Panchakarma

Panchakarma means ‘5 actions’.  Pancha means 5.  Karma means action or procedure.

Panchakarma is the penultimate cleanse for the elimination of toxins (ama) and the replenishment of tissues.  Panchakarma comes from the ancient, holistic, healing system of Ayurveda which has its roots in India.

For five thousand years the people of India and China have been using plants to treat every disease known to mankind.  Why?  Because it works.  10 years ago a group of traditional scientists asked US Congress to fund research into Ayurveda.  What started as a $10m project grew into $100m. Ayurveda was approved as an addition to the 27th arm of NCCAM – the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a result.

This study was heavily related to the Human Genome Project which was formed to study how genes function individually and collectively.

How do genes relate to Ayurveda and Panchakarma?

Genes are switched on and off as we age.  When genes are on they make protein and perform a function.  And vice versa.  As we grow older some genes are switched on, others off.

Herbal therapy (ayurveda) works by utilising the protection system of a plant.  Plants produce toxins to protect themselves from insects.  These toxins have a unique ability to bind to our genes.  They provide the switch that the body hasn’t been capable of actioning.

There are 3 stages of PK therapy:
1.  Purva Karma – pre-treatment
2.  Pradhana Karma – primary treatment
3.  Paschat Karma – post treatment

The 5 actions referred to consist of the following and appear at  various times during the 3 stages of PK.

1. Vamana – purging
2.  Virechana – liver flush
3.  Vasti – enema
4.  Nasya – nasal treatment
5.  Rakthamokshana – bloodletting

I’m Day 5 of a 21 day PK.  Day 1 I felt completely overwhelmed.  This might have had something to do with moving out of my villa and packing all of my worldly possessions (again) into bags…knowing that as of the 21st June I’m not sure where my path is going to take me..and said bags (again).  It’s not so much stress as its the emotion that comes with goodbyes, closing one door to open another that seems to put me into a temporary tailspin.  But that lasted one day and I woke up on Day 2 feeling completely settled in.

So what happens when Panchakarmering?

Each day begins with medicated ghee (Snehapana).  Ghee is derived from clarified butter – the protein is removed.  The purpose of the ghee is to bind to the toxins (ama) in the body.  The body is literally saturated with ghee. Tomorrow I have my last serving of 10 tablespoons with some nasty looking herbs swimming in the bottom.  Taking it is not so bad, and my body was craving the fat the first few days…now..not so much.

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7am is yoga time for an hour.

Then Kitcheree is served for breakfast and lunch.  I really love kitcheree.  Its such a great comfort food.  Rice, mung dhal, veges and spices are combined into a soupy mix that my body craves..it craves it because I’ve literally felt like I’ve been starving!..which is unusual.  Because when I fast I rarely feel like I’m starving…ironically…

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In the afternoon, EVERY day I have 2 hours of treatments including Abhyanga (medicated oil massage), Shirodhara (medicated oil dripped onto the forehead), Nasya (oil decoction into nostrils),  Pasta (paste of onion, garlic, ginger, pepper applied to the body) and Bashpasweda (steam treatment).

3 times a week a 45 minute meditation is offered which I generally decline preferring the mozzie-less, air conditioned comfort of my awesome room and a guided meditation of my choosing.

Purva karma finishes for me shortly and I move into the primary treatment next week.

Why are you doing another detox?

My latest bloods show Candida, low white blood cell count (low immune system) and low thyroid.  Hormone, electrolyte panels and a few other bits haven’t come back yet.  But my system is so ready for a reset.  I tend to do monthly liver flushes but the last structured fast was back in December.  None of the above are surprising after having parasites.  Panchakarma is literally a program of rejuvenation so it makes sense.

Alternative medicine takes more time and a more effort than traditional medicine to get results, but I’m willing to do this rather than to fall prey to a Western medical system, that frankly I feel doesn’t serve me or anyone.  I just can’t support the miseducation given to thousands that are simply listening to an authority figure for want of better information and choices.

I have a strong belief in mind medicine.  Its really crazy how stress, anxiety and depression can f#@k up your body.  I love the philosophy of Ayurveda because of this.  As well as having amusing names for conditions like Cantankerous bowel syndrome to keep me entertained, Ayurveda encompasses not only science but religion and philosophy.

In Ayurveda the whole of life’s journey is considered to be sacred.  Truth is Being, Pure existence, the source of all life.  Ayurveda is a science of Truth as it is expressed in life.

Isn’t that beautiful?

 

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Chaga & the sympathetic nervous system

I loved this quote that the scientists daughter used in her blog yesterday:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Albert Einstein

I think I can safely say that I’m pretty open to trying anything. I have a crazy tendency to want to know everything – I want information.  I’d rather try something new, and form my own opinion, based on my experience and I’m totally ok with experimenting on myself.

Whenever I wrote in the past, I kept my 2 blogs on spirituality and nutrition very separate, however, as hard as I try, they just want to intermingle.  They’re  like star crossed lovers..they can’t stay away from each other. They want to co-exist. They can’t keep their hands off each other. So..I surrender…it appears I’m called to write a certain way – integrating spirit and science.

Integration for me is bringing both of these worlds together with the soul purpose of healing myself, to teach myself…and along the way, I might as well share some information… after all that is the theory of Namaste! We are one. I teach myself. And I also teach you.

