Many of us are becoming aware of the importance of preventative health care in this challenging, stress-filled time. There is also a growing interest in the value of cleansing the body of accumulated toxins. With this, the traditional form of health care from India known as Ayurveda, is enjoying an increase in popularity.
One of the principal forms of treatment in Ayurveda is the process of periodical cleansing of the body, consisting of five phases, known as Pancha Karma. This process, overseen by a qualified practitioner, is done as a way for our bodies to adapt to seasonal changes. Each cycle of nature brings with it the need and opportunity for cleansing and healing to meet these transitions smoothly.
The object of this series of treatments, done over several days or weeks, is to prevent and heal physical imbalances by expelling impurities which accumulate in our bodies. Many causes of these accumulations can be found in our daily habits, our diet or lifestyle choices, and in stressors and pollutants in our environment.
Ayurveda’s ancient teachings relate to modern-day discoveries which, similarly, encourage us to eliminate toxins and avoid them to improve our health and prevent illness.The substances we absorb in unhealthy foods, such as fried, refined, excessively sweetened or salted foods, can cause free radicals which deplete our immune system and otherwise imbalance our constitutions, according to our specific Ayurvedic body type. This and other environmental damage, due to pollutants,` must be eliminated by natural detoxification channels, which are aided, during Pancha Karma by five main cleansing practices, (as the meaning of the name “Five Actions” implies).
Pancha Karma begins with a preparatory change of diet to simple, easily digestible foods according to our body’s particular needs.Throughout this process, regular medicated oil massages catalyze the loosening and elimination of stored toxins, such as free-radicals from the body.
The ayurvedic massage practitioner will chose or design the most effective medicated oils to comfort and enliven the patient as well as facilitate cleansing.Sesame oil is recommended for most body types, it contains nervous system nutrients that penetrate and replenish the body as well as helping detoxify.
According to Ayurveda, the approaches to massage, such as which oil and herbs are used are determined by the affinity we each have with certain elements of nature. These inherent traits are reflected in our bodies and minds in various ways, including appearance, behavior and physical functions. These factors have been written about in ancient texts and observed by physicians over the thousands of years Ayurveda has been practiced.
This knowledge is utilized to draw up the three general categories of Ayurvedic constitutions described below:
- A structurally small or thin person, who tends to be cold and to have dry skin is typical of the Vata constitution. That individual is also likely to have dark features and be a little tense or agitated. To counteract these tendencies and weaknesses, warm unctuous oil is recommended such as sesame oil. The treatment should be gentle so as to nurture and reassure the patient. Soothing essential oils that can be used are lotus and lavender
- If someone often feels hot, suffers from inflammatory ailments and is of average build, their main body type is likely to be Pitta. They might also be seen as rather zealous or ambitious. Such people usually have oily skin, therefore sunflower or coconut oil which are lighter can be used in moderation, also mitigating their natural tendency towards high body temperature. Deeper, slower massage and calming aromas like sandalwood and rose have a cooling effect on emotionally fiery Pittas.
- Kapha types are heavier in build and generally calm and friendly, they require a more vigorous treatment to improve their circulation. They would benefit from mustard or sesame oil, which stimulates their somewhat sluggish metabolism. A dry brush or loofah sponge massage can be applied by the patient themselves, it is a helpful part of their treatment as they tend to have oily skin. Good fragrances for Kapha are musk and myrrh.
Seasonal series of Ayurvedic cleansing sessions include “a period of daily oil application and sweating therapy…for at least one week for health maintenance and three weeks for treatment of severe diseases.” ideally, according to Dr. David Frawley (in his Ayurvedic Healing Course, part III). Frawley also states that “the combination of oils, fragrances, herbs and powders feeds the senses, as well as nourishes the subtle and gross bodies….” also, “Ayurvedic massage connects one physical site to another with fast, deep and vigorous strokes…. Through [it] many patients have recovered from such difficult conditions as arthritis, sciatica, headaches, digestive disorders, and various spinal problems.” It’s purposes, he continues are threefold:
“-To increase circulation
– To stimulate and strengthen the lymphatic system,
– To open the flow of prana or the life force.”
Certain conditions lend themselves to localized massage with specific oils, which we can usually apply ourselves. Mustard or castor oil can be used for sprains or arthritis/ rheumatism. One can massage this oil in a circular fashion over the joints,and in longer strokes, over long bones. Wintergreen can be used for increased circulation.
Dr Chopra, in his popular book Perfect Health, notes that
our nervous and endocrine systems both benefit from this regular practice. He also mentions that through massage, the impurities are released from the areas of improper accumulation and directed to organs of elimination.
Ayurvedic massage, consists of harmonizing and balancing the chakras, and the sensitive areas known as Marma points, found throughout the body. Trained practitioners locate and move energy around these focal points in a fluid, energizing fashion. The massage is thorough, covering practically the entire body, dispersing toxins and energetic blocks in sensitive movements, designed to bring about the most rejuvenating results.
With physical tensions as well as impurities released, stress and emotional disharmony can also be relieved. This is crucial to maintain a positive, inspired attitude, on which our bodies depend for optimal health.
Personal self-massage to improve our well being can easily be learned by following guidelines in Dr. Chopra’s book Perfect Health and is helpful, even if done minimally by massaging the head and soles of the feet with sesame oil before showering or bed.When we undergo stressful times especially, the application of advanced Ayurvedic massage techniques by a qualified practitioner can assist us in healing and invigorating our bodies and minds.
Finally, with the help of Ayurvedic philosophy and lifestyle guidelines, we can learn how to avoid exposure to unhealthy substances and circumstances and how to compensate for these, which is different for each individual based on their body type, condition and environment. This in-depth knowledge can be provided by experienced practitioners and learned with the help of some enlightening books on the subject such as Deepak Chopra’s and Drs. Vasant Lad and David Frawley’s as well.