Understanding ‘Karkidaka Chikitsa’, the rejuvenating and detoxifying Ayurvedic treatment for monsoon

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The monsoon is marked by a dip in temperature, mouthwatering delicacies, festivities, and the earthy scent of the rain that makes everything seem better. But, as we know, it also brings along a host of seasonal illnesses, mainly gastrointestinal and vector-borne infections. “Cold and flu are common during the rainy season and these are usually due to fluctuation in the temperature and weather conditions,” Dr Gaurav Jain, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine, Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital said. As such, it becomes crucial to adopt healthy lifestyle habits, especially during these months, for holistic well-being.

Agreeing, Dr Archana Sukumaran, an Ayurveda doctor (BAMS) at Kerala Ayurveda, explained that as the atmosphere transitions from hot, sunny, and dry to cold, moody and humid, the body takes some time to adjust. “It is believed that the body gets more vulnerable to respiratory, digestive, and musculoskeletal diseases during this time of the year. Conditions like joint inflammation and other inflammatory diseases, allergy, cough, cold, skin problems, digestive woes, and water-borne diseases are common in this climate.”

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Ayurveda, which is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body and spirit, highlights that seasonal changes can significantly lower one’s immunity. To overcome these difficulties faced by our body during this season, many practise the Ayurvedic protocol of ‘Karkidaka chikitsa’.

What is Karkidaka chikitsa?

Karkidaka or Ramayana masa is the last month of the traditional Malayalam calendar — from mid-July to mid-August. This year, it started on July 17 and will end on August 16. “Karkidaka also corresponds to the Shravana month in the South of India. In the Northern calendar, this falls between Amavasya of Shravana to Amavasya of Bhadrapad,” Dr Zeel Gandhi, In-house Expert(BAMS) for internal medicine, Panchakarma therapies, Yoga and Ayurvedic nutrition, Vedix, said.

As such, Karkidaka chikitsa is a special set of treatments adopted for this month, experts said. Dr Sukumaran highlighted that this protocol is not found in classical texts and has been formed over time in Kerala because of its geographic and climatic peculiarities. “It includes Keraleeya panchakarma chikitsa, diet modification, and healthy regimes. It has been followed by Keralites for centuries and has become one of the critical factors for health and immunity,” she said.

Kizhi (Source: Kerala Ayurveda)

This is because monsoon unleashes its full splendour and glory in Kerala and, thus, adopting a specific routine to maintain good health during this month is the traditional wisdom, Dr Gandhi said.

Ayurveda and monsoon

Ayurveda considers the monsoon (Varsha Ritu) as a period in which the Shareera Bala and Agni Bala stoop to their minimum.

Elaborating, Dr Sukumaran said: “The body is still processing the switch from the hot summer, and immunity is compromised during this adaptation process. Ayurveda addresses these changes with the help of three doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The balance between these doshas is very delicate, and a mild shift in atmosphere, diet, or regimen can disrupt the same.”

During this season, our doshas are impacted in the following ways:

*The piercing cold and unceasing showers aggravate Vata dosha.
*Pitta levels are irked by the amlavipaka (increased acidity) of plants and water bodies due to rain falling on soil heated by the summer.
*Kapha is also affected by the cold and humidity.

These altered doshiks levels lead to “reduced body endurance, and hampered digestive fire (Agni) challenge the overall health in this season- and this needs to be taken care of,” she said.

This is where Karkidaka chikitsa comes into the picture. On being asked why this treatment works best in the monsoon, the Ayurvedic expert explained, “The moist and wet climate cools down the body and makes the tissues soft enough to absorb the medications. As the Varsha Ritu is said to be the time that gives one energy (visarga kala) compared to the summer that takes away the same, it is safe to assume that the body is naturally ready for treatment. The Karkidaka chikitsa takes advantage of this vantage point.”

How does it work?

