Panchakarma in India: The Best Packing List for Ayurvedic Treatments
Jan 19, 2023
I’ve done pancha karma in India several times over the past 15 years.
Some of the most common questions I get from people who want to learn nada yoga and mantra with me -- and from friends/family who know I've been visiting India for 25 years and have gotten several panchakarma Ayurveda treatments in India and countless Ayurvedic massages -- are:
"Where should I go for panchakarma?"
"What is panchakarma in India like"
"How do I prepare? What should I bring for panchakarma in India"
Yes, people ask me about where to study mantra and nāda yoga in India, too, but surprisingly everyone is curious about the panchakarma thing (I mean, who wouldn't want to feel 10 years younger after 2 weeks?)... so I thought I'd finally do a series of blog posts about my experience of getting panchakarma in India.
In this post, I tell you a bit about what getting panchakarma in India is *actually* like, and how to prepare for your Ayurvedic treatments in India, by sharing with you what I like to pack and bring!
#1 thing to know about panchakarma in India = Getting Ayurveda treatments in India involves oil.
Lots and lots and lots of oil. In every orifice. All day, every day. It could be coconut oil, sesame oil, castor oil, or lovely herbal medicated oils of various kinds. But be assured: your panchakarma treatments in India will be oily!
When people ask me what getting panchakarma in India is like, I get a big smile on my face and say, “It’s like getting an oil change for your body!”
Most of us take better care of our automobiles than we do our primary vehicle… our own body! So I think the oiliness of the 10-day or 14-day pancha karma treatment (or PK as it’s known for short) is well worth it.
I’ll share my own actual packing list with you below, and tell you why for each item, but if you only remember one thing about what to bring for your pancha karma treatment, it should be this:
Pack clothing you plan to throw away after your panchakarma treatment in India!
Yes, you will be able to shower off after your Ayurvedic massage. (Often they’ll give you a chick pea paste to rub on your skin to absorb excess oil while you shower off in the typical tiled room with a large bucket of lukewarm water and a hand-held smaller pouring bucket.)
Getting shirodhara is my favorite. It’s when they pour a slow, steady stream of warm oil on your forehead for 30-40 minutes. When they do it right, the warm rhythm of it calms the mind so completely I feel like I’m floating on a cloud. You know that post-orgasmic feeling when you know you have a body, and it feels really good, but you’re kind of out of your body? That’s shirodhara, when done properly, and it lasts for a good long while. Well worth having your hair be greasy for days.
Assuming your PK will be at least 14 days (sometimes 21), here's what to bring if you're doing it in India.
Packing for panchakarma in India, starting with clothing and personal care items:
- Dark colored clothing you are OK with throwing away. Often the oils they use for your Ayurvedic massage will be inflused with oils, so they might have a reddish color. Don't plan on wearing white unless you want to be pink!
- 4-5 “oily” Indian outfits with loose pants, a long top, and a scarf (if you’re in a female body with breasts - skip the scarf if you’re in a male body). You’ll wear these out and about, and to and from your Ayurveda massage and treatment appointments during your panchakarma. 4-5 sets of clothing you don’t mind getting oil is enough to wear and do laundry every 3-4 days (either bucket wash in your room, or send out to the laundry service) and still have something clean to wear.
- Extra shampoo. Even if you wash your hair 3X it might still be greasy. Go with it! Find that balance between being a little oily and at least clean enough to feel OK in your skin and presentable.
- 2 pairs of loose, stretchy clothing for attending yoga classes (the tight-fitting clothes we wear outside of India are probably not respectful in the panchakarma / yoga āśram you may be staying in) One to wear, one to wash.
- 2-3 lounge outfits to wear while you’re hanging out inside your room. Personally I prefer to change into tank tops, t-shirts, shorts, or lounge pants inside my room, and save my Indian outfits to wear when I’m out and about. These double as my pajamas, or you can also bring
- A light robe or caftan for pajamas (optional)
- 1 clean, nicer outfit to wear while traveling to/from your pancha karma location in India
If you’re getting pancha karma in North India, however, greasy hair can be a health hazard. It gets COLD at night, and your greasy hair doesn’t insulate your head as well as fluffy clean hair. Bring a head wrap or hat that you can wear to bed at night, or you’ll risk catching a cold!
If getting panchakarma in Rishikesh or Delhi or elsewhere in North India you should pack some extra things:
(Spring and fall months might be OK, but please note that trying to do pancha karma during winter months is not recommended, but the Ayurvedic doctors may try to convince you it’s OK. They have businesses to run! It’s much better generally to get pancha karma in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, or elsewhere in South India where it’s more humid and warm even at night. The warmth helps your body relax and detox. The cold tenses you up, and makes it more difficult to maintain the agni digestive fire required to do the detoxification that the Ayurvedic treatments are trying to achieve.)
- a head wrap or hat that you can wear to bed at night
- definitely don’t skip the hot water kettle!
- insulated tea mug
- you can probably buy nice ginger tulsi tea in the market
- a hair dryer so you don't go to bed with wet, oily hair if your Ayurvedic treatment is in the afternoon
What to bring for entertainment and amusement during panchakarma in India:
#1 most conducive thing to do during panchakarma in India = sound healing and mantra therapy!
