Panchakarma: America gets a lesson on Ayurveda from football great Aaron Rodgers

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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers created a firestorm on social media when he revealed he had gone through an ancient Ayurvedic regimen to cleanse his system. In so doing, he also brought Ayurveda into mainstream discussion and consciousness,

Pat McAfee Show still where McAfee is interviewing Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers Feb. 22, 2002. Photo: videograb from Twitter @patmcafeeshow

For Rodgers, a “reigning MVP” as Sports Illustrated described him, this is not the first time he has caused social media to explode with news about him. He caused a fierce debate to erupt after he tested positive for COVID –19 and admitted he had not been vaccinated, this after claiming earlier that he was “immunized” against the deadly virus.

The positive outcome of Rodgers’ tweets, despite some   skeptical responses, is that a light has been shone on Ayurveda.

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While wellness guru Deepak Chopra has entered the American social and medical fabric in no uncertain terms, and has practiced Ayurveda for years on these shores, there are other well-known American exponents.

United States houses one of the most well-regarded Ayurvedic treatment centers, The Ayurvedic Institute in New Mexico, headed by Vasant Lad. Lad not only has several degrees in Ayurvedic medicine from Pune, but also studied Western allopathic medicine and surgery(ayurveda.com).

Another noted expert of Ayurveda in the U.S. is Dr. David Frawley, also known as Acharya David Frawley and Pandit Vamadeva Shastri. He received the Padma Bhushan award from India in 2015.

Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers appeared on the Pat McAfee Show on Feb. 22, with an expectation that he would discuss his future plans. Instead, the famous quarterback discussed the benefits of Panchakarma or cleansing and healing method he underwent, and its benefits for him. (See Box Item at bottom for description of Panchakarma)

“I just came out of a 12-day cleanse where you’re eating a specific diet and you’re going through these treatments everyday,” Rodgers said, according to a Twitter video of the McAfee Show. “You’re not really doing anything else. You’ve gotta kind of turn everything else off. You’re not working out, you’re not straining or anything. It’s kind of a re-centering, it not only heals you physically but I think it takes away mental stress. And then the spiritual part, I think it allows you to kind of enjoy the meditations a little bit more,” Rodgers went on to say.

When he came out of that 12-day regime, Rodgers said he felt “intense amount of gratitude” for his life and the people in it.

Indian-American wellness guru Deepak Chopra commented in the Sports Illustrated article about what Panchakarma was all about. His Chopra Centre For Wellbeing in Carlsbad, California. Incorporates Panchakarma in the Ayurvedic treatment practiced there.

“The Chopra Centre offers an extensive selection of authentic Ayurvedic massage treatments for cleansing, healing, rejuvenation, and many other specific purposes,” says the   website.

Chopra explained the whole Panchakarma process to Sports Illustrated ending up by saying, “For many, Panchakarma ends up being an unexpected and powerful journey into the healing process.”

Dr. Navin Shah, a urologist in Maryland and past president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), told News India Times how he tried to popularize Ayurveda in America, even taking a team of doctors, including one from Harvard, to India to look into the potential and the possibilities.

“I tried to get Ayurveda into the medical practice here, into medical education and research, but because all of the evidence was historical or anecdotal, and there was not a large, long-term follow up study or body of published research, it was hard,” Dr. Shah said.

Evidence-based Research

The National Institutes of Health has a section about Ayurvedic Medicine – where it asks and answers the question about the Indian medical system, describing it as “based on ancient writings that rely on a “natural” and holistic approach to physical and mental health.”

According to NIH, “Few well-designed clinical trials and systematic research reviews suggest that Ayurvedic approaches are effective.” It quotes studies that show Ayurveda’s remedial effects for osteoarthritis and pain. It also mentions the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) studies in 2011 as well as others where rheumatoid arthritis remedies, as well as type 2 diabetes were studied but with small populations in the sample. It also acknowledges that turmeric, an herb often used in Ayurvedic preparations, may help with ulcerative colitis. But it does warn against some metals, minerals or gems that are used in the preparations.

In fact, NCCIH is currently funding research that builds on earlier investigations into breast cancer survivors that found a positive effect of integrated Ayurvedic medicine into the lifestyle of people.

