*I’ll start with a side note – one of my favorite things about going to work at 8:30 a.m. is that I get in the car at the perfect time to catch Garrison Keillor reading poetry on the Writer’s Almanac. It reminds me that stories are still important to human beings, they nourish me anyway. And reminds me that I want to be a writer of stories.*
It’s sort of freaky that this picture precedes my writing about Panchakarma, but hey, I love wacky.
What is panchakarma?
‘Pancha’ means 5 and ‘karma’ means action, so literally panchakarma is the 5 actions. It is a technique utilized in Ayurveda for healing that rids the body of excess dosha, as well as some excess ama. The five actions are virechana, vamana, basti, nasya and rakta moksha (purgation, vomiting, enema, releasing substance through the nostrils and blood letting.) As you can see all of these actions are pretty uncomfortable, and all involve a release out of the body, shodhana therapy. Not all of the actions are necessary for each patient, the treatments depend on which dosha is involved.
Panchakarma is a ‘cleanse’ and can be used to treat specific disorders, but it is also used as a preventative measure.
I am on the last day on my first home panchakarma, day 8, and since I’ve spent much too much time on the computer today, the cleanse is about over. One more basti to go. I’d really call what I have done this week a purva karma, which is the initial cleanse one undertakes before going to get a week to 10 days treatments with panchakarma therapists and an Ayurvedic physician. I have been completing a program at the Kripalu School of Ayurveda over this past year, and have been very informed about what panchakarma truly means, though here within our culture, it is very hard to take 21 or more days off just to explore this traditional method of healing. One of the many amazing things about Ayurveda is that though the teachings are extremely specific, it is understood that taking action, whatever action is possible in your own life and situation, is better than doing nothing. Be happy with what you can make do with Ayurveda. So, we do, and I have.
Last Sunday, while still in Maine, I started a very simple diet that included rice, steamed vegetables, and kitchari – mung beans cooked with dried coconut, coriander cumin and fennel, as well as sometimes curry powder. Olive oil or ghee was a daily thing, and black pepper and salt were ok – basically all spices. The aim is not to NOT eat, or to lose weight, but to eat very simply, things which are easy for the digestive system, and spices add an extra oomph to kicking out ama and aiding in digestion. The simple diet is a major player here – my diet includes sweets too often, as well as quite a bit of dairy. Though I do believe I have cut down, mostly just drinking raw milk, and so heated with spices, I still benefit from the practice of control.
My cravings were not as bad as I thought they might be – until today. It’s because I have allowed myself to begin branching out – scrambled eggs for lunch, and grain cereal for breakfast. Once the doors open, it’s a flood. I’m looking up pie crust recipes…ahem, back to my week.
I began my moon cycle the same time I began my cleanse – usually this is not ideal, but since I was going light, and in panchakarma we’re working with apana vayu to move things DOWN, I felt like this was alright. I was guided by Allison Morse at The Ayurvedic Center, where I am working part time, and she agreed.
The most important thing I learned this week – this is gentle. I expected to be hovering over the toilet all night Thursday, but slept through the night ( a bit nervous sleep) and there was very gentle action in the morning.
The next thing would be – I wish I did not have to work through this. Though days of doing nothing drive me insane, it was tough to have long days the first few days of only eating kitchari. Though my days are quite calm, I did have to check my email daily, and drive a lot. Also, teaching two yoga classes (talking and moving a lot) can be exhausting. Plus, during the days I took a lot of ghee in the morning, I was not as hungry…
Often emotions will come up – Allison told me to expect things to come up, that she would be more worried i they didn’t. I’ll just share that I was a bit down and quite spacey the first few days, though this could have been because I was on my cycle as well. I found it easy to sit quietly and meditate. Now towards the end, I am feeling anxious, it’s less easy to sit down…perhaps it’s Vata being stirred up, or it could be that I feel like I’ve had time off from life, and now I’ve got to jump back in and be on top of things tomorrow morning…or all of the above. Otherwise, though, I did not feel as though anything major occurred. Insecurities regarding my career path, and old jealousies, and anxieties surrounding the idea that I need to take more action regarding my future seem to be popping up, but I am not sure if this has to do with the purva karma, or just the waves of life and time…
The shirodhara experience is hard to explain – at first it was incredibly aggravating, I felt so sensatie that each time Carrie went to refill the pot with oil I’d wince, but then it seemed to calm down during the second half. I felt a certain high afterwards…lightheaded, but in a good way. Very present. I hung around and had some food to ground me, as well as a little conversation with Scott which tired me right out. Afterwards I went home, and fell asleep!
I wrote a few times in my journal – “I need more JOY. And I desire to create and love more freely.”
There are many more details, but those are in my journal. I hope this shorthand of my experience is helpful to anyone looking for info on panchakarma and a bit about Ayurveda. Please send me an email, or comment – I’d like to help you if you have any questions! Om trayambakam.