Ghee Day has arrived (Snehana)
And so, on Day 6 of my Panchakarma treatment, the dreaded ‘Ghee Day’ arrives – the day to face my fears with drinking medicated ghee.
Before my visit to Mountain Top Clinic I honestly hadn’t known much about what Ayurvedic Panchakarma treatments involved. Panchakarma was just something that I intuitively knew I needed to do for my health, to hopefully help towards purifying my body.
All the stories I had heard from people who had previously done a Panchakarma treatment focused on drinking the ghee. This was followed by a look of disgust on their faces. From this, I wrongly assumed that the drinking of the ghee was the actual Panchakarma treatment. I also thought that it was just regular ghee that was drunk, just like what you would buy at the supermarket.
So little did I know!
Preparation for Panchakarma
Drinking the medicated ghee is actually part of the preparatory Panchakarma therapy, which is called Purvakarma. Purvakarma involves several procedures that help the body move the toxins to the gut for removal during the following Panchakarma process. Purvakarama is essential, because if the body is not properly prepared, toxins (ama) lodged deep within the tissues, will not be removed when the five actions of Panchakarma are administered afterwards.
During Purvakarma, two main therapies are undertaken. Snehana, which includes internal and external oleation. Drinking the medicated ghee is the internal oleation which is carried out along with specific herbal oil massages for the external oleation. This is accompanied by Swedana which is sweating therapy. A simple Ayurvedic diet and lots of rest are also prescribed.
Ghee is used due to it’s oily warming nature. It is an excellent aid in bringing Vata and Pitta doshas back in balance. It transports the properties of the herbs to the deep tissues, helping the body to assimilate them and enhancing the digestion and absorption of the herbs. It moves the deep seated toxins drawn from the blood, muscle, bone and marrow into the gut ready for their removal during Panchakarma. Ghee also has a saturating effect, called oleation, on the body.
Dr Sundara suggests that for my treatment I will need to drink the medicated ghee for 4-5 days (I was hoping on only 3 days!). This will depend on how quickly the ghee reaches through the layers of my system to my bone marrow. He will monitor me each day just by taking my pulses (both right and left) to see how far it has reached. It first has to reach my blood, then muscles, then bones, and then the marrow! Let’s hope it gets there quickly! Come on body, absorb, absorb, absorb.
The ghee drinking process begins
On my first morning of taking the medicated ghee, Dr Sundara comes to my room at 7 am, before the sun begins to fully rise over the mountains, with a small goblet of ghee in hand. Help, the moment of truth!
To start the procedure we face east, with the cup held up towards the rising sun, and Dr Sundara chants a Sanskrit mantra whilst I am advised to visualise healing and focus on the mantra. Once the chant is complete I start to cautiously drink the ghee. Sipping it slowly and swilling it around my mouth to make swallowing it easier. Meanwhile, Dr Sundara is timing me to see how long I take.
Amazingly, it doesn’t taste as bad as I thought it would. Yahoo!!! All the medicinal herbs mask the ghee taste, making it not at all overpowering. It reminds me a bit of Indian sweets, but with a herbal peppery overtone and hardly any ghee taste.
For my first day the amount is 25ml, but on each subsequent day it will increase. Second day 50ml, third 80ml and the final day 110ml. The amount is increased until my body is saturated with ghee and I note an repulsion to swallowing it.
Days of rest and isolation
During the days of Snepahanam, after I finish drinking the ghee, I then need to rest in my room until mid-day. No internet use is advised and I am not allowed outside in the sun or wind, or to talk to others for the next 4.5 hours. Enforced rest. What to do?
There will also be no breakfast or other normal meals with the other guests. It will just be the ghee taken at sunrise and then, for lunch and dinner, a simple Ayurvedic kitchari made from rice, lentils, ghee and mild spices. I am to eat this alone in my room. Quiet introspection is required to help the ghee do it’s work within.
The highlight of the day is a lovely cup of ginger tea at 4pm. I think its going to be a long 4 days.
What is medicated ghee anyway?
My ghee has a name – Indukantham Ghritam
Much to my surprise, not only is it not just pure ghee, but there are also many types of medicated ghee formulas depending on the specific conditions to be treated.
My Ayurvedic treatment is mainly targeted towards better digestion and stomach issues. In sight of this, Dr Sundara advises that the ghee formula he will be using for me is called Indukantham Ghritam.
Ghritam means medicated ghee and is the Ayurvedic medicinal preparation in which ghee is processed with some Kashaya (herbal decoctions) and kalka (fresh herbal paste). The choice of decoctions and herbal pastes used are based on the formulas mentioned in the ancient Ayurvedic texts.
Indukantham Ghritam is known to be useful in the management of conditions observed mainly in the stomach and intestine. It is used for abdominal diseases including gaseous distension, loss of appetite, bloating, flatulence, intestinal gas, abdominal spasm or colic and similar conditions. It is generally indicated in abdominal disorders with the dominance of Vata Symptoms. In addition to this, it enhances immunity, improves complexion and strengthens the body. I’m almost beginning to look forward to drinking more of it!!!!
The ancient Ayurvedic recipe has around 12 or more herbal ingredients and is prepared using organic cow’s ghee as the base. And in my case, 10 year old ghee, as this is more effective than new ghee to treat specific diseases. Very special.
