Published on October 31st, 2019 | by Gedalia Genin0
Panchakarma: Ayurveda’s Revitalizing Therapies
Part 3 of a 3-part series on Ayurveda
by Gedalia Genin
Not long after my husband and I moved to Atlanta about 15 years ago, my brother Jeffrey committed suicide. We had talked on the phone about his struggles numerous times before then. When my other brother Allan called from Los Angeles to tell me the news, I went into total shock. Soon after, my hands and feet swelled up, almost immobilizing me with pain, and they stayed that way.
I went from one Atlanta doctor to another, trying to find some answers to my physical pain and inflammation. One doctor even referred me to a cancer clinic, which did nothing for me. Finally, I met with a doctor at Emory University Hospital who listened to my whole story. I shared my grief and pain with him and explained that I was heading to New Mexico for an Ayurvedic Panchakarma cleanse. He sat back in his chair and, looking at me with a sense of trust, said, “Go for it.” I finally felt understood and supported.
Panchakarma, Ayurveda’s detoxing, cleansing and rejuvenating program, consists of five therapies. With the help of those therapies, I was able to discover and release the fear, grief, and sense of responsibility I had been holding about my brother’s death. In the New Mexico program, I gained insights into my brother’s unfulfilled life and even got help releasing him energetically for his transition. The process and the healing environment helped me feel nurtured, nourished and supported, finally allowing my nervous system to ground and heal. In the meantime, I ate nourishing food like kitchari, [See kitchari recipe in our October issue] took herbs specifically selected for my condition and received treatments that helped my body release toxins—in my case, emotional toxins. Along with the deep sense of relaxation and rejuvenation I experienced, the swelling in my body disappeared.
Beyond the Doshas
In Part 1 of this series, the doshas, Ayurveda’s energy types or body constitutions, were explained. While many people associate Ayurveda with the doshas, it goes well beyond them. Ayurveda is a holistic lifestyle that can often take years to fully incorporate. It can connect people to the depth of their existence, enabling them to return home to their innate gifts, purpose and even creativity. It promotes a life in harmony with nature within and without.
Ayurvedic Panchakarma spa treatments and body therapies can have far-reaching effects. Unlike many Western therapies that focus solely on the physical body, Ayurvedic therapies are designed to balance one’s state of health on many levels. For example, someone who has anxiety will receive grounding and warming oils that nourish the nervous system. Conversely, if one feels sluggish or lethargic mentally and physically, the treatments will focus on invigorating oils and massage that will stimulate the flow of energy to body, mind and spirit.
With add-ons such as customized herbs and essential oils, gemstones, Marma or pressure points, polarity therapy and even colored light therapy, treatments are individually tailored to one’s specific state of being to create optimal balance.
A great time to do a Panchakarma cleanse is when the seasons change, when shifting daily habits, foods and rituals can help one align with the new season. For example, when autumn begins, and there is dryness in the air, cooler temperatures, and increased wind outside, one’s body and mind usually need warming foods, grounding oils, and waking at dawn to allow one to feel calm and centered. A Panchakarma cleanse is also highly beneficial when one is in need of healing from physical, emotional or mental crisis—as it was for me.
Panchakarma is highly individualized, focusing on removing ama, the toxic buildup in the body. According to Ayurveda, the buildup of toxins clogs the channels, systems and organs in the body and ultimately creates disease. Panchakarma therapies help to restore the immune system and nervous system to bring the whole person back into a state of harmony.
Popular Ayurvedic Therapies
A few of the therapies most often offered as part of a Panchakarma program are:
- Warm oil massage
- Herbal steam therapy
- Lymphatic massage
- Nasal treatments
- Marma point therapy
- Oil pours
- Herbal enemas
An initial consultation is provided by a trained Panchakarma specialist or Ayurvedic physician to determine the optimal therapies for treatment.
Warm Oil Massage | Abhyanga
To me, Abhyanga feels like someone playing a symphony on my entire body. The warm oil massage is a full-body massage where specific oils are chosen according to the person’s doshas. It is both relaxing and rejuvenating at the same time and is particularly good for the joints and nourishing the tissues. Outside of a therapeutic environment, the oils can be used for daily body massage.
Herbal Steam Therapy | Swedana
This herbal-infused steam bath is designed to keep the body warm and cool at the same time. While standard steam baths heat up the whole body, in swedana steam therapy, a cool towel is applied to the forehead to keep the heart and mind calm and the head remains fairly clear of the steam. Benefits of swedana can include purifying tissues, eliminating toxins, improving circulation, relieving stiffness, improving digestion and reducing excess weight.
In an Ayurvedic lymphatic massage, an herbal paste is formulated to help the body release toxins through the skin. The treatment often restores radiance to the skin and supports the entire body to eliminate toxins.
Nasal Drops | Nasya
Nasya therapy can help relieve dry sinuses, support allergy relief and open the energy channels to the brain. It even helps those with headaches and neck pain. Individually prescribed oils and nasal drops are used to lubricate the sinuses and remove mucous. The therapy can be done at home with premixed drops from outlets such as Banyan Botanicals and The Ayurvedic Institute.
Marma Point Therapy
Marma Point Therapy is an Ayurvedic practice that works with the body’s subtle energy through 107 access points, or doorways, to the body, mind and spirit. Pressure points along the front and back of the body are gently pressed to stimulate energy flow and unblock stagnant energy. The therapy balances chakras and doshas, relieves stress and anxiety, grounds the breath, and can be deeply healing. It can restore hormonal balance, relieve pain, aid in weight loss, and it gives the receiver a feeling of lightness and joy.
Performed by certified practitioners, Marma is deeply nurturing and restorative. Many of my clients have had transformative experiences around anxiety, depression, grief and loss and weight issues and have experienced a sense of being unburdened emotionally, mentally and physically.
Oil Pours | Shirodhara
A warm stream of oil poured onto the forehead from a copper vessel over the person’s head is the essence of Shirodhara Therapy. The treatment can help synchronize brain waves and brings profound relaxation to body, mind and spirit. It can be highly nurturing. It was in a Shirodhara session that I was able to release the deep grief for my brother that I was holding in my body.
Herbal Enemas | Basti
Basti are herbal enemas designed to pull toxins from the colon. They are often the last treatment of a Panchakarma cleanse. It is not recommended to do them at home or without a skilled practitioner.
Over the years, Ayurveda has supported me to connect with my inner strength and creativity, and it has provided me with daily rituals I enjoy. This age-old practice offers many doorways to benefit from its wealth of wisdom and time-tested healing methods. I recommend that people begin wherever their still, quiet voice beckons them to go.
Gedalia Genin practices Marma and Ayurveda in Atlanta, supporting women and children to return to wholeness and vitality, naturally. GedaliaHealingArts.com
Finding Ayurveda Therapies
in Atlanta and Elsewhere
A Mindful Movement Wellness & Yoga
Roswell, GA • (470) 719-9558
Alpharetta, GA • 470-395-4935
Athens, GA • 706-372-6118
Art of Living Retreat Center
Boone, NC • 800-392-6870
The Chopra Center
Carlsbad, CA • 888-424-6772 x1648
Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health
Stockbridge, MA • 866.200.5203
Fairfield, IA • 800-864-8714
Vibrant Health Ayurveda
Lafayette, CO • 720-449-6904