Ayurveda Panchakarma - a Cancer Cure?
Updated: Jun 29
Having completed six months of chemo for stage 4 Colon Cancer, in January of 2017, I set off to India's renowned Ayurvedic Research Hospital - Ayurveda Yoga Villa, which is known for it's treatment of cancer with Panchakarma.
I did not attend the centre with the intention of curing my cancer. My intention was to detox my body from the harsh effects of chemo.
Ancient Ayurvedic Panchakarma is the ultimate mind-body healing experience for detoxifying the body, strengthening the immune system, and restoring balance and well-being.
But is it really a cure for cancer like they claim? To be honest, I don't know. While I was there, five other people were being treated for a variety of cancers. Some had returned for treatment of a different kind after claiming that they were healed upon first visit to the centre. Those who had claimed to be healed of cancer through Panchakarma had caught their cancers in the very early stages - perhaps that makes a difference?
How long should you wait to detox after chemo treatment?
As for detoxing from chemo, the research I did suggested that chemo patients wait 6 months before any form of detoxing, as you may flood the liver with heavy doses of toxin which it can't handle and cause more damage to the liver. However, I attended the clinic only two months after chemo ended. Doctor Vipin, whose care I was under at the Villa, was careful to monitor the dosage of everything I was given in the program, so I always felt safe, however I believe I would have felt the benefits more had I waited the 6 months.
If you are considering attending Panchakarma at the Ayurveda Yoga Villa, this is the lowdown on what you can expect from the process. Dr Vipin allowed me to tape my sessions with him as he explained the theory behind each process.
What to Expect From Panchakarma
"You paid how much? To do WHAT?!" Such was the sentiment shared by friends after telling them of Panchakarma healing practices that included projectile vomiting, drinking warm cows urine, and medicated ghee. Did I mention enemas and purgation therapy? To say there was a lot shitting going on is an understatement!
Sometimes the diarrhea was so bad, I didn't even make it to the sanctity of a toilet. Par for the course apparently. Staff don't bat an eyelid at such indiscretions, happily cleaning up after you. Well, 'happily' might be an exaggeration, but Indians are way too polite to ever consider embarrassing someone. With so little fibre in the diet, I did wonder how so much poo could be produced! Excuse my crassness, but a month in such conditions leaves you free of inhibitions. Or is it dignity?
The Process At your first consult, you're asked to write a list of every place you have lived and worked, ALL the emotions you experienced in those environments (going all the way back to childhood), and your lifelong diet. You're also asked to write a list ALL your ailments. During your stay, they will treat everything on your list. Why is this necessary? Ayurvedic healing works on the premise that years of emotional suppressions create blocks to the body. A pathology is created inside the body unknowingly due to these suppressions. Ayurvedic healing works on everything from spiritual, emotional, physical levels.
For healing to occur on all levels, participants must attend daily Yoga, meditation, and Pooja rituals.
Twice daily yoga helps the whole body to get realigned and corrects energy flow physically and mentally.
Meditation calms the mind and instills mindfulness practices.
Pooja fire ceremony, held at 5am and 6pm, works on the theory that the light (fire) stimulates the eyes and brain (the optic neural effect as in NLP), while the smoke has a neural cleansing effect. The chanting, which we all engage in, is done because words carry a vibration which creates a neuro effect by restoring biochemicals of the brain cells.
The Link Between Emotions and Food
Dr Vipin (Director of the hospital and the cancer expert) explained that when we use words that cause pain in others, this causes disharmony which leads to the formation of viruses in our own body. Always words should make another feel uplifted. Hence there is a loosely enforced rule for NOT TALKING while you are eating.
Food is also considered an important component to healing and if taken with lots of conversation and subjective talk, it will not nourish the mind or energy body. Dependant on what is being discussed, a further energy block or suppression may be created.
But it's not only about the link between food and emotions. All food provided is grown on their organic farm . When meals are provided, there is a transfer of energy taking place through the food. Before serving at each meal sitting, the cooks and serving staff set the intention that they are using the food to 'heal'.
