Ayurveda offers unique therapeutic measures that heal mild and chronic diseases. Even diseases that are believed to be incurable by modern medicine have been healed. Stories abound of people being carried into our Panchakarma centres, and a few weeks later, walking out on their own two feet, healthy and rejuvenated. Ayurveda is not based on magic; rather, it is based on understanding medical principles and the six stages of illness.

The most deeply seated toxins that cause disease are heavy and sticky, lodging in the deepest tissue layers. Panchakarma permanently eliminates these toxins from the body, allowing healing and restoration of the tissues, channels, digestion, and mental functions. The management of an illness starts with cleansing and includes five procedures called Panchakarma, all of which are not necessarily done at the same time or all the patients.

Panchakarma therapy is believed to purify or cleanse all the body tissues and to bring about the harmony of neurohumours (Tridoshas) (i.e. Vata, Pitta, Kapha, and manasa Doshas [i.e. satva, raja, and tama]) and to obtain long-lasting beneficial effects. Panchakarma Therapy is not merely a therapeutic regimen, but it may be considered a management tool when used at certain tissue and body parts. It promotes and preserves the individual’s normal health.

Panchakarma Therapy is an important component of Ayurvedic management of diseases. It is the comprehensive method of internal purification of the body through emesis (vaman karma), purgation (Virechana karma), enema (Basti karma), errhines (Nasya karma), and bloodletting (Raktamokshan) . This chapter will review the ancient classical concepts, traditional practices, and recent advances made in this important field with proper evaluation and rational assessment. Evidence obtained at our hospitals and at other research institutes in treating a variety of diseases with Panchakarma Therapy is discussed along with its possible use as an adjunct to allopathic therapies. Panchakarma Therapy is indicated in arthritis, paralysis, neuromuscular diseases and in respiratory, gastrointestinal, ENT, and several blood-related disorders with great benefits. Panchakarma Therapy is contraindicated in certain conditions like acute fevers, in various debilitating diseases, and in certain tumours and cancers of different organs; it is also contraindicated in children, the elderly and pregnant women. Panchakarma Therapy is indicated for both the healthy and diseased. The five elimination procedures are usually advised in the sequence of emesis, purgation, enema, errhines, and bloodletting, although it is not mandatory. Either one or all five procedures are advised as per the need and condition of the person undergoing Panchakarma Therapy. Based on the health of the individual and stage and type of the disease, only one of the five procedures may be done without following a sequence. However, proper preparation and follow-up treatment are implemented for even one cleansing procedure.

Panchakarma therapies are employed for acute diseases as well. For example, emesis (vomiting therapy) may be used during acute asthma attacks, obesity, and acute Kapha disorders. As mentioned before, the person needs to be strong before undertaking Panchakarma because these reducing therapies temporarily weaken the system. Additionally, Panchakarma is used to prevent the accumulation of the humours, or as seasonal health maintenance and a longevity/rejuvenation program. What is unique about this Ayurvedic approach is that it is used not only for healing, but also for prevention and rejuvenation (longevity). Enemas that include tonics and nutritive herbs are also used in supplementation therapy, as they build tissues rather than reduce humours. Thus, Panchakarma offers various therapies that may be used in various ways, depending upon the person, disease, season, culture, etc. The milder therapies may be used seasonally in self-healing, prevention, and rejuvenation.

One of the fundamental concepts of Ayurvedic management of diseases is to eliminate toxic materials (vitiated Doshas) from the body in order to cure a disease. Panchakarma therapy is designed to eliminate the toxic materials. It is postulated that the toxic materials of the body need to be eliminated radically before a palliative therapy is given. The palliative therapy in the form of drugs and diets may not be effective unless the body channels are properly cleansed and toxic materials are eliminated.

Stages of Panchakarma Therapy:-

The classical Panchakarma Therapy is done in three stages:

  • Preparatory procedures (purva karma) — These procedures are done to prepare the body to undergo a proper and thorough cleansing. They involve applying as well as ingesting oils and fats, sweating, and also advising which herbs to use to improve the digestion and metabolism in tissues.
  • Main cleansing procedures (Pradhana karma) — These procedures consist of five purification procedures especially designed to eliminate toxic materials from the imbalanced Doshas of the body. They are emesis, purgation, enema, errhines, and bloodletting.
  • Post procedures (Pashchata karma) — These procedures consist mainly of recuperative measures in the form of diet, lifestyle changes, and rejuvenating herbs.