Pancha Karma: 5 Days of Ayurvedic Healing… and a Lotta Ghee!
I’m sitting on an airplane right now after assisting my teacher for a 5 day retreat at the Himalayan Institute, several dear yogi friends in seats nearby, Good Samaritan Essential Oils wafting over my area, and I write you… at the start of the New Year, recalling a magically healing time I had just this past November in which I simply cannot wait to tell you more about!
As many of you know, 2014 was a trying year of getting unstuck in this sattvic yogini’s life. The universe had decided to help me shift out of what was not working and into a lifestyle much more nourishing (and so it is… by the way! I’m loving my life these days!). Along with getting unstuck – meaning seeing what I needed to do and doing it – I finally felt relieved and safe enough to relax.
However, with that arose some deep physical “stuff” that must have been just waiting for a time to come out. I found that by fall this year I had acquired asthma, chronic coughing, wheezing with hardly any exertion, and finally, waking up in the middle of the night gasping for breath. On top of that, my immune system was fired up working tirelessly at SOMETHING and revving my skin into panic. I was burning up! Ironically, I was very happy and relieved in light of all this, but I needed help!
So upon the suggestion of one of my besties, Melissa Farris (owner of Veriditas Botanicals organic essential oil company), I agreed to, at one of my busiest times of the year, to halt EVERYTHING and book a week doing Pancha Karma at the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. With a little help from my wonderful subs, and my ex and family caring for River, off we went with only a couple weeks to prep.
In case you didn’t know, Pancha Karma is the term for Five Actions, or cleansing therapies, used in Ayurvedic Medicine.
Ayurveda, the 5000 year old Indian health science that is sisters with yoga, means “study of life” and aims to help bring the long, lost parts of ourselves, be it mental, emotional or physical, back home for optimal living in harmony with nature and the planet. It usually involves being away from the day-to-day stimulus triggers in our lives (i.e. wi-fi access, work), eating a mono-diet of kitchari (a mung bean/dal, rice and veggie dish), and getting a bunch of body treatments done daily to help the body/mind detox and let go of whatever it can’t digest and make space for good nourishment to come in.
The Ayurvedic Institute is founded by Ayurvedic master, Dr. Vasant Lad, who wrote, among other things, The Ayurvedic Textbook Vol. 1, a book we use in our 340hr TT and our Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist Training at Devanadi. I first heard about his place years ago via a friend whose father went there for a month of healing for a chronic issue (it helped).
Now was our turn to go. They’ve been doing Pancha Karma there for years and know their stuff. Our pre-cleanse consisted of ridding all the slack in our diets: sugar, alcohol, meat, dairy, etc. Anything that was hard to digest… throw it out! We ate kitchari as much as possible. Halfway through the week, we started the day with up to 4 Tbsp of warm ghee in the AM before eating, and ended the week doing a castor oil flush – especially fun as I had to do mine in Fargo on a teaching weekend out of town while in my hotel room. Not sexy. Then off we flew to sunny NM and checked in. We were greeted with the warm, wonderful Suzanna.
and guided to the KITCHARI BUFFET (yes!) with a lovely selection of spices, cilantro, coconut flakes and yes, more ghee, to doctor it up. Heaven! Then off to rest and bed, ready to start Pancha Karma in the AM.
Day 1 began with a private consultation with Dr. Ed Danaher to help assess our imbalanced doshas and help guide our healing journey. I learned I had too much pitta (fire/intensity) and too much vata (air/mobility)… imagine that! My week was going to be about slowing down, cooling off and just plain, ol’ rest. ‘Nuf said.
After that, I was escorted to the 4-handed Abhyanga treatment. Abhyanga is a massage with warm, sesame oil done by 2 people at the same time in both coordinating and complimentary motions. It’s light, soothing, calming and so-so-nourishing. They even put oil in your ears! This helps one feel safe, cared for, and warms and loosens the tissues so that your body and can continue to let go in a kind and loving way.
Swedana: This treatment came immediately after the Abhyanga. Simply sit in a “sweat box” and let the steam help push the toxins released from the massage into the waste channels and remind them to move DOWN and OUT, not up and into my skin, lungs and head! Hot, but interesting… for my pitta.
Shirodhara: This therapy is my favorite, and here’s why. Imagine you’ve been stressed out or tired or just want nurturance (that’s pretty much everyone, right?) and along comes a therapy where you simply lay on a cozy table with warm blankets and have a kind therapist administer the application of warm sesame oil to the space on your forehead just above your eyebrows. The oil moves smoothly and evenly down your head towards your crown, through your hair, and eventually drops as a smooth stream into a warming pan underneath. It’s simply divine. The depth of relaxation here (it’s an hour long therapy) is profound, and of all the therapies, I feel that this one was the most useful. Each day, I would wake with layers of deep stress “lifted” off me, each time feeling more and more serene.
Add-On Therapies for my constitutional imbalances, Dr. Ed prescribed several other therapies for me:
Netra Basti: Basti, meaning “bladder” or “container,” is a form of healing that places a ring of dough made from chick pea flour or wheat, around an area of the body holding warm oil to help extract toxins from that area. Netra refers to the eyes. Here the practice helps to clear excess “pitta” from the head and eyes and help in seeing clearly: physically, mentally and emotionally. I actually had a HUGE migraine when having this kriya performed, and it was clear within a half hour after the treatment was finished! Here’s a short video clip of Melissa receiving Netra Basti.
Hrid Basti: Hrid means “heart”
This practice was completed on my last day doing Pancha Karma. This time the basti was placed over my heart to help pull out any excess sadness, grief and overall heartbreak. They placed several drops of rose and tulsi essential oil on the skin first and then warm sesame oil. I was surprised but so happy to come out of this treatment feeling exceptionally lighter, happier, and forgiving of myself and others. So needed!
Effects of Pancha Karma
After the above therapies, which took about two hours, we’d shower (lather the oily hair first before getting it wet!!!), get ready and eat a nice bowl of kitchari. The add-on treatments were done in the afternoon. They we did daily bastis (internal cleanses) at our guest house, rested and went to sleep.
I found myself extremely exhausted after Day 1. So much so that I had to nap the entire afternoon AND went to bed at 8:30pm that night. I did suffer from extreme migraines as the toxins rushed to leave my system, but I suppose my foray into the land of double espressos the week before wasn’t considered “good timing.” Hey, at least it wasn’t something worse… But by the end, I was FILLED with goodness, energy and overall positive well being. I felt as though I had taken a huge journey, but arrived safely, and will all my luggage intact.
I’m also happy to report now 45 days later, as suggested by the wonderful team at the Ayurvedic Institute, that my asthma symptoms left on day 2 of Pancha Karma (I was officially cleared of the diagnosis on Dec 29), and my skin is almost completely cleared!
Thanks for taking the time to read this. Let us know if you have questions (link to: contact page online) or want to learn more!
Blessings, health and love!
P.S. Need a Boost?
Devanadi is the home to our Ayurvedic Clinic with a host of Ayurvedic Yoga Specialists ready to work with you!
Also learn more about how Ayurveda can help you at one of Kaia Roberts’ upcoming Intro to Ayurveda workshops.