They do this through a song asking that the food be blessed with mother natures blessing. "Let all the powers of nature be in the food to heal the individual". That intention is there when food is harvested, prepared and served. Even the vessels used for cooking are intended for healing (no aluminium or teflon which create toxins if used for cooking over long periods).
The detox can also bring up some deeply repressed emotions, which you are encouraged to 'allow' without analysing - simply observe and let them pass. Very Vipassana-like. While I didn't have any such cathartic episodes, I did have a few crazy dreams (also to be expected). Dr Vipin said my dreams represented the fact that I hadn't fulfilled the male side of my nature. Completely true of course, and something I've been working on with vigour.
Giving and Receiving With Gratitude
Everything is being offered in an environment filled with loving, healing intentions. Just as food is blessed, so too are you being blessed before receiving every treatment, when being given herbal remedies at the pharmacy, during yoga, pooja and meditation. During the day, there is an elderly woman sitting in the main courtyard chanting about our healing and wellbeing. Love is considered a vital component to healing and you can feel it in every corner of the Villa.
And just as you are being given with love, you must also receive everything with gratitude, by setting your own intention to heal through respect and faith. In the first few days I had made exaggerated facial expressions to indicate my dislike of the medicated Ghee which I was given to drink. I was politely told that when I do this, I am showing a lack of gratitude to the person who planted the herbs, harvested them, prepared them, and served them.
More importantly, making negative comments or even thinking negatively about the treatments or herbal remedies sends a signal to the body to reject their healing properties.
Once I understood this, I ceased immediately. It's amazing how much easier it was to endure all sorts of herbal potions and treatments with a small adjustment in attitude. And so, just as the staff chant healing prayers before you, we are also instructed to set our own intentions before each event - also known as an auto suggestion.
With one hand on head, and another on head (a neural linguistic approach), we chant to ourselves "For the purpose of living longer and healthier, I am hereby subjecting my body for this process to get healed in body, mind, and spirit." This chant changes dependant upon the treatment, but this is the general idea.
During a one month stay, the process of detoxification is being introduced into the body. To be completed, it will often take another 90 days after returning home. It will also require following a strict alkaline diet and lifestyle change (i.e. no stress, living pure of heart and deed), and taking any herbs which have been given.
Every ailment you have can be listed and treated while you are there. This generally entails herbal concoctions made for you to drink daily. I was being treated for my thyroid.
After returning home, I still required an operation to remove the right side of thyroid. The nodules on my thyroid were causing me to choke on my food.
There are 5 processes in Panchakarma Detox. 1. Massage 2. Vomiting Therapy (Vamana )- for clearing toxins from the chest area - upper body 3. Nasal Therapy (Nasya) - clearing the head and sinuses 4. Purgation (Virechana) - eliminating toxins from the liver and stomach 5. Enema (Basti) - eliminate toxins from the lower intestinal areas
Every single day commences with a massage prior to any other treatment. The purpose of the oil massage is to eliminate toxins from the cellular level, improve lymphatic drainage, enhance blood circulation. Following the massage, you're washed down with a warm fermented liquid made of herbs and cows urine. This opens minute channels and alkalies the body.
Laying on a thick wooden slab, you are asked to strip butt bare, while a masseuse stands on either side of you, and in perfect rhythmic flow, they move from one end of your body to the other. Up, and down. Up and down. Its magical and something to look forward to for sure.
Day 1 - 4 Ghee Preparation (getting ready for vomiting)
In preparation for vomiting therapy, I visit the 'pharmacy' daily to receive a drink of warm ghee, which is blended with 30 local herbs. The goal of the ghee is to saturate your body inside and out and to bind with toxins which can then be removed from the cells.
My first day’s dose is 60ml. This increases each day - 60ml, then 120ml, then 180ml etc. The minimum time for consumption is 3 days. They assess your readiness to finish when an oil patch appears on the forehead. When your skin is dry - like mine - you can be stuck drinking this concoction for up to 7 days. I endured 4 days of ghee.
