If you’d like a glimpse into the benefits of panchakarma (ayurveda’s ancient cleansing and rejuvenation practice) without the expense of going to a clinic, try this home version, which ayurvedic expert Vasana Lad recommends in The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. Avoid this program if you are pregnant, weak, anemic, or debilitated. Otherwise, it’s safe for most healthy people.
First, you need to determine your ayurvedic constitution, which is composed of the three doshas. In most people, one dosha is primary, another is secondary, and the third is least prominent.
Spend your time resting, walking in nature, reading light material, and practicing gentle yoga and meditation.
Ideally you should undertake this mini-program during a weeklong vacation so that you can escape your daily grind. If you have a hectic family life, rent a cabin in the woods where you can observe silence. Avoid excess stimulation (including sex) and spend your time resting, walking in nature, reading light material, and practicing gentle yoga and meditation. At the minimum, do days 1 to 3 during the workweek and days 4 to 8 over a long weekend.
A word of caution: According to Lad, this program releases old, unresolved emotions stored in our deep connective tissue. To cope, he says, avoid the urge to resuppress them and practice regular meditation to soothe your heart and soul.
Days 1–3 of Panchakarma
Drink 2 ounces of warm ghee in the early morning (if you have high blood levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, or sugar, replace the ghee with 2 tablespoons of flaxseed 15 minutes before meals for three days). Vata-dominant people should add a pinch of rock salt to their ghee, while kapha-dominant people should add a pinch of trikatu. Follow your dosha-pacifying diet. Every night, put 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of triphala powder into a cup and add 1/2 cup of boiling water, steep for 10 minutes, then drink. This is a mild but nourishing laxative.
Days 4–5 of Panchakarma
Eat only kitchari for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Drink a tea specific to your dominant dosha, steeping 1/2 to 1 teaspoon for 5 minutes, then drink.
Vata Tea — equal parts ground ginger, cumin, and coriander
Pitta Tea — equal parts ground cumin, coriander, and fennel
Kapha Tea — equal parts ground ginger and cinnamon, and a pinch of clove
At bedtime, massage your body for 15 to 20 minutes with 8 ounces of warm organic oil (sesame oil for vata, sunflower oil for pitta, and corn oil for kapha). Rest for a few minutes to let your skin absorb the oil, then take a hot shower or bath. Scrub your body with natural soap but allow some oil to remain on your skin. Then take a dose of triphala and head to bed.
Days 6–8 of Panchakarma
Continue your regimen of kitchari and tea, evening massage and shower, and triphala. At bedtime, boil 1 tablespoon of the ayurvedic herbal compound dashamoola in 2 cups of water for 5 minutes. After it has cooled to body temperature, strain it and use the liquid as a basti. Try to retain the liquid for at least 30 minutes—overnight if possible—before visiting the bathroom.
Days 9–12 and beyond
Congratulations: Your main panchakarma program is over. On Day 9, add steamed vegetables to your kitchari. Gradually transition to a heartier diet by adding unyeasted breads and more vegetables to your meals, then return to your doshic diet.
“To make your rejuvenation more effective, set some time aside to build up your strength,” says Lad. “Whether you take a weekend, a week, a month, or even longer, use the time as a purposeful period of rest, relaxation, and rebuilding of body, mind, and spirit.” During this period of time, he advises getting plenty of rest, observing celibacy, and practicing yoga and meditation regularly. You can also take one of the following rasayanas in the morning and at night for 30 to 60 days: For vata, take 1 teaspoon of ashwagandha in 1 cup of hot milk; for pitta, take 1 teaspoon of shatavari in 1 cup of warm milk; and for kapha, take 1 teaspoon of purnarnava in 1 cup of warm milk. And continue taking triphala for two to three months.
Over time, this home panchakarma program will deepen your self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-love. As your body and mind are increasingly purified, your yoga practice—and your life—will begin to shine. And that’s what ayurveda, the science of longevity, is all about.
Former Yoga International editor-in-chief Shannon Sexton writes about food, travel, yoga, and natural health.