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Preparing for Panchakarma

Having spent 2020 scattered to wind in Europe, I am feeling more Vata deranged than ever before.

That being the case, one of the first things I did upon returning to the States was to book a week-long panchakarma program with my trusted friends and colleagues at Soma Mountain Rejuvenation.

Panchakarma (PK) is a Sanskrit portmanteau of the words pancha meaning five and karma meaning action. So — PK is a process involving five primary actions of cleansing and rejuvenation. It represents an opportunity to reset every realm of my Self.

The five primary actions of PK differ slightly depending which classical Ayurvedic text you consult, but a fair summary is as follows:

  • nasya — oleation of the sinus cavities

  • vaman — therapeutically-induced vomiting

  • virechan — therapeutically-induced purgation

  • basti — Ayurvedic enema

  • raktamokshan — bloodletting

Sounds like a fun week, doesn’t it!? Wait until I tell you about the two weeks of preparation and rejuvenation on either side.

In all seriousness, I love this process. The intelligence encoded into this system of healing is supremely beautiful. I am sincere when I say that the process is primarily pleasurable, and it leads to the most exalted states of whole person health I’ve ever experienced.

In the past, I have performed all the procedures at home by myself. This will be the first time I invest in a residential program. I feel complete trust in the Soma Mountain team, and am looking forward to surrendering into their guidance and support.

The preparatory practices are called Purvakarma, which literally means prior action. Here is some of what I’m doing to prepare for this experience:

  • no caffeine

  • no alcohol

  • no meat

  • thrice daily herbs

  • daily skin-brushing and self-massage with Ayurvedic oils

  • restricted diet — soft, warm vegetables and fresh fruit mostly

  • hourly sips of warm water and cleansing tea

As the next week unfolds, my food choices will become even simpler (veggie soup!) and I’ll start putting herbal oil up my nose and drinking multiple tablespoons of ghee medicated with super bitter herbs.

The basic goal is to use all this oil to make myself as slippery as possible inside and out. Having oiled my skin and oiled my internal organs, ama will lose its foothold and be easily swept away by the five primary actions of PK during my week with Soma Mountain.

(Ama = undigested food, mucus and other expressions of aggravated doshas)

After the intensive week — which admittedly includes a number of four-handed massages, shirodhara (photo below) lots of quiet time for yoga and meditation, nourishing meals and a support team of five professionals — there is a strict protocol of recovery.

The complete set of Panchakarma practices essentially restores the lining of ones gut to the status of a newborn baby. Therefore, one must rebuild gut flora and digestive resilience from the ground up.

This requires something called samsarjana krama — the gentle, extremely gradual progression from liquid broths back to solid foods and eventually even real vegetables and finally salt and spice.

This is the most important part of the whole process — all the careful effort that goes into PK is now either crystallized or squandered.

Of course — because my life is what it is — one week after I finish PK I will be flying to the Pacific Northwest for a celebratory weekend of Phish at the Gorge Amphitheater. This is definitely an expert level (borderline irresponsible) paschatkarma (after action) plan.

I advise everyone to allow yourself at least two weeks of recovery time, if you ever choose to take on the healing adventure that is PK. One day maybe I’ll start taking my own advice...

  • Have you ever gone through the Panchakarma process? How’d it go?

  • If not, would you ever consider it?

  • What about it seems most interesting?

  • What about it seems most scary?

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