It's very thick and difficult to get down. You're given exactly 5 sultanas to help rid the taste in your mouth and at 3 hourly intervals throughout the day must take one small sliver of ginger. The ginger increases the digestive capacity to metabolise the ghee. You're asked to walk for one hour to aid digestion but then must spend the rest of the day being still. Avoiding talking. Drinking ginger water throughout the day. Only eating if really starving. The ghee actually takes away the appetite so you're not hungry anyway, hence, weight loss begins during this process - aided by the fact that ghee makes your bowels move big-time!
Under no circumstances must you fall asleep during the day as this slows the metabolism and the ghee has to metabolise and get digested. This is really difficult because you become very tired despite doing nothing. The plus side was that I read a couple of novels - something I haven't done in a long time! As with chemo, my body coped well with the treatment, and unlike many residents, I didn't suffer headaches and nausea.
Day 6 - Let The Vomiting Begin!
Vomiting Therapy eliminates toxins collected in the body and the respiratory tract. No amount of neuro linguistic programming could have prepared me for vomiting therapy. Of all the procedures in Panchakarma, this is the only one nobody talks about. Ever. There's a reason for that. People over the age of 70 aren't even allowed to do panchakarma detox and this particular therapy gives you an understanding of why!
Treatment begins at 5am. There are 2 doctors and two assistants in the room and I am asked to sit in front of a very large bucket. Did I say large? I meant HUGE. We're talking laundry hamper. First I'm offered a small bowl of rice with ghee and sweetener. This balances the dosha in your stomach to help you accommodate the liquid. That's a lie for starters because nothing helps you accommodate the amount of liquid that's coming your way!
The rice is yummy, and lulls me into a false sense of security, but only for the briefest of moments. I was unprepared for the 9 litres of liquid I was now expected to consume as quickly as I could without stopping - except when stopping to vomit! A minute after the sweet rice, I'm offered a spoonful of the most hideous paste - dark black, chewy, and incredibly bitter. I'm retching and gagging, unable to get it down .
First up is three litres of medicated milk. By the 2nd glass I'm complaining that my tummy is full, but they counter I need to be full to my neck. The assistant gently holds my elbow with his fingertips so that I can't put the glass down. The doctor gently rubs my back while I slump against her. I think I may be crying cause there's no turning back at this point.
My treatment gown is soaked already, partly from all the liquid I've spilled over the edge of the glass, and partly due to perspiration (or is it tears!). Suddenly I'm gripped by an unbearable piercing pain in my solar plexus region which has me doubled over. The doctor assures me that it's toxins coming up, and I projectile vomit. Litres and litres of vomit and yet I'm only on my 2nd glass of liquid!
The second batch is made up of 4 litres of a medicated liquorice concoction. Same as before.... I cry, sweat, double over in pain, and vomit after every 2 glasses. Half way through I add a little 'surprise' of my own. I'm sweating so profusely that I don't realise I have soiled myself! Yes, diarrhoea! A residual effect from several days of drinking ghee. Your sphincter becomes so loose that you have no control.
I thought it was beads of sweat dripping down between my butt cheeks! I've never been more embarrassed, but they assured me it happens all the time. On the plus side, it gave me a respite from the process while I cleaned myself up. A fresh gown, the procedure resumed. Crying, sweating, pain, vomiting.
The 3rd and final batch is made up of 2 litres of salt water. I'm asked to rub the back of my tongue with two fingers to assist in the last dregs of vomit being released and suddenly we're done. I've filled the bucket almost to the brim. A good days work. I'm utterly exhausted. The piercing pain in my solar plexus is completely gone.
There are many people who don't manage to vomit during this treatment. For them, the rest of the day is spent in their rooms dry reaching. While sitting on my porch I can hear them. All day long. On occasion I thought to summon a doctor because the sounds were so violent. Again, all par for the course.
I feel so blessed to have a strong body. Although this particular treatment was incredibly challenging, I walked away without any residual negative effects. It was that way with all the treatments I received. Originally the doctor suggested it might be a year before my body fully responded to the panchakarma detox. Before long he admitted I was responding very quickly, and healing would likely be met within 3 months. I handled chemo the same way!
