This five part series explores a ‘Guided Home Cleanse’ with Ayurvedic Lifestyle Counselor and Panchakarma Specialist Allison Bransfield Morse. Allison runs The Ayurvedic Center of Vermont just outside of Burlington, and offers traditional Panchakarma (PK) on site as well as at a distance. This series explores what’s involved with a home PK, why the guidance of a practitioner is needed, and what the benefits may be. Enjoy, and feel free to join in on the conversation.
Panchakarma (PK) is the cleansing process of Ayurveda. It’s purpose is to prevent disease, maintain health and reverse the aging process by removing toxins and accumulated wastes from the body. It is powerfully effective as well as safe and gentle. It should only be done under the guidance of a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner.
PK is a brilliant whole body cleanse. Toxins and accumulated wastes that the body has collected are loosened with specific processes. The toxins are then sent back to the gastrointestinal tract so they can be eliminated. All the while, you are nurtured nutritionally with a wholesome mono-diet of kitchari, a delicious rice, bean and vegetable ‘stew’.
The steps of PK (outlined below) may seem difficult. One may think, ‘I’m not going to do that!’ Yet what’s wonderful about this process is that it is completely tailored to each individual’s needs. Steps that may be a challenge can be altered to make the process more palatable and comfortable.
The cleanse begins by drinking small amounts of an oil, either ghee (clarified butter) or flax seed oil. Internal oleation lubricates the gastrointestinal tract, slows down the body and mind, and prepares the body for cleansing by softening or ‘ripening’ the tissues.
Externally dosha-specific oils are applied to the body in the process of self-massage or abhyanga (Ayurvedic massage). This also makes the body soft, relaxes the tissues and encourages the loosened toxins to move back to the gut. Oil massage is followed by steam therapy or hot shower to encourage further penetration of the oil into the body. A mono-diet of kitchari, a simple rice, bean and vegetable stew, becomes the staple diet during the cleanse. Kitchari is a delicious and nutritious meal that aids in the cleansing process. Supplemental foods are encouraged for those in need of more substance.
The next stage of the cleanse is the elimination of toxins and accumulated doshas. Allison describes PK as a ‘suctioning’ process. Basti, medicated herbal enema, draws out the accumulated toxins from the colon. Specific instructions are given on how to make an herbal ‘tea’ and how to safely self-administer the tea with basti. Herbal supplements may also be suggested as gentle purgatives.
Once the toxins have been removed, the body must be rejuvenated to restore strength. Your practitioner will recommend certain foods and possibly herbs that increase vitality. Slowly you will wean yourself off of kitchari and begin to incorporate other foods into your diet. This is a crucial time as eating the wrong foods may cause more harm than good and digestive discomfort may result. Your practitioner should guide you in making the proper food choices as you slowly return to a healthy diet suitable for your own unique constitution.
The PK process may be modified for each individual. Allison offers several options. Beginners may choose level one which is strictly dietary. Eliminate the bad guys (sugar, processed foods, caffeine, dairy, meat) and enjoy a day or two of cooked vegetables, whole grains and a protein at each meal. Then begin kitchari for a determined length of time, giving your digestive system a rest. After kitchari, instructions are given on how to return to your doshic diet. Level two involves internal oleation and a mono-diet of kitchari for five days. Herbs may be recommended. Level three involves internal oleation, a mono-diet of kitchari, and basti and/or virechana (herbal purgatives). Level three can be extended to seven or ten days.
Every aspect of the cleanse is tailored to your needs. Allison recommended I drink the ghee with a pinch of cinnamon and chase it with fresh ginger tea. Adding fresh squeezed lime juice to the ghee was also an option. I tried both and each helped make the process quite palatable and easy to digest. I was also instructed to drink a tablespoon of castor oil on the third night of internal oleation. The castor oil helps to promote apana vayu or downward flow. It opens up the channels so ama (accumulated waste) can flow in that direction (down) and the gastrointestinal tract can be cleaned out. Allison suggested that I add a quarter cup of pomegranate juice to the oil which made it incredibly easy to swallow. I was thrilled.
PK is a really terrific process. You can eat as much or as little kitchari as you like so you’re really well nourished. Not the typical stereotype of a cleanse. There’s also a lot of room for variation based on your lifestyle, your availability, and what you’re ready and willing to do. It’s a safe cleanse in so many ways, with an approach that’s effective.