What is Pancha Karma?

Ayurvedic Cleansing Method

Khichdi and chutney
Khichdi and chutney. Prabhagraphy/Moment Open/Getty Images

Pancha karma is a cleansing and rejuvenation plan used in ayurveda (a form of alternative medicine practiced in India). It was developed for royalty in India to prolong life and health by removing physical impurities, bringing awareness to destructive thoughts and behaviors, and releasing old patterns.

Pancha Karma is typically done once a year for disease prevention and for emotional and spiritual growth.

It is divided into three phases:

Phase 1: Purva Karma, the Preparation Phase
The goal of Purva Karma is to prepare the body tissues for the cleanse and release of toxins. One to three weeks before the actual cleansing phase, all processed foods, sweets, stimulants such as coffee, and most dairy products are eliminated from the diet.

One week before the cleansing phase, the diet is further modified, becoming predominantly vegetables and whole grains. According to ayurvedic practitioners, these foods (particularly the vegetables), create a more alkaline environment in the body, which supports the cleansing and detox process.

During this preparation phase, a person's activity shifts to become more internally-focused. This means letting go of some day-to-day activities and spending time meditating and taking walks in nature. Deep breathing, focused on the exhalation phase helps to rid the body of old ideas, emotions, and blockages.

Khichdi Recipe
Khichdi (also called kitcherie or kitchari) is a simple, easily digested stew that can prepare the body for cleansing. It is also suitable for coming off of a cleanse. Here is one type of Khichdi:
1 part brown basmati rice, soaked for at least 1/2 hour and drained
1 part mung beans, soaked in water for at least 1 hour and drained
1 part vegetables, such as green beans, carrots, spinach and other green vegetables
6 parts water

Heat ghee (clarified butter) or olive oil in a pan over moderate heat.

Add cumin or coriander seeds. Then add 1 medium onion, finely chopped, chopped ginger and garlic and saute until golden brown. Stir in 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder, 1/4 tsp. of black pepper powder, and 1 bay leaf. Add mung beans, water, vegetables, and rice.

Cook for about an hour. When the beans are completely soft, add a pinch of salt. Serve this dish with ghee and chopped fresh coriander leaves.

Related: Kitcherie Recipe for the Kapha Dosha

Ghee (Clarified Butter) Recipe
Ghee is made by placing unsalted butter in a pan and letting it melt and simmer on very low heat. The butter may look cloudy and there may be foam at the top. In the first five minutes, stir the butter occasionally. Leave the butter to continue simmering for another 15 minutes. You will see the particles sink to the bottom of the pan and foam will settle at the top.

As soon as the sediment at the bottom starts to brown, remove the pan from the heat. Skim off and discard the foam. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve or muslin into a glass jar.

Phase 2: Pancha Karma, the Cleansing Phase
Originally, this phase consisted of five practices: nasal cleansing, enemas, laxatives, emesis (vomiting), and blood-letting. Although the five practices may still be followed in certain parts of India, in North America the practice of emesis and blood-letting is considered unnecessary and unsafe by most alternative medicine practitioners.

A cleansing fast is often used during this period.

The Fast
1. The fasting herbal drink is taken throughout the day.

Herbal Drink Recipe
8 cups of water
4 teaspoons each of cumin and coriander powder
8 cardamom pods
4 teaspoons of crushed fennel seeds
2 pinches of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of ginger powder (or 3 slices fresh ginger)
Mix all ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from heat and keep covered for another 15-20 minutes. Strain through a sieve and drink it warm throughout the day.

2. Have 1-2 teaspoons of ghee with hot water in the morning on an empty stomach. This is believed to release toxins.

Trying Pancha Karma

Due to a lack of research, pancha karma cannot be recommended as a treatment for any condition. Also keep in mind that it may not be safe for certain people, including those with medical conditions or who are taking medications. Pregnant or nursing women and children should not try it. If you're considering trying pancha karma, talk with your primary care provider first. Keep in mind that alternative medicine should not be used as a substitute for standard care in the treatment of any health condition.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

3. Apply ghee to the temples and soles of the feet before bed. This helps to calm the mind and promote sleep.

4. Deep breathing

5. 1 teaspoon of psyllium fiber in a glass of water. Take 2 times per day.

Phase 3: Rejuvenation Phase
During the rejuvenation phase, a person returns to the simple diet of the preparation phase. It is important to do this gradually, by slowly introducing solid foods.

On day 1 and day 2 of the rejuvenation phase, begin eating khichadi but change the proportion of water in the recipe to 14 parts water to 1 part rice, 1 part beans, and 1 part vegetables. On day three follow the original recipe.

Many people find that the most profound healing occurs during the rejuvenation phase. Physical, emotional and spiritual changes may be experienced in the days and weeks to come. Sometimes issues that have been supressed will surface.

Continue Reading