The body will heal itself. Our bodies heal themselves. They knit themselves back together when cut, they process, digest, detoxify and remove built-up material daily. But we do have to give our bodies the proper environment in which to heal and stay balanced. Sometimes that requires some extra assistance, love and care. When our metabolism is cranked to just the right level, we’re eating combinations of food we digest, our digestive system is working properly, we are eliminating as we should, we sleep well and are drinking fluids that support these processes, we can more easily maintain our balance. But even in the best of circumstances, when following the regimen of an Ayurvedic lifestyle, regular cleansing is vital. The traditional teachings of Ayurveda, all emphasize the need for regular cleansing programs to reboot, restore and help cultivate the proper environment for self-healing. While an individually tailored program can be planned any time of the year, seasonal changes, when nature is already shifting, are particularly supportive for cleansing as this transitional energy fosters the body’s ability to let go. Cleansing programs can be as varied as the individuals engaging in them, panchakarma is the name of the uniquely Ayurvedic take on the practice. The Sanskrit term panchkarma translates to mean five actions, but its apparent simplicity belies the fact that different five actions are identified in different texts, and the categories include a wide array of variations on a theme, just as any Yoga pose contains an infinite number of adjustments. Additionally, panchakarma includes the preparation, known as purvakarma in Sanskrit. Preparation includes individually suggested dietary adjustments along with other practices such as regular warm oil massage and increasing internal oil intake to prepare the body to dislodge toxins and other materials. (See the following story on preparing for a cleanse.) Many purvakarma practices, particularly the use of internal and external oil, also serve to calm the airy, windy, changeable vata dosha. The vata dosha is disturbed or vitiated from overstimulation and the effects of unending demands, overwork, sleep deprivation and excess stress. The emotions of disturbed vata include fear, anxiety, uncertainty, emptiness and ungroundedness. Even the maelstrom of our everyday lives can be a source of stress. There are moments of positive stress that motivate us and get us moving, but there are also times when stress is unrelenting. The depleting effect of constant stress can hinder the body’s ability to turn its attention inward and support repair, rebalance and healing. The use of oil provides insulation and dampens outside noise. This is helpful for rebalancing the body, becoming centered and dealing with the continuous barrage of fear-based messages that we are being subject to at this moment in time. These messages continually disturb the vata dosha and the antidote is finding our own center. The soothing effect of oil helps return home to center. After preparing properly to often and lubricate comes the cleansing practices themselves. Panchakarma involves still more oil (both for calming vata and facilitating the removal of toxins) as well as uniquely chosen combinations of purgation, nasya (herbal nasal drops) and herbalized steam to liquefy toxins, calm excess doshas (energetic forces) stimulate sweating, and otherwise assist in detoxification. Working with a guide is helpful to both administer treatments and hold the space for the body to release and renew. For this reason, choose a panchakarma therapist who will help you to feel safe and who is a good fit for you individually. During a cleanse, it can be beneficial to take some type of break from everyday life. The time we take, and the money we may spend on services, is an investment in health. As we all evaluate our investments and habits, making the conscious choice to slow down, draw inward and spend time cultivating our health and well-being, has the potential to provide innumerable returns. Unplugging ourselves from the cell phone, Facebook, Twitter and email in exchange for silence and a meditation practice support the rejuvenation of our nervous systems. Stepping with our bare feet on the Earth, walking in the morning dew, inhaling the nighttime air and spending extra time in contemplation can be a valuable support for the cleansing, rejuvenation and healing processes. Sanctuary To support time away from the demands of daily life and provide an environment in which the body, mind and spirit can drop deeper within, many Ayurvedic practitioners and panchkarma therapists have created centers within, adjacent to and outside of cities to meet the needs of people in a variety of situations and circumstances for an hour, a day, a weekend, a week, or longer of snapshots of bliss or traditional cleansing programs. Blue Sage Ayurveda operates Blue Sage Sanctuary, a secluded gem amidst twenty acres of pine-blanketed Sierra Nevada foothills. Founder, director and primary practitioner, Ragaia Belovarac, created a sacred space on the land that combines his love of organic, sustainable design with his immersion into the practices and principles of Ayurveda. It is aesthetic in every detail. The interactions with the environment set up the conditions of internal healing. At Blue Sage they include: springs of rosemary, use of Trihealth thailams (massage oils) and Floracopeia essential oils in the treatment, palm oil candles made at the sanctuary, the carefully stocked kitchen spice cabinet and strategically placed Adirondack chairs gazing out over a sunset or bubbling spring. When I drove onto the property, my personal gate code ensured seclusion and time free from chance encounters. When I left my car behind, to be on foot for the rest of my time, I was free from the constant motion that is another hallmark of our vata-driven lives. Belovarac knows there is a healing power to the pause. Sanctuary guests stay in a private spa suite, without television, yet with a phone to reach the staff at any hour (and cell phone service, although I left mine on silent and tried to abstain). The view from the bedroom window gazes out over the hills, the only visitor a wandering midnight deer seeking sustenance from the pond. Mornings begin with chanting and silent meditation watched over by Quan Yin, a sentinel of compassion, and a reminder that on any road to health, we must walk with kindness. In the sun- kissed consultation room, Belovarac sets the program for the day, based on reading the tongue, the pulse and the myriad of other signs, signals and symptoms spoken by the body, interpreted by the practitioner. I’m used to examining my tongue daily; its coating or lack thereof provides information for my decision about what kind of tea I’ll make in the morning or what I’ll eat or not eat for breakfast. The magic continues in the spa treatment room. Abhyanga is the Ayurvedic oil massage using warm, soothing, vegetable oil, the type chosen is based on what brings an individual into balance. For example, sunflower and almond are lubricating and neutral, coconut is heavy and cooling and sesame is warming and nurturing. Both the use of aromatic essential oils or herbal compounds cooked into the blend heighten or alter the effects of the base oil and intensify its medicinal properties. Abhyanga can be done on oneself, by a practitioner, or in a practice that takes the experience to new levels—in tandem—which is one of the signature treatments of Ayurvedic bodywork. With four hands, the mind cannot as easily follow any one movement, dropping the attention even further inward on healing. Herbs, oils, mysterious potions and decoctions were dripped into my nose, left to simmer around my heart, rose up in aromatic steam, all with their own effect. After the briefest of stays, I had to leave to attend to deadlines, but left dreaming of days and days of transformational panchakarma. Health, after all, takes attention, and in Ayurveda, it is not enough to drop in once. We need to make it a priority to take time again and again to reduce the cumulative buildup of the detritus of everyday life that is just not released without some additional coaxing. This is why these practices that support the body’s ability to heal itself are an integral part of the Ayurvedic tradition.