Pancha karma or panchakarma is the arm of Ayurvedic medicine which focuses on the elimination of disease. In Ayurveda, there are two aspects to medical practice. The first involves the maintenance of good health, and the other involves treatment of disease, including pancha karma: the active elimination of disease when it appears. Pancha karma treatment uses a series of techniques to purify the body, with the goal of expelling the toxins which cause the disease. Pancha karma is also viewed as a rejuvenating experience, since it restores health and balance to the body.
There are three stages in pancha karma: the first, pre-treatment, involves preparation, with the use of abhyanga, a type of Ayurvedic oil massage; a special diet; and the use of therapeutic steam to open the pores and begin cleansing the body. The actual treatment itself is the next stage, involving a variety of detoxifying treatments, and then patients undergo follow-up care, which may involve lifestyle changes to prevent the recurrence of disease.
Pancha karma literally means “five actions,” so it should come as no surprise to learn that five different treatments are involved in pancha karma. The first is vamana, controlled vomiting. Virechana involves the use of laxatives to purge the small intestine, while basti uses enemas to clean the large intestine. In nasya treatments, herbs are applied through the nose, while raktamokshana requires therapeutic bloodletting. Outside of India, practitioners are more likely to prescribe other treatments in lieu of raktamokshana.
The treatments used in pancha karma vary, depending on the patient and his or her condition. Ayurveda relies on the balancing of the doshas, or the three bodily humors. Therefore, each patient's individual case must be assessed. Most patients have a dominant dosha, but elements of other doshas are also involved, and treatment must bring the doshas into harmony with one another.
As is the case with Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda has inspired medical treatment in other regions of the world. Isolated pancha karma techniques are often offered by alternative medicine practitioners, sometimes without the care and attention patients would receive from an Ayurvedic practitioner. Since Ayurveda relies on a complex interconnected system and a whole-body approach to wellness, isolating aspects and applying them independently may not always yield favorable results.
People who are interested in Ayurveda should seek treatment from a licensed practitioner, ideally one who has trained in India, where standards for training and certification are standardized. Several professional organizations of Ayurvedic practitioners can be found around the world to offer referrals and recommendations.