In India, Panchakarma is widely practiced as an effective—and necessary—way to cleanse the body of toxins. It's beginning to gain popularity in Santa Cruz as Ayurvedic medicine takes hold.
Meaning "five purifications," Panchakarma combines several elements, including oil massage, meditation, steam, and a mono-fast of Kitchari, an Indian stew made from mung dal (yellow mung beans), Basmati rice and spices like ginger, cumin, and tumeric.
"It addresses things that western medicine has no way of addressing. It's not saying western medicine is wrong, but there is an alternate path that goes hand and hand," said Nagel of the cleanse, which she has seen cure asthma and some neurological diseases when done for a year.
Thanfully, Panchakarma normally lasts three or five days, but can be done for any odd number of days.
While it's not the kind of cleanse that turns your bowels to liquid for several days at a time, (although results vary), enemas of the small intestine and the eye treatment netra basti are a component of a traditional Panchakarma.
Clients also undergo Nasya therapy, which cleans out the sinuses with oil.
"Its basically like a Roto-Rooter for the sinuses," said Nagel. "It goes in and melts all of the yucky stuff that's been hidden in your sinus cavities, and you actually have eleven sinus cavities on either side, so you'd be surprised at what comes out."
A steam, herbal rub for blood purification, and thorough oil massage round out the treatment, which Nagel personalizes to fit each person's dosha, or energy composition
"The oil massage moves the lymph, and which oil is used is specific to which dosha is being addressed. The lymphatic systems is a huge part of being balanced," said Nagel.
Nagel has been practicing her own once-yearly Panchakarma for eight years now.
"If you can not get disease by getting preventative care, that's enough reason for me. Because I don't want to go down the same path that people in my family have," she said.
For healthy adults, the actual cleanse is strenuous, and you might not feel like a million bucks until it's over.
"Especially if it's your first time doing it, if you're thirty, that's thirty years of built up toxins that you're body is expelling, and it's not necessarily going to feel good. You're going to feel yucky," said Nagel.
If you're serious about Panchakarma though, you'll follow Nagel's advice and pencil in some time off to complete it. She even recommends unplugging from the world of TV, Internet, and cellphone to have a relaxing and introspective experience.
"It's a great time for journaling," said Nagel, who makes herself available to her clients 24 hours a day while they're undergoing the cleanse.
In preparation for a springtime cleanse (Panchakarma is ideally practiced in the Spring or Fall), I decided to cook a large batch of Kitchari which I ate for three meals a day, three days in a row.
A recipe from local Ayurvedic chef, Talya Lutzker, was surprisingly delicious—nourishing and grounding, a comfort food at its finest. But it was much easier to look forward to when garnished with a dollop of Greek yogurt and cilantro chutney from the downtown farmers market.
Yellow mung beans, the staple ingredient of Kitchari, are one of the easiest beans for the human body to digest, so the fast is effective in giving your digestive track a rest.
"They also form a complete protein with the rice," said Nagel, who encourages her clients to customize their Kitchari recipes to their tastes by adding more or less water, or vegetables that agree with your dosha.
In Ayurvedic medicine, a healthy digestive track as the core of good health.
Following the Kitchari fast, I found that I was much more conscious about my food choices, choosing the healthiest options suddenly came second nature. I can only hope this consciousness and restraint lasts through the sugar and alcohol-drenched holidays.