The goal of Karkidaka chikitsa is, as discussed, to restore the doshik balance. In Ayurveda, it is achieved by employing an appropriate diet, proper regimen, and authentic panchakarma procedures, Dr Sukumaran said. She noted that Karkidaka chikitsa is commonly done in a preventive aspect rather than curative.

Shirodhara (Source: Kerala Ayurveda)

She detailed the following three components of Karkidaka chikitsa.

Diet – Any diet plan should involve food that doesn’t cause trouble with digestion. The food consumed should be light, non-spicy, hot, and in less quantity. Karkidaka kanji or oushadha kanji is an exclusive medicated gruel, prepared with njavara rice, pulses, herbs, and spices. Ashta choornam, an Ayurveda remedy with carminative herbs, like hing, jeera help relieve bloating.

Regimen – Even though all three doshas are impaired, Vata undergoes more vitiation in Karkidaka. Avoiding regimens that further aggravate Vata should not be entertained.

Panchakarma procedures – Panchakarma purification therapies like Vasti (medicated enema), Vamana (emesis), Virechana (purgation), Nasya (nasal errhines) preceded by proper Abhyanga (Oil massage) with Dhanwantharam Thailam, Snehapana (administering of medicated ghee), and Panchakarma therapies like Pizhichil, Kizhi, Dhara, etc show best results in regulating the doshas.

Dr Gandhi explained that all Ayurvedic therapies begin with Shodhan (detoxification process). “Healthy detoxification may be attained via internal medicines. For most, it is via Basti Kriya — panchakarma. It involves a series of enemas, which help balance systemic Vata Dosha,” she said.

This is followed by Rasayana which is an Ayurvedic rejuvenation technique involving internal medicines. “Lifestyle correction and supportive treatments like Shirodhara, Kizhi Treatments (Pottali Massages), Pratimarsha Nasya, Abhyanga (Massages), Udvartana (Powder Massages), Swedana (Induction of Sweat), Bahya Basti (Kati. Janu, Hridaya), etc. An expert physician chalks out the rejuvenation plan for each after assessing their overall Prakriti, age, occupation, and life goals,” she explained.

Dietary modifications, according to Karkidaka chikitsa

Ayurveda believes that your digestion is at its weakest during monsoon. “This, in turn, is the trigger for all diseases in Ayurvedic wisdom,” Dr Gandhi said. Agreeing, Dr Sukumaran said that, thus, this is the season to eat mindfully and diligently as even the slightest carelessness can corrupt the Agni. Certain dietary modifications indicated for Karkidaka are as follows:

Consume seasonal vegetables and fruits (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

*Eat light.
*Favour sweet, salty, and sour food items.
*Prefer steamed foods instead of fried and baked goods.
*Stay away from refrigerated and frozen foods as they can aggravate Vata and Kapha. Choose freshly prepared foods.
*Use cow’s ghee instead of regular oil.
*Vegetable soups are an excellent option- they are light, hot, and easy to digest.
*For poor appetite, have a piece of ginger with salt.
*Consume seasonal vegetables and fruits.
*The rainy season is not an excuse to bail out your regular fluid intake. Drink lukewarm water, maybe with a dash of honey.
*Avoid leafy vegetables as they can vitiate Vata.
*Limit meat consumption, especially red meat, which takes more time to digest.
*Avoid curd. Use buttermilk instead.
*Undercooked foods like salads are not entertained in this season. Salads can be cold and Vata aggravating.
*Hot but healthy beverages like green tea and herbal tea are to be encouraged.

“Food should be warm and adequately spiced. Trikatu — a mix of black pepper, long pepper, and ginger — is the spice of the season. The famous Pathimukham water or Jeera water is excellent for health during this season,” Dr Gandhi added.

Tips for beginners

Dr Gandhi explained that transitioning from the hot, dry and sunny summer season to the cool, wet and gloomy monsoon is an artful balancing act. “Ayurveda advises never to bring abrupt and sudden changes. Forfeit a few daily and inculcate a few. This is called Ritu Sandhi Kriya, the slow transition at the cusp of seasons,” she said.