(Read my other blog post about what NOT to do during your PK!)
Lucky for you, we've got tons of free sound healing yoga resources you can download for free, Sanskrit mantra and nada yoga courses you can get and access from your phone, and a whole YouTube channel with free yoga of sound chant experiences and sound healing sessions you can listen along with for free at https://www.youtube.com/@HeartofSound
Aside from savoring the conducive sound vibrations of healing rāgas and Sanskrit mantras, if watching the monkeys and their never-ending drama isn’t enough for you, there are a few things I like to bring. 14-21 days is a long time to rest and rejuvenate!
- downloaded mellow playlists on my iPhone (you never know if wifi/cellular will be reliably available in India!)
- a small speaker for better sound quality (I do my Indian classical vocal and mantra chanting when I’m up for it, so this is especially important for me)
- journal for your thoughts and insights
- sketchbook with colored pens or pencils
- downloaded interesting, inspiring podcasts on my iPhone (Some of my favorites are Scene on Radio, Hidden Brain, All My Relations, Invisibilia, On Being, Esther Perel, The Rose Woman, Cover Story Power Trip, Modern Love, This American Life, BBC Earth, Startalk, Rebel Entrepreneur, and ChooseFI… OK some of these are not exactly “light listening” but they’re fascinating and SO well done. If you haven’t listened to Scene on Radio’s last 4 seasons they’ll change your life. You can thank me later!)
- kindle with a variety of interesting novels, poetry, self-development topics, inspiring… If you’re like me, my mind is not sharp enough to try to digest anything too academic, so I don’t bother to try to “study” when I’m getting Ayurveda treatments
- downloaded audio books on my iPhone (I’m excited to listen to Thenmozhi Soundarajan’s book The Trauma of Caste to help me continue to unravel my oriental romanticism and unconscious assimilation into the Indian conservative patriarchy that winds through much of the yoga culture I have been taught. I’ve been following her @equalitylabs for some time now and I’m excited to let her words help me unwind that and find a way for my values to be reflected in the way I share the sound and mantra practices that have saved my mental health and my life.)
Light exercise and movement is good for most people doing panchakarma, so I always bring a few things to keep me active.
Yoga, outdoor, and exercise gear to pack for panchakarma in India:
- a yoga mat (again, not a nice one as it will get oily and dirty!)
- exercise bands (in lieu of lifting weights)
- small cork balls or tennis balls for self-massage (to work out any kinks your Ayurvedic massage therapist doesn’t get to during your 2-3 hours of panchakarma treatments per day!)
- a dark colored towel to put over the yoga mat (for stretching around on the floor in the evenings while I listen to music or the crickets)
- walking shoes and socks to cruise around the neighborhood and get a bit of light cardio
- sunscreen (if your skin is fair and sensitive like mine)
Food and snacks to bring to for your best panchakarma experience in India
They’ll definitely feed you a special diet while you’re doing your Ayurvedic treatments, but - news flash - it will be Indian food! (Also known as simply “food” in India! LOL ;) ) Your tummy may not like the spices (if so, tell your doctor to make more simple food), and your mind might not like what feels like monotony to you. I follow my Ayurvedic doctor’s recommendations (after all, it’s only 2 weeks out of my life and I’m coming all the way to India to get panchakarma) but I do keep a stash of tea and healthy snacks just in case I'm starving or going a bit crazy.
- protein powder since my body requires more protein than dahl and rice
- dry fruits for when I crave a sweet taste
- peppermint tea because it reminds me of home
- Organic India ginger tulsi tea because it’s nice to sip on and supports the panchakarma
- Organic India sweet rose tea because it makes me feel sleepy and cozy before bed
- A stash of 80% dark chocolate, darjeeling tea and green tea that I’ll hide from myself because I’m a caffeine addict and having it makes me not obsess about having it. I’ll try real hard to not bring a few Starbucks Via coffee packets for my hidden stash, but I’m not making any promises here.
- A plastic container that seals (because ants, monkeys, rats, and cockroaches are a thing)
- hot water kettle
- insulated mug for tea
As I looked into my own luggage while finishing this post, I found a few more items I love to travel with in India that might be useful for you.
Miscellaneous handy things to bring to panchakarma in India:
- luggage scale (Indian airlines charge for every extra KG!)
- facemasks (if you get sick, they will not continue your treatment and you’ve come all the way to India for panchakarma for nothing!)
- Covid rapid tests
- A Vogmask for pollution
- A stash of Indian rupees and USD in a moneybelt
- Passport, visa, vaccination card (obviously!)
- Wallet with plenty of small bills (often you can't get change in India)
- A universal adapter for my electronics (most computers, iPhone plugs, electric toothbrushes, etc. actually don't need converting - if it gives a 120V-240V range on the bottom of the device, the normal plug just needs an adapter to fit into the different Indian holes)
I hope you found this useful!
Soon I'll also write about the best places (and worst) to get panchakarma in India, and what NOT to bring!