Ayurveda is one of the world's oldest medical systems, originating in India and evolved over the last 5000-6000 years. In the West, treatments based on Ayurveda are considered complementary or alternative medicine.

Ayurveda considers, and thus treats the cause of the ailment, and not merely the symptom. As an example, a Western trained doctor might treat a skin disorder with a topical treatment. A physician trained in Ayurveda might treat the same disorder on the same individual by treating his or her digestion, as it is recognized that a poor digestion could cause a skin disorder.

Practices based on Ayurveda predate written records and were handed down by word of mouth. Two ancient books, written in Sanskrit more than 2,000 years ago, are considered the main texts on Ayurveda — Caraka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita. The texts describe eight branches of Ayurveda: Elderly care and rejuvenation; Gynecology, Obstetrics, and Pediatrics; Head and neck diseases; Internal medicine; Psychiatry; Sexual vitality; Surgery; and, Toxicology.

Ayurveda uses a variety of products and techniques, such as roots, leaves, seeds and barks of vegetation where roots of one might be acceptable whereas the leaves might not be – a classic being the ordinary potato. Thus these products should be consumed with the utmost of care as they can be harmful if used improperly or without the direction of a trained practitioner.

While Ayurveda uses herbs, massage, and specialized diets, an “Ayurvedic Massage” has become synonymous with a treatment based on Ayurveda. While there are countless benefits of massage, and Ayurveda uses all such benefits, a predominant purpose is for the ingress of medicine. Consider the power of an anti-smoking “patch” which uses perhaps one square inch of skin for its inter-dermal process. Now consider the power of using ones entire skin for the ingress of doctor prescribed medication. Perhaps the most known of the specific treatments based on Ayurveda is Panchakarma.

Panchakarma is the ultimate mind-body healing experience to detoxify the body and strengthen the immune system. It is recommended on a seasonal basis, as well as when an individual is experiencing a particular illness.

According to Ayurveda, good health depends upon our capability to fully metabolize all aspects of life, assimilating that nourishes, and eliminating the rest. When we can’t completely digest our food (or experiences and emotions), toxins accumulate in our bodily tissues, ulimately creating disease. Panchakarma is an elegant cleansing process that releases stored toxins and restores the body’s innate healing ability.

When our digestive energies are robust, we create healthy tissues, eliminate waste products efficiently, and produce a subtle essence which may be envisioned as the basis of clarity of perception, physical strength, and immunity. On the other hand, if our digestion is weakened and thus incomplete, then this leads to the creation of toxins which get stored in the body. Such accumulation blocks the flow of energy, information and nourishment throughout the system. Ayurveda considers this build-up of toxins the underlying cause of all disease. A common example of this is the accumulation of saturated fat and cholesterol that is beyond the body’s capacity to metabolize. Over time, this leads to the blockage of the blood vessels and arteries and, ultimately, to heart attacks.

While it’s easy to understand digestion and toxins, it’s important to remember that your mind and heart are continually digesting energy and information as well. Right now your mental digestive powers are working to break down these ideas into components that your intellect can assimilate. Similarly, your emotional digestion is responsible for processing your experiences and feelings, including the smile of a loved one, unexpected criticism at work, or the excitement of a new relationship.

Panchakarma is a time-proven natural therapy that detoxifies and restores the body's inner balance and vitality by treating the seven bodily tissues which constitute the physical body which are plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, nerve, and reproductive tissue.

Panchakarma ("panch" is five and "karma" is action) is a compilation of five actions: Nasal therapy; Vomiting; Purging; and two kinds of Therapeutic enema.

Treatment by panchakarma is in three stages: pre-treatment, primary treatment, and post-treatment. Treatment based on Ayurveda is subtle so as not to shock the body. Thus Ayurveda does not offer a “magic bullet” but a slow multi-week treatment. The patient who opts for this complete treatment must undergo all three stages which invariably take three to five weeks, and cannot be hurried.

More information about Ayurveda at Punarnava Ayurveda. Photos courtsey Bala Nair.