Notably, the NIH website – pubmed.gov – cites at least 164 studies on Panchakarma alone when this writer did a search of the site. To name just a few – “Guidelines for safer panchakarma practice in non-covid clinical care during corona pandemic” by SN Dornala and R. Ayyagari; and “Panchakarma in autoimmune pancreatitis: A single case study” by RP Patil, PD Patil, and AB Thakar; and “Ayurveda and Panchakarma: measuring the effects of a holistic health intervention” by L. Conboy, I. Edshteyn, and H. Garivaltis.

Teaching Ayurveda

Dr. Marc Halpern of the California College of Ayurveda in Nevada City, CA, said even though there is evidence-based research on Panchakarma, it needed to be expanded and awareness raised about it.

Dr. Halpern is a pioneer in Ayurvedic medicine in the United States and was instrumental in helping establish the California College of Ayurveda (ayurvedacollege.com) in 1995, to train students. He has written prolifically about Panchakarma and Ayurveda in general.

In an interview with News India Times, he said referencing the Aaron Rodgers incident, “Any time a celebrity utilizes Ayurvedic medicine, it increases awareness of Ayurved. It is a very positive thing.” At the same time, he noted, “There will always be critics of alternative medicine, until Ayurvedic medicine gets licensed in United States and the profession becomes established in a manner that is evidence-based for its effectiveness.”

Dr. Halpern, who was a practicing chiropractor before he got interested in Ayurveda in 1991. He got interested in the ancient Indian medicine because, “It was the only science that addressed the cause of suffering and how to alleviate it. It is such a beautiful science,” once that understand that the physiology of human beings is connected to living in harmony with nature.

The CAA curriculum includes California State-approved programs in Ayurvedic Medicine and the institution operates a community Ayurvedic Healthcare Center as well as an Ayurvedic Day Spa which incorporates panchakarma, rejuvenation, yoga, meditation and Lifestyle counseling.

“I am very optimistic about Ayurveda being established in United States. In fact, the practice of Ayurveda is already widespread. There are hundreds if not thousands who are practicing it and most of them have studied in the United States,” Halpern told News India Times.

One of these ‘hundreds of thousands’ of practitioners is a student named Anna, who wanted just her first name used here. She is halfway through her studies at the California College of Ayurveda, but lives in Canada and works at the Institute of Holistic Medicine in Ontario. She told News India Times that while she has not done the 12-day Panchakarma regime, she has studied it and it is a tough regime. “A lot of people from Canada go to India, especially Kerala, for Panchakarma treatment,” she said, describing Ayurveda as a “beautiful science,” echoing Halpern.

“Panchakarma can be done either for prevention of disease or optimizing health, or for treatment and management of a disease,” Halpern said.

“Panchakarma is not just one set of practices. It is a methodology of cleansing the body, or rebalancing the physiology of the body. It is applied differently to different patients depending on their state of well-being,” he added.

Introduction to Pañcakarma

(Section from the textbook by Dr. Marc Halpern, “Principles of Ayurvedic Medicine” which will be released in late March 2022. Provided by Dr. Halpern).

Pañcakarma is strong reduction therapy. It is the single most powerful healing therapy utilized in Āyurveda. It is applied for the purpose of eliminating āma and excess doṣas in strong patients and is beneficial in the healing of many conditions. Pañcakarma can only be performed on a strong patient and requires proper preparation before beginning. Pañcakarma is a process, not a procedure. It is the process of removing āma and excess doṣas from the body and mind and then rebuilding the internal strength (ojas) of the body. There are three components to the process of pañcakarma; pūrva karma (techniques for preparation), pradhāna karma (techniques for elimination) and pashat karma (follow-up techniques for rejuvenation).

Pañcakarma begins with proper preparation to ready the body for the elimination of āma. This process, called pūrva karma, can last from 3-21 days. The second phase of pañcakarma is the actual elimination of āma and excess doṣa. These are the main practices of pañcakarma. This phase is called pradhāna karma. This process takes anywhere from 5-10 days. The final phase of Pañcakarma, called Paścāt Karma, is considered follow-up practices to rebuild the strength of the body. This phase of care takes 21-28 days. Hence, a complete program of pañcakarma, properly applied, can take nearly two months. Each phase is essential to the process and failure to properly perform any one of them decreases the results.

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