Day 8 - You want me to drink what? Cow's Urine Medication for 20 days
No kidding. Twice a day, morning and afternoon, for the remainder of my stay, I'm sent to the Pharmacy for my glass of cow's urine. The pharmacy cafeis full, and we joke about it being 'happy hour' at the local. Nobody looks happy though. Imagine a day when your own pee smells highly acidic (and dark yellow in colour), multiply it by 10 - that's how it tastes and smells - only thicker. It's boiled with herbs and served warm. Yum. NOT.
Fortunately I have the ability to open my throat in such a way as to pour the liquid down while barely having to touch my taste buds. Not always possible when anxiety closes the channels involuntarily, but some people could only manage to sip it slowly. Oh so slowly. And as with all the treatments, those who systems can't tolerate the natural herbal remedies will spend a good part of the day feeling nauseous.
Why Cow's Urine? In theory it prevents cancer from returning by preventing cancer cells activating any stage further. EVER. Cow's urine medicine contains nano trace particles which purifies your system by extracting the alkali (it's powerfully alkaline). Strong herbs, which work on the deep levels of the cells, are boiled in the urine, making them deeply penetrating. The Villa uses fresh urine from its own pure-bred indigenous cows who are fed only fresh natural food and clean water.
For the remainder of my stay, I'm also given a daily dose of a tonic which eliminates all types of inflammation in the tissues and will optimise my health generally.
Day 8 - 14 Nasal Therapy
This is by far the easiest of the treatments. Nasal therapy is said to enhance mental and sensory acuity, promote mental clarity and emotional happiness, clear the nose and sinuses of obstruction, promote cleansing and flow of lymphatic fluid, bestow a clear voice, promotes lightness of the body, soothes dryness in the nose, and aids insomnia.
For 7 days, I receive head, should and neck massage followed by steam infused with eucalyptus applied to face and back. A few drops of medicated solution are poured into each nostril. It tastes rather fowl in the back of your throat. Right side. Left side. Repeat four times. Next, herbal smoke is inhaled through the nostrils and then the mouth via a pipe. The herbal stick looks like a thin smudge stick.
I didn't know I couldn't breathe clearly... until I could! Other than that, I'm thinking this therapy doesn't live up to expectation. I haven't had a full nights sleep in years, and Nasya didn't improve my situation. Seven days seems an unnecessarily long time for this therapy - particularly when I'm not experiencing any real benefits. Believe it or not, I was in a hurry to get on with the more gruelling treatments. Shame there isn't a therapy to cure impatience.
Day 15 Purgation Therapy One-off Treatment
Medicated purgation therapy removes 'Pitta' toxins accumulated in the liver and gallbladder, completely cleansing the gastro-intestinal tract, cleansing the lymphatic and circulatory systems at a cellular level. This is the treatment I've been waiting for. But there's a hitch..... It's not been long since my chemotherapy finished (only a few months). Chemo has already damaged my liver - causing me mild Fatty liver. When chemo toxins are released into the body too quickly through detoxification processes, it can cause more damage to the liver.
For this reason, I am only given a mild dose of purgation herbal medications. I'm given a spoonful of bitter paste followed by a tonic. Within an hour, I vomited it back up. The doctor thinks enough has been retained to successfully continue with purgation. Diarrhea in the form of a yellow sludge can occur between 14 to 30 times throughout the day.
Purgation is completed when the diarrhea runs as clear as water. Any medicine left in the body may be vomited out. I managed only 8 minor evacuations so I'm thinking the dose was too small, or I vomited too much of it away. I was really disappointed but better to be safe than sorry.
During purgation, you're confined to your room. Windows closed. Socks on. No activity except for reading. Warm water is consumed every 30 minutes, The kitchen staff visit regularly to replenish the water, and a doctor visits every 3 hours to check your progress. Day 16 is for rest and restoring the body after all the strain of Purgation.
Day 17 Buttermilk Therapy
Buttermilk Therapy clears the thinking and promotes sleep. When poured on the forehead between the eyes (the hypothalamus) the neurological and endocrine functions are stimulated. It's Cold buttermilk is slowly poured over your forehead for 10 minutes. Although very soothing, this did nothing to help me sleep.