Ingredients for making medicated ghee
Dr Sundara explains how they make the Indukantham Ghritam and it is quite a complex procedure.
As with a lot of things Indian, mathematics comes in to play. There is a specific ratio of herbal paste, decoction and ghee in the procedure of making the medicated ghee. There are three parts to the process and three essential components. These components are called Drava, Kalka and Sneha dravya.
- Drava is the liquid to be used, which may be one or more in number depending on the formula. This may be Kashaya (decoction) – as in my case, Swarasa (fresh juice extracted from crushed leaves or whole herb), Dugdha (milk), Mastu (curd water), Mamsa Rasa (meat soup).
- Kalka is the fine paste of one or more herbal ingredients (either fresh or dried).
- Sneha dravya is the specific base material. Either Ghrita (ghee) or Taila (oil) can be used for this purpose, either one of them only, or together in combination.
The formulas from the Ayurvedic texts for mixing these ingredients vary depending on the specific Ghritam being produced, and the amount, and type of liquid and solid ingredients involved. For my Indukantham Ghritam, Dr Sundara tells me the following formula is followed (hopefully I understood this right!):
- Kalka (herbal paste) = one part by weight
- Sneha Dravya (10 year old organic cow’s ghee) = four parts
- Drava dravya (Kashaya herbal decoction) = sixteen parts.
Procedure for making medicated ghee
Once the Kalka (herbal paste) and Kashaya (herbal decoction) have been made, then comes the further steps of making the Ghritam preparation. This can take several days on the stove.
- The Kalka and the Drava are first mixed together in a vessel.
- Sneha dravya (ghee) is then added and this is boiled on a low heat. It is continuously monitored and stirred so that the Kalka (solid part of the mixture) should not stick to the vessel and burn as the liquid content slowly evaporates.
- A small amount is ladled out from time to time during the cooking process and tested to find out the condition and the stage of reduction. The stages are known as Paka. There are three main stages of Paka, which are used for different therapeutic purposes. The first stage, when the consistency is waxy, is used for nasal oil (nasya). The second stage, when the consistency is soft and non-sticky, is used for internal oleation and oral intake (snehana). The third stage, when the consistency is slightly hard, is used for external application such as Abhyanga massage.
The ghee is left to boil until no bubbles appear on top. When these bubbles no longer appear it means the medicated ghee is ready to store, as there is now no more water in the concoction. The final product is kept for cooling naturally and poured into glass bottles or aluminium containers.
Lastly, the medicated ghee is then placed in a space where it is infused with specific chanted mantras for at least 3 days! Sound vibration in Ayurveda is very important and is also used as a healing therapy.
After the ghee comes Swedana
In the afternoon I am allowed out of my room for my steam bath. Twenty minutes of sitting in the herb infused hot steam. Luxury.
This second part of the Purvakarma treatment is called Swedana (sweating therapy). It is a medicated steam bath and helps you ease into the process of detoxification. Sweating is used to open the pores and let the ghee work its way into the stomach ready for the removal of toxins in the Panchakarma therapy to follow.
The steam bath is actually a large upright box that you sit in on a stool, with your head sticking out of the top. The steam appears to come from a pressure cooker attached to a hose at the side of the box, which the therapist regulates to the correct temperature (without cooking you!). Two therapists monitor you, happily chatting away, giving you water to drink when needed and constantly checking that you are ‘ok mam!’ for the duration. They kept telling me I was “very strong”, so perhaps 20 minutes is a record!
After this treatment you are advised to stay in your room and rest again for half an hour. So, what to do, but take more rest!
Then after rest, at 4pm in the afternoon, arrives the best treat of the day – delicious fresh ginger tea. Bliss.
Drinking ghee is not that bad at all!
So after four days of ghee, just how did I feel? Well, pretty wobbly to tell the truth. The medicated ghee really does get into your system and you feel quite weak. The limited fasting diet of kitchari also has it’s effect. For some people it will be worse than others. Depending on how long the medicated ghee needs to be taken and on the severity of the symptoms and previous health of the patient.
However, the part I was fearing most of my Panchakarma treatement. The drinking medicated ghee, wasn’t actually that bad, even when swallowing the larger amount of 110ml. The medicinal herbs in the Indukantham Ghritam formula are actually quite peppery tasting which is a taste I like. Lucky for me I guess.
So, my advice to anyone putting off doing a Panchakarma treatment due to being scared of the ghee, is don’t worry, as it’s not that bad. The benefits will far outweigh the few seconds it takes to swallow it.
Next comes the actual Ayurvedic Panchakarma
After eight days of healthy diet, fresh mountain air, daily massages, steam baths and ingesting medicated ghee, Dr Sundara advised that I showed signs of complete internal and external oleation. I was ready to receive the first action of Panchakarma – Virechana (purgation), which would cleanse the small intestine.
Please see my next installment (coming shortly) for the story of my Panchakarma experience. This was far worse than the ghee!
For the two previous posts click below:
Further information about the wonderful benefits of drinking ghee
For those interested in some of the effects of ghee and why it works, I found these interesting websites, but there are many more: