A major component of Ayurveda’s Panchakarma cleanses, Basti is imperative for the purpose of clearing disease due to Vata Dosha and promoting longevity. Basti, which is an Ayurvedic enema, is a suppository that can be made of either tonifying or purifying substances. While receiving a medicated solution in the rectum you may experience elicit apprehension, the practice was developed to render the experience as harmonious as possible. This therapy boasts extensive benefits, treating both the physical body and the mind. With a wide spectrum of applicability, Basti possesses the capability to treat very specialized conditions. It can treat circumstances of either excess or deficiency, solely depending upon which constituents are to be used.
While enema therapy is known within the western medical community, Ayurveda enhances the treatment with the addition of several factors which lead to even deeper benefits. Basti works to treat Vata at its source. It accomplishes this with the administration of an herbal concoction into the target area of the colon. Liquids, typically of either a water or oil base, are introduced into the rectum. They are then retained for a predetermined amount of time and then allowed to pass in the same mechanism that a bowel movement would typically act in. Basti, in Sanskrit, is defined as a bladder. This is because the bladder of certain animals was traditionally used to contain the liquid used in the therapy without access to modern conveniences such as buckets or bags. In the present era, the container is attached to a stand, where a thin hose is then connected to the vessel, which allows the procedure to be carried out in a humane, hygienic, and efficient manner. Basti has many potential applications but is the most beneficial for conditions stemming from Vata pathogenesis.
Typical Beneficiaries of Basti:
- People afflicted with ailments of Vata Dosha.
- Those whose limbs have become stiff or contracted.
- Individuals who are afflicted with fractures and dislocations.
- Abdominal disorders/ailments of the pelvic region.
- Nervous disorders.
- Issues of improper circulation.
Home Site of Vata
As is true with all the Doshas, the body will always contain a location where specific Doshic energy can be habitually found. This location is also typically the first area a disturbance/ailment will be discovered. Vata Dosha is found predominantly within the large intestine. The large intestine is an area of the body that is allotted a hollow cavity/space to allow for the passage of stool. This “space” is exactly why Vata Dosha, being comprised of Ether (Space) and Air, prefers to target this area with imbalance. In the preliminary phase of the disease, the earliest signs of Vata derangement are commonly observed as gas and constipation. If Vata is not able to be balanced in an appropriate extent of time, it then travels into the blood and lymph. This subsequently allows Vata to relocate into the deeper tissues by using these channels as a highway for transportation within the body. While the circulatory and lymphatic systems were designed to transport nutrients to the rest of the body by design, with imbalance they function to transport disease as well. The colon is a major point of nutrient absorption in the body and can be thought of in a similar mannerism to the root of a tree. When a tree is well irrigated (Cleansed) and nurtured through the soil (Digestion), it allows the tree to grow large and tall, building branches, and producing flowers, and even fruits. The catalyzation of the growth process, all begins with a healthy root system! The same principle is observed within the human body. With the application of a successful Basti treatment, the body will become well nurtured, which in turn leads to overall health improvements and well-being.
Ayurveda’s most powerful detoxifying cleanse is known as Panchakarma. Pancha means five while karma means action, making Panchakarma a summarization of these five main therapies or actions. According to the Charaka Samhita, an ancient text wherein most of this system of medicine was recorded, Panchakarma is articulated as Vamana (Therapeutic emesis), Vierechana (Therapeutic purgation of the bowels), Nasya (Oleation of the nostrils), Anuvasana Basti (Oil enema), and Niruha Basti (Water enema). A later classical text, titled the Shushruta Samhita, thereafter classifies Rakta Mokshana (Bloodletting) as the fifth Panchakarma therapy. The two Basti therapies were then combined into a single category of “Basti”. The original Panchakarma classification attributing 2/5 of the cleanse’s success to Basti, demonstrates how pivotal the practice can be when clearing disease from the body. This is in large part due to the basic principles of Panchakarma theory at its core. Toxins (Ama) are loosened from their location within the body through the process of internal and external oleation. As they are loosened, they are then forced to retreat into the GI tract through the use of sudation (Heat) and fomentation (Sweating). Once the Ama has been relocated into the GI tract, it can then be purged out of the body through the Panchakarma, as mentioned above, therapies. Typically, Bastis are alternated in-between tonifying and purifying types. This is to prevent the body from becoming overly depleted and dried out through the utilization of the purifying Niruha Basti (Water-based enemas). It is common practice to perform an Anuvasana Basti (Oil-based enema) both before and after a Niruha Basti is received for this precise purpose. This practice of “bookending” a Niruha Basti also ensures that Vata is kept grounded and at its root, which is one of the fundamental objectives of the therapy overall.
Before and After Basti Care
Just as the absorption of herbs and/or oil can affect our digestion during oral ingestion, digestion is also affected when these substances are assimilated into the rectum. After a Basti is administered, the absence of hunger will generally be observed for three to four hours. However, longer durations without the sensation of hunger are not uncommon to experience either. Due to the sensitivities imposed upon the digestive and eliminatory systems, proper care should be taken both prior to and after the therapy, to ensure that no imbalances occur within the person. During a Panchakarma, the pre-care protocol is known as Purva Karma (Preparatory actions). This procedure will typically involve a light diet, internal and external oleation, and fomentation (The application of heat). It customarily will continue for between three to twenty-one days. The purpose of Purva Karma, is to loosen up Ama and bring any excess Dosha back into its home site contained within the digestive/eliminatory systems (Known as the Mahavaha Srotas – “The Great Channel”). Once the Ama and Dosha have been brought back into the Mahavaha Srotas, they can then be purged from the body through the cleansing practices of a Panchakarma.
Following a Panchakarma, certain post-cleanse (Praschat Karma) practices should be emphasized to ensure the proper recovery of the patient transpires. First and foremost, there should be appropriate management of Agni (Digestion). This rehabilitation of the Agni is known as Samsarjana Krama. The dietary regimen issued prior to the cleanse during Purva Karma is very similar to the Agni re-optimization process during the Praschat Karma (Post-cleanse). A light diet, consisting primarily of Kitchari, or other rice/dal combinations is emphasized. Kitchari is an extremely easy-to-digest meal. In fact, a majority of the stress and energy placed upon the digestive system when conventional meals are ingested is negated when kitchari is substituted. With less stress on the digestive system, the other bodily systems which were purged, are better able to recover. Kitchari is so effortlessly digested mainly because of its ingredients and the way in which it is prepared. Mung beans and rice are the two main stars of this dish. Mung beans, which are one of the easiest beans in the legume family for the body to process, are soaked; This kickstarts the assimilation process. Dal cooked together with soaked rice and a plethora of digestive spices allows for a heightened integration of digestive aptitude. This dish is a complete protein; Therefore, it will provide the necessary nutrition for the day, all the while reducing strain on digestion. Once the Agni has been properly restored in the patient, life will more or less return back to normal. The Praschat Karma usually lasts for a period of one to three weeks. It is common for the body to become much more sensitive to triggers in the diet than it was prior to the cleanse during this time. These sensitivities can propel the person into a heightened awareness around their own digestion. Food sensitivities show which aspects of the diet we have predispositions towards not digesting properly. Every Dosha has foods that they digest better or worse than the other Doshas. Learning which manner the body reacts to certain foods can lead to an optimized state of digestion as a result of eating foods that are more in alignment with the person themselves. Dietary predispositions are easily enunciated through the knowledge of a trained Ayurvedic practitioner. However, seeing and understanding how the body reacts firsthand, is an important tool in the continued understanding of its well-being. These food triggers should be minimized or even eradicated from the diet altogether.
If a standalone Basti therapy is taking place without the other components of the Panchakarma cleanse, a similar pre-cleanse (Purva Karma) and post-cleanse (Praschat Karma) should be observed when possible. These will both have a more moderate and abridged means of execution. The modified steps are outlined below:
Modified Pre and Post Care Guidelines for Basti
Receiving a Basti
In order to receive a Basti properly, the Large Intestine should be evacuated prior to the start of the therapy if possible. This removes possible obstruction of the channel due to fecal matter, thus allowing the medicated liquid to travel deeper into the colon. An Anuvasana Basti should never be received when the sensation of hunger is perceived. If hunger is present, the Basti will be drawn upwards towards the small intestine and stomach which disrupts the effectiveness and absorption of the medicine into the body. To prevent this from happening, a light meal consisting of kitchari or broth should be ingested one to two hours prior to the therapy’s commencement. In the case of Niruha Basti, the stomach should be empty before receiving the water decoction. The reasoning behind this is that following the complete digestion of more food, the Doshas retreat more easily into the gastrointestinal tract, allowing them to be easier purified by the Basti. Also, as the Niruha Basti is not retained for a significant period of time, there is not the same risk of it retreating upward into the body as was the case with the Anuvasana Basti.
Guidelines for Receiving Anuvasana Basti and Niruha Basti