Modern Ayurveda expert Martha Soffer is a chef, herbalist, master pulse diagnostician, and master Panchakarma specialist. Her spa, Surya, is one of only a handful of centers in the US that offer a personalized, intensive Ayurvedic regimen called Panchakarma. Gwyneth swears by it. And more than a few goop staffers have spent time in Surya’s programs.
Full-on Panchakarma is a commitment: It’s 3 to 28 days of hands-on treatment (four hours per day), along with detoxifying teas and a rigid, and often ascetic, diet. It can also be expensive. But for those who are able to access the program, committing time to it—especially regularly with the change of the seasons—is incredibly healing.
Soon, Soffer will be launching Panchakarma retreats in Bend, Oregon, and a remote part of Kauai, Hawaii. They’re designed for a group to move through as a collective. Alongside daily treatment, Soffer is planning a program filled with nurturing experiences like sound baths, yoga, meditation, breathwork, and forest bathing.
In the preparation phase, Soffer has clients drink ghee for four consecutive days before they begin Panchakarma treatments (in increasing amounts: as little as a few teaspoons on the first day and as much as eight tablespoons by day four). According to Ayurveda, ghee binds ama—that’s toxic buildup in the body—and allows it to move through the GI tract to be expelled later with castor oil and basti. (More on that below.)
BALANCING THE ELEMENTS
Ayurveda works with the balance of five elements—air, fire, earth, water, and ether—in the body. These elements also make up the three Ayurvedic body types, or doshas: Vata is shaped by ether and air, pitta by fire and water, and kapha by water and earth.
Whenever any of these elements go out of balance in the body, they can manifest symptoms. For example, if someone’s elemental scale tips too far toward fire, the body will start to show more signs of heat, like rashes, heartburn, and high blood pressure.
Soffer diagnoses these elemental imbalances through touch. At the beginning of every Panchakarma treatment, she reads her client’s pulse with three fingers. Depending on the quality of the heartbeat and where she feels it on her fingertips, she determines what imbalances her client is dealing with. And then she decides what treatments are the best fit for them that day.
If Soffer is hoping to curb a disorder characterized by heat, for example, she’ll focus on cooling treatments. She says it’s also important, in that case, to rein in air: In the same way a wildfire is exacerbated by wind, so is the element of fire in the body.
Your first time doing Panchakarma is a crash course in Ayurvedic well-being. You come out better understanding your dosha, the elements, and what lifestyle is the best fit for you. Your practitioner might recommend a post-Panchakarma protocol involving food, meditation, movement, and rest to help your body’s natural rhythms remain in balance.
When people can’t come for regular Panchakarma—and because of the time commitment and overall cost, most people can’t—Soffer suggests self-massaging with oil; taking baths with herbs and salts; sticking to a simple cooked vegan diet; and DIY-ing the preparatory phase: Take ghee for four days, and then take castor oil to flush it out. (Refer to Surya’s guide to Ayurvedic cleansing first, or consider buying their full cleanse kit.) For those who want to dive deeper at home, Soffer books in-person and virtual consultations, in which she guides clients in personalized Ayurvedic cooking, herbal remedies, and dosha-balancing practices.
And don’t miss out on Surya’s collagen cream. It’s so rich and skin-coddling that, back when it was more limited, her clients would stock up on multiples so they wouldn’t run out before she restocked.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.