Transforming Digestion with Rejuvenation Therapy

By Linda Egenes

Mary Norvell, a lawyer from San Diego, suffered from a range of health problems. Plagued by debilitating pain in her neck, shoulders, back and hip, she also was feeling muscle weakness in her knees, elbows and hands. Worse, she couldn't fall asleep at night, which was affecting her mental and emotional health. Her digestion and elimination were off balance and out of control.

At the advice of her doctor, Mary decided to take a week of the Maharishi Rejuvenation physiological cleansing program (called Panchakarma in Sanskrit) at the Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center in Lancaster, Massachusetts.

"The spa treatments have been tremendously helpful," Mary says. "Today I am happy to say that the weakness in my right elbow is almost gone, as well as the pain and tightness in my neck, shoulder, left hip and back. Now I'm falling asleep on schedule, and that is significant. My digestion and elimination are back to normal."

Like Mary, thousands of people around the world have taken the Maharishi Rejuvenation (Panchakarma) program at in-residence facilities like The Raj Maharishi Ayurveda Health Spa in Fairfield, Iowa. They have found benefits for a wide range of health issues, from allergies to fatigue.

How do these treatments work? A key feature is their focus on digestion.

An Ancient Rejuvenation Therapy Treats Digestion First

Vaidya Vaidya, the ayurvedic expert at the Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center Lancaster, explains that people seek out Panchakarma for a wide range of health issues, and most of these imbalances have their root in slow or disturbed digestion. "The Panchakarma treatments are so effective because they help boost digestion and restore it to normal," he says.

Panchakarma, defined as the five actions or five therapies, is a central rejuvenation spa-regimen of Maharishi Ayurveda. According to the classical ayurvedic text, Charaka Samhita, the five actions for purifying and rejuvenating the body include Virechana (cleansing of the small intestine — laxatives and purgatives), Basti (cleansing of the large intestine — enemas), and Nasya (purification of the nasal channels) and other treatments for rejuvenating the tissues and balancing the effects of stress on mind and body.

"Panchakarma is even more important in modern times, because a high-stress lifestyle leads to disturbed digestion," says Vaidya Vaidya. "And when digestion is slow, digestive toxins called ama build up and affect all the systems and organs of the body."

Vaidya Vaidya explains that traditional Vedic texts cite benefits such as balancing and supporting vitality, fertility, digestion, and memory, as well as enhanced luster of the skin, clear complexion, slowing of aging, strong and sweet voice, improved physical strength, enhanced power of the sense organs, support for healthy joints, and increased calmness and evenness in the mind and emotions.

A number of research studies have reported similar results. For example, a pilot study published in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality showed that, compared to control subjects, people who received Maharishi Rejuvenation (Panchakarma) treatments reported significantly greater improvements in the following: well-being, energy and vitality, strength and stamina, appetite and digestive patterns, previous complaints, and rejuvenation and youthfulness.

Individualized Treatments

Mary, like other visitors to the Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center Lancaster, received a range of rejuvenation treatments that were recommended to support her specific health and wellness goals. Throughout the week, she had several consultations with Vaidya Vaidya, and also took classes in ayurvedic knowledge. She was given customized dietary recommendations to help restore balance to her mind-body system.

"Having a Maharishi Ayurveda expert (vaidya) who could offer recommendations for the underlying imbalances is extremely helpful," says Mary. "Here I've not only learned a great amount of ayurvedic knowledge, but have learned the scientific principles for this ancient health care system as well."

Mary also enjoyed the spacious and beautiful grounds at the Lancaster Health Center, which she found conducive to the relaxing and calming effects of the Maharishi Rejuvenation program.

While each person's program will vary according to their health concerns, one of the core therapies is soothing ayurvedic oil massage (Abhyanga), administered by two technicians working in synchrony. This helps loosen toxins from the tissues so they can be eliminated from the body. An even more luxurious massage called pitzichili uses cascades of warm, soothing oil that has been infused with herbs that are specifically balancing for the individual.