Even while on chemo, I was given heavy sleeping pills which didn't work on me! We spent 7 days on this treatment which frustrated me somewhat as it meant less days for Enema treatment. Is it odd that I wanted more days of enema treatment?
Day 24 - 28 Enema Treatment
This is considered the mother of all Panchakarma treatments. Medicated oil and an herbal decoction is given as enema to clean accumulated toxins from the colon and increase the muscle tone. Basti is also highly beneficial as a rejuvenating treatment.
After a massage and steam application to the back, I lay on my left side while the medicine is working its way through my system. The tonic must be retained for a maximum of 15 minutes for optimum effect. I take my meditation music with me to help distract me for the duration. First day I last 10 minutes, and 15 each day after that. However, on the last day, I explode as soon as my feet touch the ground and a trail of excrement is left from the table to the toilet. By the time I return to the room, it's been cleaned and nothing is said. Even I'm use to it all by now!
This was my final treatment. I'm ready for home. No big cathartic moments. Not feeling 'amazingly incredibly well'. Time will tell.
3-Months Post Panchakarma
Did Panchakarma work? Who knows? That's like asking if chemo worked. As I said in the beginning, it is likely that I went too soon after finishing chemo. I'm a firm believer in medical models working hand-in-hand with natural healing. By the time I leave the Villa, the only real difference is that my body generally feels stronger (despite losing another 4 kilos). Within weeks of returning home, my blood tests show that everything looks to be the same as before embarking on the detox.
On the plus side, there were visible healing benefits seen for every single person doing Panchakarma while I was there. Participants reported feeling lighter, happier, and experienced significant weight loss, and physical and mental well being.
18months Post Panchakarma
Ten months after returning from the detox, the cancer returned in December 2017. However, my ex-husband was diagnosed with cancer a few months after I returned, and I cared for him for the next five weeks until he died. I believe the stress of this, and the stress of handling his complex estate is what led to the return of my cancer. As stated earlier, trauma affects the body at a cellular level, so in order for Panchakarma (or any healing model for that matter) to work long-term, there has to be a commitment to upholding changes in your life that are healthier than what was being lived by prior to the detox. Makes sense doesn't it?
I underwent more chemo, and surgery followed in June 2018. I'm back to healthy living and feeling positive about the future.
* TIPS FOR THE TRIP IF YOU"RE PLANNING TO GO*
If you're planning on doing this trip for Panchakarma, Cancer patients are encouraged to stay a minimum of one month - Preferably up to 3 months.
The drive from the airport is 6-8 hours - sometimes more - so be prepared for that. It's actually not that far distance wise, but India's traffic and roads makes this an arduous and longer than necessary journey. Expect to being in the car up to 6 hours. I went in February. Nights were very cold and days very hot. Take lots of socks, scarfs, cardigans. Although it's cheap to get your washing done, it can take up to 4 days for items to be returned, so remember to pack your washing powder to wash socks and undies in your room.
You'll be starting your day at 4:30am, so pack a good alarm clock.
Once you have completed Panchakarma, you must wait 2 years before doing it again.
If you are 70years of age or older you will not be allowed to do Panchakarma - it is too tough.
For more information on the Villa, you can visit their web page at Ayurveda Yoga Villa
SBS INSIGHT - "Can natural therapies coexist with medical models of health and healing? "
Ros's Guest Appearance 2022
Australians are among the highest users of traditional and natural medicines. But GPs and the mainstream healthcare system often don’t recognise alternative therapies.
The increase in those seeking alternative therapies, and disillusionment with mainstream medical interventions, prompted SBS Insight to do a program focusing on this very topic. I, and several others, were invited on the program to share our stories of success, and failure, using alternative therapies for all manner of conditions. We were also joined by experts in the field of medicine and alternative therapies. Watch the full episode below.
Want to Know More about Ayurveda Yoga Villa? https://ayurvedayogavilla.com/
Updates on my Panchakarma experience can be found in my memoir
my journey to emotional and spiritual peace through betrayal, grief and loss