No caffeine, no alcohol, no sex, no exercise. You may have heard Kourtney talk about the cleanse known as Panchakarma, but what does it actually entail?
A tradition rooted in Ayurveda (a system of medicine based on rebalancing the body to prevent disease and promote optimal function), Panchakarma is an intense series of treatments alongside a dietary and bodily protocol for one, two, or even four weeks.
Kourtney loves to do Panchakarma at Surya Spa and tries to do it seasonally, so we reached out to none other than Surya’s founder and Ayurvedic guru Martha Soffer to get the 101 download because it’s a lot.
Why do Panchakarma rather than any other detox?
“The key to beauty and health lies in balance,” Martha tells us.
“In Ayurveda, that balance is seen as a balance of our doshas, the three fundamental energies which shape our constitution: fire (Pitta dosha), wind (Vata dosha), and the solidity of earth and water (Kapha dosha). Our bodies are resilient, intelligent, and work to maintain balance in the face of all challenges we meet from the world around us and our own inner lives.”
First things first—assess the imbalance by discerning your dosha.
It’s important to first assess what each client’s dominant dosha is and adjust the detox process from there. Every body doesn’t need the same thing, so Panchakarma focuses on a customized approach based on their doshas and imbalances. For example, Martha will prescribe the use of different herbs and spice mixes, depending on which dosha is out of balance.
But don’t beat yourself up over an imbalanced system. “Some outside challenges leave marks in the form of toxins in the body,” Martha explains.
“Think: pollutants, pharmaceuticals, and food that’s not so great. Other toxins come from within because when our emotions are out of balance, our body produces toxic byproducts that can lodge in our tissues. The problem with toxins is that they create a lack of balance. Unfortunately, that lack of balance creates more toxins,” she says.
ABD—always be detoxing. That’s our modern-world motto.
But sometimes, we really need that extra-deep, medicinal reset. That’s why having a professional (like those at Surya Spa) do an analysis to understand your imbalances, assess your dominant dosha, and make a curated plan is so beneficial.
The first step is to consult with Martha, either at Surya or remotely. This can involve pulse diagnosis, an Ayurvedic tongue examination, custom-made herbal remedies, customized oils, diet recommendations, at-home Ayurvedic rituals, and a personal treatment plan for your Panchakarma.
Next is the Five-Day Home Prep Cleanse, which involves consuming melted ghee (fully liquid form) first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. It starts small—one tablespoon the first day—and then increases in small, precise amounts set by Martha as she sees fit for each individual.
The cleanse also involves consuming a nutritious, fresh, vegetarian diet, where all food is cooked and served warm. That’s because warm, cooked food is much easier on digestion, and Panchakarma is all about making things super simple on the body. That also means low stress and lower activity instead of vigorous workouts or a super active, high-anxiety lifestyle.
Ghee is a clean fat that binds to toxins for the first four days. On the fifth day, castor oil is ingested to remove the bound toxins from the system via elimination. It’s basically a laxative. so plan on a few hours alone for this process (wink).
Finally, the third step is where the magic really happens—the treatments. Of course, nutrition plays a huge part in the outcome, so the at-home dietary guidelines must be practiced throughout the process. But this is where each detoxer comes in for their Panchakarma Series, which can last from three days to four weeks. Each day consists of four hours of treatments, tailored to each individual by Martha, during which two therapists work on you with oils that are herbalized and cooked overnight.
Every treatment day begins with a four-handed abhyanga massage, followed by the individual treatments Martha prescribes for your healing needs. Each day’s session ends with a light Ayurvedic enema known as a basti, the wonderful shirodhara, in which warm, herbalized oil is poured in a gentle stream over your forehead, creating a transformative and lasting state of profound peace and well-being.
Profound peace and well-being? Sign us up! It is a spa, after all.
Martha shares some treatments and terms to familiarize us with what might happen during a Panchakarma experience. Peep her glossary below:
Each day of Panchakarma begins with a four-handed oil massage where two therapists work the entire surface of your body in perfect symmetry. Abhyanga brings both sides of the brain into harmony while the herbalized oils work into tissues. Lymph is mobilized, and toxins dislodged.
In Ayurveda, the custom herbalized oils are fundamental. In addition to being used in massage, oil is a transport system that delivers healing botanicals to your body and carries away toxins released by the treatment. Warmed oils create an improved sense of physical well-being by nourishing the body.
These cotton-wrapped bundles of chickpea flour and custom herbs are soaked in heated oils before the therapists use them to massage the body. Boluses invigorate the skin, improve circulation, and work the healing herbs deep into the body.
These are one of the most important Ayurvedic treatments. Light, medicinal enemas are custom-designed from combinations of oil, water, and herbs. The gentle cleansing action of the basti reaches deep into the body, repairs damage from rich and processed foods, and aids the liver in shedding toxins.
This invigorating technique counteracts excess heat in the body by using hot, milk-soaked boluses to increase circulation and heart rate before the cooling process lowers blood pressure and releases toxins.
A vigorous, four-handed, exfoliating scrub using herbs and ingredients such as coffee, brown sugar, and orange, udvartana is transformative for the skin, reducing itchiness and irritation, cleansing sweat glands, and freeing toxins caught in joints and muscles.
A steam therapy using a single-person sauna with moist heat to aid limberness while releasing toxins and relieving inflammation.
Once exclusive to ancient Indian nobility, pizichili (known as the Royal Treatment) is an oil bath without immersion. Two therapists send never-ending streams of warm oil flowing across the body for a minimum of two hours. This incredibly subtle massage regulates blood flow, penetrates deep tissues, and opens the mind to elevated states.
Each day of Panchakarma ends with this remarkably soothing technique where a thin stream of herbally-infused oils or coconut water pours onto the forehead for 30 minutes. The gentleness of this massage induces a state of total relaxation, stimulates the brain, and often conjures an egoless experience found in deep meditation.
Ghee, or clarified butter, has been at the heart of Ayurvedic therapies and diets for thousands of years. It’s made by removing the milk solids from butter’s liquid fats. When the lactose and animal proteins are removed, pure, golden ghee remains, rich in essential fatty acids and vitamins.
Castor oil is mixed with herbs and taken in a prescribed dose to stimulate the organs of elimination like the colon, bladder, and uterus (for menstruating people). It can also be applied topically or as a pack to relieve inflammation. As previously explained, it transports toxins out of the body after they have bound to ghee.
Want to make your own Panchakarma-approved meal? Try these super simple and adaptable mung bean pancakes by Surya Spa.