Nasya is an important Panchakarma treatment, which gently cleanses and opens the nasal passages. The nose is considered in ayurveda to be the gateway to the head. Ayurvedic texts indicate that Nasya is beneficial for those with allergies and sinus problems, and the texts mention that it supports sleep, intelligence and memory, and bliss. A traditional ayurvedic recommendation for wrinkles, complexion, occasional head pressure, and to support the eyes, shoulders, neck, and chest, Nasya is also considered good for the hair.

Another spa treatment is Virechana, a program of mild laxatives and purgatives. This therapy is said to cleanse toxins from the blood, sweat glands, kidneys, liver, spleen, and small intestine. "Virechana is good for Pitta disorders," explains Vaidya Vaidya. "It is useful in maintaining joint health and a healthy genitourinary system. It is also helpful for increasing digestive fire (agni) and for supporting mental clarity and radiant complexion."

A Basti, or mild herbal enema, is another traditional Panchakarma treatment. "According to the classical ayurvedic texts, Basti balances Vata, and because Vata leads the other doshas, it is a very important treatment for all imbalances," says Vaidya Vaidya. There are two kinds of Basti: a nutritional Basti and a cleansing Basti. In general, Basti is traditionally recommended in the ayurvedic texts for Vata imbalances such as constipation, tremor, stiffness and discomfort in back and hips — and to support bone and joint health.

Reducing Toxins and Other Complaints

Another common problem is exposure to environmental pollution in our food and water, which results in the build-up of harmful toxins in the body. Research published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine in 2002 has shown that Maharishi Rejuvenation (Panchakarma) treatments significantly reduce harmful fat-soluble occupational and agricultural toxins. The results of the two-month longitudinal study showed that PCBs and Beta-HCH levels were reduced by 46 percent and 58 percent respectively in the Maharishi Ayurveda detoxification group. Without this detox program, the expected drop in PCBs and Beta-HCH over two months would be only a fraction of one percent. And previously, no method had been scientifically verified to reduce levels of these lipid-soluble toxicants in the human body without causing negative side effects.

For example, a woman who came for treatments several years ago had been tested and showed high levels of heavy metals. After one week of treatment she went back to her doctor and was tested again. The level of toxins tested normal. Now she comes regularly for cleansing Panchakarma treatments.

A man complained of a back problem and was having problems sitting and walking. After five days of massage and other Maharishi Panchakarma spa treatments at Lancaster, he reported that he was experiencing better mobility and the pain had subsided.

"Maharishi Panchakarma is ideal for keeping the tissues healthy," says Vaidya Vaidya. "And healthy tissues — the blood, muscle, fat, bone, etc. — are the basis for good health."

For more information on Maharishi Rejuvenation (Panchakarma) programs:

  • The Raj Maharishi Ayurveda Health Spa in Fairfield, Iowa. Call 800-864-8714, ext. 9000.
Research on Maharishi Panchakarma
  1. Hari M. Sharma, Sanford I. Nidich, David Sands, and D. Edwards Smith. "Improvement in Cardiovascular Risk Factors Through Panchakarma Purification Procedures," The Journal of Research and Education in Indian Medicine, Vol. 12, No. 4, pp. 3-13, 1993.
  2. Rainer Waldschutz, Influence of Maharishi Ayurvedaa Purification Treatment on Physiological and Psychological Health, Erfahrungsheilkunde—Acta Medica Empirica (German medical journal), Vol. 11, pp. 720-729, 1988.
  3. Robert H. Schneider,* Kenneth L. Cavanaugh, H.S. Kasture, Stuart Rothenberg, Richard Averbach, Donald Robinson,* and Robert Keith Wallace. Health Promotion With a Traditional System of Natural Health Care: Maharishi Ayurveda, Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 1-27, 1990.

The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.