As discussed, Karkidaka chikitsa is a combination of dietary and routine modifications and purificatory therapies. Beginners must note that “while the former two can be set according to Ayurvedic rules and personal preferences, the Panchakarma therapies are not to be performed on your own. It needs precise guidance and expert surveillance,” Dr Sukumaran said.

*Do not indulge in excess exercises as it will increase Vata. Mild stretching exercises can be practised. Breathing exercises in Yoga can be practised while vigorous Yoga postures are avoided.
*Avoid day sleep and sleeping right after having food. It can slow down metabolism.
*Remind yourselves to clean and dry yourself, especially the foot. Avoid walking barefoot.
*Avoid overindulgence in sexual intercourse as it can trigger Vata.
*Minimise the use of air-conditioners.
*Wear thoroughly dried clothes only.
*Dhoopana (fumigation) is the Ayurvedic mode of disinfection and can protect you from vector-borne diseases. You can use lemon grass, cinnamon, clove, tulsi, or neem leaves.
*Doing a regular Abhyanga (oil massage) followed by a bath in lukewarm water will be refreshing. You can use complete nourishment oil like Dhanwantharam Thailam.
*For Panchakarma therapies, seek expert guidance and quality treatment.
*Relax. The ambience outside is perfect for de-stressing and unloading your worries. A healthy mind is as essential as a healthy body.

Along with your health, your skin and hair need special attention, too. Dr Gandhi suggested regularly massaging your skin with ubtan made of Vata-balancing herbs to help maintain skin immunity. She added, “Ensure your moisturiser and cleanser are apt for the season. Do not skip on the sunscreen as the UV radiation of the sun is not blocked out by the clouds.”

Kizhijk (Source: Kerala Ayurveda)

For hair, she advised oiling your hair before washing them. Additionally, do not leave the oil on and don’t get wet in rain.

Benefits of Karkidaka chikitsa

Calling it “a safe preventive measure”, Dr Sukumaran said that this Ayurvedic protocol helps mitigate the toxins that accumulate in the body during the shift of seasons by oxygenating the cells.

“It corrects the impaired metabolism and enhances the functioning of various bodily systems. This restores the balance of Tridoshas and protects them from further vitiation. The treatments reinforce immunity and safeguard the body from susceptible diseases,” she added.

Sharing the benefits of Panchakarma therapies, she said: “They are a vital part of Karkidaka chikitsa that ensures the flushing of excessive doshas out of the system.”

Talking about diet, the food and regimen advised for Karkidaka also helps break down fat tissues, thus bestowing a healthy body weight. “As the ultimate aim of Karkidaka chikitsa is to set your diet and regimen healthily, an overall improvement of health and a solid daily routine benefits the mind and soothes it,” the expert said, sharing how it aids one’s mental health.

Is it safe for everyone?

There are neither any harmful side effects nor an exception, experts said. “Ayurvedic therapies are tailor-made to suit everyone. There are no hard-set rules to be followed. So when an expert physician customises your Karkidaka therapy, one only benefits from it,” Dr Gandhi said.

Agreeing, Dr Sukumaran said: “Karkidaka chikitsa is a holistic healing practice that anyone of any age group could follow. It is a preventive treatment and, therefore, can be administered to any person with/without the disease. The instructions regarding the diet and regimen are suitable for everyone, from children to the elderly.”

The expert warned that panchakarma therapies require certain precautions. “All these procedures have clear-cut instructions in ancient scholarly texts, including indications, contra-indications, seasonal indications, dosage, benefits, etc. It is always safe to undergo panchakarma therapies under the supervision of experienced doctors. There is a lot of misinformation circulating about the same to lure people. If you are about to sign up for Karkidaka treatment, ensure that the source and the package are trustworthy,” she advised.

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