As we move further into spring after a long winter, right now would be a good time to detoxify the ama or toxins in the body. There are two methods of treatment to detoxify using Ayurvedic means; Shamana or palliative therapies and/or Shodhana, which is panchakarma. Shamana consists of dipan (kindling the digestive fire), pachan (burning ama), fasting, observing thirst, exercise, sun or moon bathing, and specialized breathing or pranayama. This article focuses on the process in which one approaches a regimen of detoxification, including how to go about choosing between getting Panchakarma or sticking to the more gentle methods of Shamana. Treatment methods will follow in future articles.
Shamana vs Panchakarma
Panchakarma (literally the five actions), as many of you know, is an elaborate process of detoxification that is done under the supervision of a trained professional and takes a good amount of time and energy. Here in the west, it lasts usually anywhere from one to two weeks. In India, it can last for up to 40 days. Simply put, Panchakarma focuses on eliminating the excess dosha(s) out of the body, as well as transforming ama. Favorable times for this treatment is the end of winter for Kapha predominant people, the end of spring for Pitta predominant people, and the end of summer for Vata predominant people. Though this does depend on specific environmental factors. Shamana (palliation) consists of gentler methods of detoxification and treatment of the doshas. It focuses more on eliminating ama, kindling agni, and suppressing the doshas inside their respective “seats.” Spring is an appropriate time for proper palliation.
Both methods have contraindications. The key to detoxifying in this way, is to know thyself. To know thy body. If you are stronger and more stable of body and mind, you can do panchakarma and a more elaborate Shamana regimen. If not, then these methods may not be for you.
I’ve written this article because I’ve seen and treated many who have become emaciated and weak during the process and in the name of detoxification. According to Ayurveda, the detoxification proces should leave the dhatus (tissues) and rotas (channels) strong. Panchakarma and prolonged time periods of palliation are contraindicated for pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, the weak, the elderly, the emaciated, those with chronic degenerative diseases including cancer, and/or chronic mental health problems. Also, it’s unwise to start a detoxification program during times of great transition or trauma, i.e. a divorce or loss of job. Ayurveda is all about digestion of experience and food. One process at a time according to one’s agni.
Palliative detoxification methods are best for those who have families, work full time, and have moderately stressful lives. It takes energy, dedication, and presence to undergo a detoxification regimen. The key is to not overdo or deplete the system to the point of causing weakness or damage to the agni or doshas. Also, it is very important to remember that detoxification of any kind consists of three parts; preparation, detoxification, and nourishment. The last step is crucial for the maintenance of a strong, vital body.
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