What is Pancha Karma?
The mental health benefits of panchakarma are numerous. Panchakarma is a science of the body and mind that is 5,000 years old. It has continually helped people to maintain optimal health and prevent illnesses of the body and mind. This includes cancer, failure of all the organs of the digestive system, depression and anxiety and other severe mental disorders. The list of disorders is too many to list here. Pathology develops and progressively damages the entire body over time. The body works optimally when all the cells in all the systems are able to support each other and communicate their needs. When communicating effectively the cells deliver to one another the needed nutrients, enzymes and vitamins that all the organs, muscles and nervous system, etc., need to function at their optimum level. All the systems of the body are a functioning unit and work together to run smoothly much like an automobile. The idea is that if one organ is upset than a ripple like effect take place in the entire body. As we have all experienced with our automobiles when one part is breaking down the car can no longer function well. Panchakarma is a holistic system of healing that incorporates the mind, body and spirit and the treatments involve every area of the body. For this reason the treatments can take up to one month followed by a period of recuperation.
In specialized medicine a physician is generally trained in one area of the mind and body. The spirit is left to religion and/or other alternative methods of healing. To treat the mind and body medicines are dispensed that minimize the pain but also have side effects that create problems in other areas of the body. Side effects like nausea, anxiety and insomnia can all be debilitating. Specialized medicine treats the symptoms after pathologies are progressed (i.e. cancer, depression, alcoholism, etc). In holistic medicine the goal is to cleanse the body with natural herbs, soothing food that aid in digestion and developing a spiritual lifestyle. Therefore we maintain our health daily attending to the mind, body and spirit. A spiritual lifestyle can consist of prayer and meditation. Many use yoga principles to live for the benefit of all beings. That is respecting the environment, caring for animals and treating all human beings with compassion and loving-kindness’. Specialization often takes into account only what is happening to a specific area of the body and mind. In holistic treatment the mind, body and spirit are seen as interrelating and interdependent parts that affect the whole person. Therefore when one area of the mind or body is suffering it upsets the balance in other areas of the body and mind. Panchakarma takes into account the whole person, consisting of mind, body and spirit. The panchakarma practitioner sees the body as the vehicle that carries the stress. The stresses from emotions stay in the memory of cells of the body preventing the organs and nervous system from interacting and communicating with each other. Stress ties us up and diminishes the ability of all systems of the body and mind to communicate with each other. The body experiences the same frustration as the mind becoming scattered and disconnected. The body is remarkable in that it can take abuse and function in a limited capacity for many years but eventually organs and muscles and joints and the mind wear out from not receiving the nutrients from the digestive system. Normally the cell walls of the intestines deliver the nutrients from food but stress causes the walls to have ama (a sticky substance) which builds up and prevents vitamins, minerals and nutrients from passing into the blood stream. When the digestive organs are deprived of the nutrients than other parts of the body suffer. (i.e.) The gall bladder makes bile which is delivered to the intestines for breaking down foods in the small intestine. When the gall bladder cannot get the minerals and vitamins it needs to produce the bile the food becomes a toxin in the small intestine. As a result this buildup of stress in our organs causes more stress on our emotional state. The ability to handle normal emotions becomes so difficult that we begin to question ourselves. Many times in a negative way. The panchakarma practitioner understands how physical and emotional stress is stored in the body and needs to be released. A whole series of massages is part of the process that begins to release this physical and emotional stress. When the body begins to heal in panchakarma treatment, the toxins that are stored in the cells are released over a period of time (several weeks to months). Most toxins in the body are created by the food we eat and our reactions to the challenges of life. The food we eat (i.e. eating too much saturated fats) can prevent the digestive organs from making enzymes that enhance the digestive process. When food in not digested efficiently toxins build up on the walls of the stomach, small and large intestines, the liver and all the organs of digestive system.
During and after panchakarma treatment the body begins to heal, and the mind and spirit begin to experience a clarity that can be profound. Mentally one can begin to assimilate input coming from all six senses with a clarity that surpasses ones previous capacity. As the mind and body connect better and heal interdependently the spirit of the person opens to new possibilities. The most profound is thinking of self less and have a greater concern for the welfare of others.
I have personally experienced the benefits of panchakarma. I went to India for my last panchakarma and had a series of treatment lasting 21 consecutive days. That was 6 months ago and I’m still feeling more balanced mentally and emotionally that I have ever experienced previously in my life. I have suffered from Post Traumatic Stress from the Viet Nam war and growing up in a family where many abuses occurred. I became a survivor of many emotions that were trapped inside throughout my childhood. As I grew older anger was part of my everyday existence that was difficult to control. I focused my life on achievement in order to compensate for the confusion I felt inside. I found that drinking at a young age settled all the emotions inside that I didn’t know how to express. I used drugs and drank daily until the age of 26 when I went to AA and have remained sober. Sobriety stabilized my life and helps me to pursue goals that gave me more purpose. I still suffered from mood disorders and had periodic breakdowns. I went through many relationships and struggled with intimacy. In spite of these handicaps I achieved a master’s degree in social work and began a counseling career that I thourghly enjoyed. Helping others eased my pain that I felt in my personal life. When alone I felt lonely and dreamed of having love in my life. When opportunities for love came I would regress to angry feelings and would leave for greener pastures. Deep inside I feared abandonment and compensated by being very controlling or at times placating my lover regardless of how I felt. I feared being abandoned so much that I couldn’t be emotionally honest. When I discovered meditation about 10 years ago I began to feel calmer inside. I was so intrigued I went on many long term retreats for 5 years or so. About 6 years ago I started doing Yoga along with daily meditation and started seeing more improvement in my emotional state. I still found myself stressed in personal relationships but valued being alone now. That was such an improvement from the lonely guy who craved love and didn’t enjoy being alone. I now understood that happiness and love have to come from within first before love of others can be fruitful. I met a friend 7 years ago who is now my partner in a yoga studio. He had been practicing daily with pranayama (controlled breathing to enhance our mental and spiritual state) and I joined him. He was already going to India once a year to receive panchkarma and is now practicing giving panchakarma locally. I got involved with him and started learning about living and eating aryuvedically along with doing periodic panchakarmas. To bring you up to the present we went to India last March together. Since I’ve returned from India my mind and feelings are congruent most every day. When I observe I’m getting anxious it is easier for me to breathe and relax. I am connecting with others with a greater ability on an emotional level. My expectation of others has diminished. These are some of the personal gains I’ve received from doing panchakarma.
About the author
William McDonald, LCSW is a Co-Founder, Partner, RYT 200 Yoga Certified and Life-Coach at Sattvic Space. William has over 20+ years as a New York Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specialized in post-traumatic disorders, addiction recovery and marriage counseling. William is trained in Gestalt therapy, psychodrama and healing the inner child. William has also been part of the NA, AA and SLAA 12-step recovery communities for over 20 years. His passion is in the integration of Western psychology and 12-step healing modalities with the ancient Eastern forms of healing of yoga, meditation, and Pancha Karma.