a residential centre, eating certain foods and having a range of treatments all designed to detoxify your body.
The major treatments include:
- Various types of medicated oil massage.
- Pouring oil or buttermilk across your forehead for 45 mins.
- Ayurvedic medicine (powders, tablets, pastes all plant based).
- Enemas (medicine up the bum).
- Purgation (intense laxative).
- And 1001 other little tricks the Doctors have up their saffron scented Ayurvedic sleeves.
Will it help me recover from CFS/ME?
The million dollar question. Personally Panchakarma hasn’t cured me yet though it’s still early days. Each of the Ayurvedic Doctors I’ve spoken with claim to have had varying levels of success in treating CFS/ME. Here is an interesting case study detailing improvement in a patients conditions after the Pancha Karma.
Ayurveda appears particularly suited to treating chronic conditions due to it’s very thorough, methodical and systematic approach to treatment. It aims to rebalance your entire outlook and approach to life addressing the functions of the mind as well as the body.
On a purely physical level Panchakarma focuses on improving digestion and detoxing the body. Both useful outcomes for most people living with CFS/ME. It is also designed to respect the limits of the body and seeing as only natural substances are used in the treatment it at least shouldn’t do you any harm.
Here is an interesting case study of from an Ayurvedic Doctor that helped a woman recover from CFS/ME through the use of Panchakarma.
A typical day in the life of a PanchKarma Patient in Kerala…
6-7:30am – Wake up to the roosters singing to sun. Realise you’re in India as the sound of the local temple pumping out it’s holy music seeps into your brain. Stumble around for a while. Take your morning medicines.
8am – Breakfast. Usually some delicious combination of coconut, banana, rice and herbal tea.
9.30am – Morning consultation with the Doctors. A highly entertaining affair involving 3 highly trained Ayurvedic Doctors with clip boards and stethoscopes asking you how your feeling, taking your pulse and blood pressure and finally enquiring as to your sleep and bowel movements. While one of them talks the others are busy staring intently at you making notes. It’s kind of re-assuring and disconcerting at the same time.
10.15am – Morning treatment (Often some form of therapeutic massage).
1pm – Lunch. The big meal of day involving 5 or 6 incredibly delicious vegetable curries and some form of rice.
2.30pm Afternoon treatment (May be for calming the mind, healing a specific injury or focusing on a particular symptom)
7pm – Dinner. A smaller version of lunch
10pm – Bed time.
I spend the rest of my day relaxing, meditating, doing gently yoga, reading about Ayurveda, writing and walking to the river.
Where shall I do it?
The way I see it you’ve got two options:
1. If it’s available do it in your own country either making day trips to a clinic or in a retreat centre. This will likely be more expensive, less authentic but also much more convenient and free from hassles.
2. Or fly to Mother India for the whole she-bang. Much more time consuming, potentially effective and down right hilarious. There are many, many places to choose from in India. The majority are spread around its southern most state Kerala where Ayurveda was born, but I’ve heard some of the other centres in India are good as well. Kerala was my pick because its chilled out, tropical and the people are very friendly.
Here’s three centres I’ve visited or been recommended.
Nagarjuna Hospital in Kalady – This is the hospital I’m currently in. It is very professional, geared to westerners (though only around half the patients are foreigners), has amazing food and lovely staff. The food is spectacular. However it has aeroplanes that fly right over every few hours that are extremely loud especially at 4:30am in the morning and it is relatively expensive. You’re looking at around 75,000 to 90,000 Indian Rupees per week.
Arya Vaida Sala in Kochi – This is one of the biggest and more expensive hospitals. Supposed to have good quality treatments in more of a hotel type environment. Don’t be put off by the website by all reports they are a professional outfit with a good reputation.
Arya Vaida Sala in Avula – This is the cheaper rural cousin. I visited this centre for an afternoon and it looked a fair bit more run down than the photos make out. It’s geared towards the Indian market with spicier food and less attention to service. However the two westerners I met their (one was a Buddhist nun from Australia who had been to 6 different Ayurveda centres) both highly recommended the treatments and said the rough edges of the place kind of grew on you (In an emotionally affectionate way, not literally in a fungal or bacterial way….). It’s also half the price of Nagarjuna.
AVP Pharmacy Hospital in Coimbatorre – This place is in a big city in Tamil Nadu. It has a reputation for having very high quality treatments but is supposed to be very strict. As in you aren’t supposed to leave your room and must completely adhere to all the rules. It’s about a 1/3 less than Nagaurjuna and could be good if you are up for a truly authentic and disciplined Pancha Karma.
My experience so far…
(13/12/11) I’ve spent the last 3 weeks in Nagarjuna. It’s a beautiful place with very kind staff who have a lot of heart. I’m not cured yet but I am hopeful that I will start to see improvements in the coming weeks which is when the benefits are said to kick in. I’m lucky that I can go to an ashram and chill out after my stay while many other White Folk go straight back to the 9-5 routine making it tough to maintain the gains they have made.
The detoxification has been quite strong on the body. I’ve been exploring many areas of my psyche in the process, journaling and applying various techniques to understand and be at peace with my busy mind. So far my digestion has improved a little but not alot. I still have head aches and brain fog though to a lesser degree.
The Doctors listen carefully to my description of symptoms but do not see illness the same way we do in the West. They don’t care much about CFS/ME or candida. They care about getting my ‘digestive fire’ kick started, flushing my liver, cooling my over heated mind and nourishing my nervous system with herbal medicine.
I am somewhat enchanted with the Vedic philosophy that underpins Ayurveda and have been studying keenly each morning. This has opened the way for a lot of bliss and new understanding to come my way. Having oil poured into every orifice of my body combined with the language barrier has also made for some very hilariously entertaining moments. And at the end of day this is what life is all about for me.
I’ve really enjoyed meeting the locals and their smiling children down by the river each evening as we watch the heavy red sun set across the tropical vista before us. I’m glad I made it here and look forward to going deeper into the process in the months to come here in Kerala.
Got some experience with Pancha Karma?
Leave a comment and give us all the low down!
Where to Next?
Wondering about Ayurveda? Get the low down here.
Time for a rest? Then this article on the Art of Napping is for you.
Or even get the down low on GcMAF?