Ayurvedic Methods to Detoxify

Flickr-fennel-jenny downingMelissa Camacho, Guest
Waking Times

There are two methods of treatment to detoxify using Ayurvedic means: Shamana, or palliative therapies; and Shodhana, which is panchakarmaShamana consists of dipan (kindling the digestive fire), pachan (burning ama), fasting, observing thirst, exercise, sun or moon bathing, and specialized breathing or pranayamaThis article focuses on the process in which one approaches a regimen of detoxification, including how to go about choosing between getting Panchakarma or sticking to the more gentle methods of Shamana.  

Shamana vs Panchakarma

Panchakarma (literally the five actions), as many of you know, is an elaborate process of detoxification that is done under the supervision of a trained professional and takes a good amount of time and energy. Here in the west, it lasts usually anywhere from one to two weeks. In India, it can last for up to 40 days. Simply put, Panchakarma focuses on eliminating the excess dosha(s) out of the body, as well as transforming ama. Favorable times for this treatment is the end of winter for Kapha predominant people, the end of spring for Pitta predominant people, and the end of summer for Vata predominant people, though this does depend on specific environmental factors. Shamana (palliation) consists of gentler methods of detoxification and treatment of the doshas. It focuses more on eliminating ama, kindling agni, and suppressing the doshas inside their respective “seats.” Spring is an appropriate time for proper palliation.

Both methods have contraindications. The key to detoxifying in this way, is to know thyself. To know thy body. If you are stronger and more stable of body and mind, you can do panchakarma and a more elaborate Shamana regimen. If not, then these methods may not be for you.

  • I’ve written this article because I’ve seen and treated many who have become emaciated and weak during the process and in the name of detoxification. According to Ayurveda, the detoxification process should leave the dhatus (tissues) and rotas (channels) strong. Panchakarma and prolonged time periods of palliation are contraindicated for pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, the weak, the elderly, the emaciated, those with chronic degenerative diseases including cancer, and/or chronic mental health problems. Also, it’s unwise to start a detoxification program during times of great transition or trauma, i.e. a divorce or loss of job. Ayurveda is all about digestion of experience and food. One process at a time according to one’s agni.

    Palliative detoxification methods are best for those who have families, work full time, and have moderately stressful lives. It takes energy, dedication, and presence to undergo a detoxification regimen. The key is to not overdo or deplete the system to the point of causing weakness or damage to the agni or doshas. Also, it is very important to remember that detoxification of any kind consists of three parts: preparation, detoxification and nourishment. The last step is crucial for the maintenance of a strong, vital body.

    Detoxing with Shamana

    The subdivisions of Shamana are dipan (kindling the digestive fire), pachan (burning ama), fasting, observing thirst, exercise, sun or moon bathing, and specialized breathing or pranayama. Each subdivision can be utilized as a treatment independently or can work simultaneously depending on the practitioner’s intention. Below are some tips on how the Shamana methods, done simultaneously in a program, can enhance the detoxification of ama, or toxins, in the body. This is a huge subject and, therefore, can only be briefly touched upon here.

    Dipan, Pachan, Fasting, Thirst

    First things first. Look at your calendar. How long can you dedicate to an ama cleanse? As already mentioned, preparation and timing are important.  I recommend a cleanse of 14-40 days depending your level of doshic imbalance, stress and quality of ama. Secondly, check in with your Pitta dosha. Eliminating ama can sometimes aggravate Pitta or Pitta predominant people. Make sure to calm the Pitta before focusing on an ama cleanse. Next, onto burning the ama and kindling the digestive fire. The idea here is to avoid anything that creates ama (heavy, oily, sticky, cold foods), while at the same time integrating substances that kindle agni. Eat small meals at the same time daily. Integrate agni stimulating appetizers such as a mixture of raw ginger, Himalayan salt, and lime into your daily menu. Add spices such as ginger, trikatu, cumin, coriander, and fennel to simple foods such as steamed vegetables, soups and salads.

    During this time, I recommend two kinds of fasting to lower ama: a monodiet of kitcheri, or a cumin, fennel, coriander tea fast. Take only one day out of the week to fast and have it be the same day weekly. Please refer to the kitcheri recipe on Ayurveda.com or Mira Murphy’s cookbook. Listen to your body and take it easy physically on the days you fast. Adhering to thirst is for more advanced Kapha pathologies.

    Exercise, Sun and Moon Bathing, Pranayama

    Exercise daily and focus on movements that strengthen the core such as boat pose, twists and leg raises. Sun bathe regularly and at the minimum of three times a week. While sunbathing, expose the midriff to the sun and receive the healing rays of the fire element above as it connects to the fire element in the body. Moon bathe during this time, either to cool off Pitta dosha (if it’s getting aggravated) or on the night of the full moon to cleanse the liver. Do fire breathing daily. Make sure, if you’re susceptible to headaches, to be aware of too much heat in the head.


    Towards the end of your Shamana program add nourishing substances back into your diet slowly. Take at least 3-5 days to integrated heavier foods such as organic dairy products and small amounts of the sweet taste. I suggest taking Chyavanprash or Shaktiprana during this time. Again, you can find these on Ayurveda.com. These are rejuvenatives that are deeply nourishing to the body. Don’t overlook this important step. Please contact me or your local and highly qualified Ayurvedic Practitioner if you have any questions.

    Blessings and Namaste.

    About the Author

    Melissa Camacho is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Clinical Ayurvedic Practitioner.  She is a graduate of the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and received her Master’s of Science in Oriental Medicine from Southwest Acupuncture College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Her path in the healing modalities started in 2001 as a buyer for aromatherapy and organic body care products in Boston, MA.  More recently she’s enjoyed teaching Ayurveda to yoga teachers in training and AyurYoga classes in Arizona and New Mexico.  Additionally, her clinical practice in Sedona, AZ integrates the modalities of traditional Chinese medicine including acupuncture, massage, and moxibustion. You can reach Melissa at info@grandcanyonstateacupuncture.com.

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