Chaga mushroom

Today my topic of interest was inspired by a conversation with my friend on Chaga tonic.  I’d never had Chaga until I came to Ubud.  Now I’m intrigued by the application of adaptogens and how they can help to support healing.

Chaga (inonotus obliqquus) is a fungus. Interestingly, its a parasite that grows on birch and other trees. It kind of looks like a burnt piece of coal and usually appears after the host tree is dead. Chaga grows in the birch forests of Russia, Korea, Eastern and Northern Europe, northern area’s of the USA and Canada. Chaga has been used as a medicine in Russia and Siberia since the 16th century.

Chaga mushroom ( Inonotus obliquus )

Chaga as an Adaptogen

The most interesting feature of Chaga is its adaptogenic qualities. Adaptogens are substances, compounds, herbs or practices that by their very use, result in the stabilisation of psychological processes and promotion of homeostasis.

Homeostasis is produced by a decreased cellular response to stress.

The concept of an adaptogen in helping the body cope with stress is not a new one. This theory is the basis of many traditional, and what the Western world would call, ‘alternative’ treatments used in both TCM and Ayurvedic medicine.

What is the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and what does it have to do with Chaga?

Without getting too technical, adaptogens work on the sympathetic nervous system.

Ok, who I am kidding, I’m totally going to get technical..this stuff is so INTERESTING!!!  …particularly the connection between science and what has been traditionally thought of as alternative medicine.

The primary process of the SNS is to stimulate the body’s fight or flight response. The SNS is active at a basic level to maintain homeostasis. I could go off on 1001 tangents here explaining the connection between the nervous systems – I think this might be a job for another day.   Suffice to say that the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) has two branches.

1. The sympathetic nervous system

  • Stimulates flight or fight response
  • A quick response mobilising system
  • Regulates heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination and sexual arousal. All of these are controlled within the brain by the hypothalamus.

2. The parasympathetic nervous system

  • A more slowly activated dampening system
  • Often considered the ‘rest and digest’ or ‘feed and breed’ system.

In many cases, these systems have ‘opposite‘ actions, where one system activates a physiological response and the other inhibits.

Here’s an analogy to help you with understanding these systems:

1.  You’re walking in the woods and an angry mama bear theatens to kill you because she’s hungry, and she wants your muesli bar.  Do you Run or fight??  This reaction sets off a series of events – your blood pressure increases, your digestion rate slows…adrenalin courses through your body. This is your Sympathetic Nervous system in action.

2.  It’s a beautiful, sunny day.  You walk through the path.  Not a soul is in sight.  Its so quiet you can only hear the wind breezing gently through the trees.  You lie on the grass, birdsong surrounding you.  Blood pressure decreases, pulse decreases.  Digestion starts.  This is your Parasympathetic Nervous System in action.

Interesting fact:

The only role where these 2 systems combine is in sexual arousal and orgasm

Proven results v Case studies

I don’t use Chaga regularly enough to give a succinct yes or no to its effectiveness.

BUT…from an intuitive perspective, I want more of it. The case studies create enough interest in it for me to delve a little deeper.

As far as I know there are no clinical trials on Chaga, however it has been used in the treatment of Cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Laboratory studies indicate possible potential in cancer therapy as an antioxidant, in immunotherapy and as an anti-inflammatory.

A Russian study showed a potential ability to neutralise auto immune diseases such as psoriasis.

Risks

Chaga can interfere with the use of other drugs. If this is the case, the immediate response I have to naisayers of Chaga is, if its that powerful, how can you underestimate its medicinal application?  Unless of course you’re in the States and the disclaimer is just because you’re afraid of being sued.

As with anything new you introduce to your space, try a little first, and if there are no adverse reactions, try a little more.

Consumption

One of the issues with most alternative medicines are that all are not equal. If you had 20 different Chaga’s they would all differ in quality. Chaga is no different and to receive efficacy, the preparation is VERY important.

Traditionally its grated into a fine powder and used to brew tea. Our limited homosapien digestive systems can’t digest raw mushrooms because the digestive system works too fast for the stomach acid to take effect. Medically speaking, an extraction process is needed to make some of the bio-active compounds bioavailable.

Summary

In essence, according to my theorising, chaga should, in a perfect world, assist your body to reduce anxiety, de-stress and allow the digestive and other key systems to work efficiently. Though there’s no strong scientific theory to support the benefits of Chaga, all of those benefits sound good enough on paper for me to give it a go.  If my body responds to it, whether that be because I’ve formed an intention around it or because its in that 30% placebo effect…who really cares..I say, just do what feels right.

Where can you get Chaga?

Come to Ubud! Ben Richards of Seeds of life is the local expert in making fabulous Chaga tea tonics.

He makes a decoction by using water extraction to simmer the chaga in clay pots from 30 minutes to 3 hours.  He cools the decoction overnight and wallah!  Chaga tonic!

He’s also about to release a dual extraction tincture using ethanol and water.  I’m really looking forward to trying it.  Seeds of Life is located at the Northern end of JL Gootama in central Ubud.

If you’re not in Bali, most good Health stores sell Chaga or Reishi powdered teabags which you simply add hot water to. Do your research first to check if its worth spending your money on a half assed representation of Chaga.

References

Facts of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with their Stress