(Last Updated on : 25/05/2013)
Pancha Karma is an extensive treatment process of Ayurveda that eliminates toxins and restores the body's health. This method cleanses the body, and also augments digestive and metabolic abilities. Pancha karma includes the three broad sub-categories of purva karma (preparatory procedures), pradhan karma (five important procedures) and paschat karma (follow up treatments). Among these three procedures, purva karma comes first and includes Paachan (Digestion), Snehan (Internal and external oleation) and Swedan (Fomentation).
Any person going through the process of paachan has to remain on a special diet of Ghee- clarified butter, which boosts the cleansing and digestive process, makes the elimination of impurities easier and lubricates the body tissues. After paachan, purva karma includes snehan. Snehan can be of two types, internal snehan and external snehan. In internal snehan, sidhdha ghrut (medicated clarified butter) or sidhdha taila (medicated edible oil) is administered orally in accordance with the dose prescribed by the Ayurvedic therapist. This ghee (ghrut) or oil is known as sneha. Acting as a lubricant to the entire body, it helps in reducing dryness. This applied oil finds entry into the dhatu (body tissues) and strotasa (body passages) and eventually purges out the impurities. The applied ghee if prepared from cow milk, works best. In external snehan, there are all kinds of body massages with the help of sneha, as intructed by the Ayurvedic physician. Sidhdha ghrut or sidhdha taila is massaged on the skin. Since our skin is a semi-permeable membrane some amount of ointment seeps inside the outer layer. A strict program of body massage according to the need of the patient is carried out to attain the desired level of snehan. A lustrous skin marks external snehan. This type of snehan is beneficial for skin problems or when the patient is in bed ridden condition for a long time. Swedan follows snehan, which implies dry or wet fomentation or heat therapy. There can be different types of fomentation procedures according to the need and body category of the patient. These are taking a sunbath, sitting in a bathtub, taking a steam bath, pouring hot water on the body or sitting in a specially prepared wooden sweatbox. Swedan can be applied to the whole body (below the neck), for the diseased part of the body (for instance, only the extremities), or the perineal region as per the need of the patient. Many kinds of warm poultices like cloth, sand bags, heat pads and liquids like warm water, water with milk, herbal potions and medicated oil can be used for fomentation. But every procedure should be carried out under the supervision of an Ayurvedic specialist.
Summarily, we can say that paachan, snehan and swedan are the procedures of purva karma that collectively help in the purgation of the deposited toxin, the settling of the imbalanced doshas, the opening of the clogged body channels and in lubricating the passages of excretion. In fact, purva karma is vital because it prepares the body for pradhan karma, another necessary step under panchakarma.