You may have heard of Surya, L.A.’s most prominent Ayurvedic spa, through some of Hollywood’s most visible wellness advocates or here on TCM. I thought I knew everything about wellness, but I hadn’t truly lived until I completed a day of panchakarma at Surya Spa.
One single day at Surya transformed my entire approach to mind-body connection.
Like most L.A. wellness devotees, a visit to Surya was on my wellness bucket list. Something I thought I would cross off my list in my later, more actualized years. But during my time in Mexico at Rancho La Puerta, I came across a glowing mother-daughter duo who could not stop talking about a detoxification protocol that “will absolutely change your life.”
That something was Surya’s Panchakarma. Considering I’m always asking for the universe to change my life, I figured it was as good a time as any to think holistically and act locally.
Here’s a bit of my transformative experience at Surya. But, first..
The Long And Short Of Panchakarma
You may be wondering “a pancha-what?” Let’s start by going back to Ayurveda 101. This’ll be quick!
In Ayurveda, it is believed that the body has three doshas—Vata (air), Pitta (fire), Kapha (earth). While each constitution aligns with the natural elements, they also represent different bodily systems like the nervous system, the metabolic system, and the nutritive system, which serve to keep the body in a consistent state of balance (aka the ultimate goal).
However, the disruption of balance—which can happen through stress, inflammation, poor diet, lack of sleep, etc., etc.—can ultimately make way for acute or chronic disease.
Enter: Panchakarma, which technically means five (pancha) procedures (karma).
The goal of this ancient cleansing method is to rid the body of all toxic waste from head to toe, using a multitude of thoughtfully orchestrated treatments that are meant to work their way through your body’s mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional channels. This powerful treatment is meant to unlock and discharge ama (toxic waste), which can otherwise prevent one’s agni (digestive fire) from functioning properly.
The treatments include…
+ Bastis: Herbalized enemas to help flush the intestinal tract and expel fat-soluble toxins.
+ Nasya: Medicinal oils applied throughout the nasal passages to clear sinuses and drain excess mucus.
+ Swedana: Sweat treatments like a dry or wet sauna to help the body rid itself of impurities through the skin.
+ Abhyanga: Herbal oil massage to help dislodge toxins from bodily tissues.
What used to be a 28-day, fully introspective ritual has been adapted to modern-day life to make it easier for people to rebalance, reset, and benefit from the vast healing gifts of Ayurvedic practice. Many people in #deepwellness opt to perform a panchakarma during every change of the season when your body is most primed for a cleanse.
My One-Day Panchakarma At Surya
When I walked into Surya, my past and my future quickly melted away, and I was nothing but present. For the next 4 hours, I believed I would transform. In many ways, I felt like I had trained my whole life for this. In other ways, I was living Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This”.
I immediately felt hoisted into a warm hug of textures, smells, and sensory delights that somehow managed to be elevated, but also made me feel like I was right at home. Before I could ask any questions, the symphony of my 1-day panchakarma began. Here’s what went down.
Lunch | Surya has this magical way of making every person who walks through their space feel like the whole thing was built just for them. I was immediately asked, “Would you like to join us for lunch,” and squealed, “OBVIOUSLY” while being sat in front of a gorgeous tri-doshic (balancing) meal of dal, steamed vegetables, and basmati rice—all of which are prepared in their kitchen. Yes, I also got to have a slice of their famous Surya Bread, which I can confirm is out of this world.
30-Minute Consultation With Martha Soffer | Next up was my 1:1 consultation with Surya founder and Ayurvedic doctor Martha Soffer herself.
For someone who deals with A-listers on the regular, I was blown away by Martha’s beautiful, comforting energy. She emits an ethereal essence that only true healers possess, glowing from ancient wisdom and a deep understanding of what it means to be a human being on this earth.
She felt my pulse and determined I was Pitta, which meant I was heat-dominant. Unsurprisingly (I have a Leo moon), she said I had way too much heat going on and needed to cool things down a bit (if I had a nickel!). We dived into my medical history and daily routines, and a customized plan was put into place. “How do you feel about enemas?” she asked me. As someone who is obsessed with enemas, I knew I was in the right place.
“Get ready,” she said. “You’re about to feel amazing.”
Surya’s Signature Abhyanga Massage | I was transported into another part of the spa, led into a divinely lit room that screamed (quietly), “This is where people heal.”
Get ready because this will shock you. The Abhyanga was, not one, not two, but a four-handed massage. Two massage therapists awaited me with a custom blend of warm, herbalized oils that had been steeped overnight. I got into my birthday suit and let the luxuriating begin. Warm oil was trickled onto me continuously, while (what felt like) thousands of hands worked the oil into my body.
Pinda Swedana | After my transcendental massage, I was told it was time for a cooling treatment. “This one is absolutely incredible,” one of the therapists prompted me.
Then, with a hot brown rice-filled poultice that had been dipped in a milk paste, I was stamped and rubbed once more, drawing the literal heat out of my body. The feeling was immediate, and, as the therapist promised, truly incredible.
Herbal Basti | Two hours of my treatment had passed and I was ready for the big guns. I was able to take a light rinse in my private shower (which was also beautiful), and got comfortable as my practitioner prepared my herbal enema, which had been custom blended by Martha. As someone who has only done coffee enemas, I had no idea what to expect.
My practitioner covered me with a sheet as I inserted the enema into my you know where. I was told that my body would absorb whatever it needed from the oil, and anything remaining would come out on its own over the next few hours, unlike typical purgative enemas that you release right away. They assured me that the maxi-pads in the bathroom were a required must-have for my drive home, and I’ll tell you I complied and they were right!
ShirodHara | The finale had come, and I was obviously devastated. For 30 minutes, one of the other practitioners held my head as she poured warm oil on my forehead, right onto my third eye chakra.
I had read about this practice in the past, writing it off as woo-woo nonsense. I didn’t understand how pouring oil on your forehead could possibly calm your nervous system or heal you in any way. I was wrong! Once again, I headed into a deeply meditative state and felt my entire body receive the entirety of the day’s treatments.
As I drove home, I felt incredibly emotional, as if I had spent four hours being held in a world of abundance. Trust me when I say I normally hate all of those phrases, but no sentences have ever been truer.
How I Continued My Practice At Home
I was advised by Martha that supporting my treatments with a five-day, at-home prep—that could be done before and after treatment—was essential.
The team at Surya made sure I was fully equipped with an at–home toolkit that I can attest to making my post-panchakarma experience significantly less overwhelming and significantly more effective.
My steps for continued rejuvenation…
Morning Rituals | Every morning, I woke up, scraped my tongue using a copper tongue scraper, followed by 15 minutes of oil pulling with their Herbalized Pulling Oil. This helped to ignite my digestive fire while also getting rid of the buildup of toxins that had accumulated in my mouth the night before.
Snehana | Snehana is the process of drinking increased amounts of ghee every morning to help cleanse our tissues and lubricate our joints and organs. It sounds daunting, but it actually just tastes like a really delicious shot of buttered popcorn without the popcorn. For four days, I drank ghee, waited 20-30 minutes, then had warm water or Surya’s CCF (cumin coriander fennel) tea. I genuinely swear by this. I felt a huge difference in my digestion and daily “movements,” if you will.
Kitchari Detox | Using Surya’s Cleanse Kit, I had everything I needed to make kitchari twice a day, which is super easy to digest and tri-doshic. Every morning, I would throw all of the ingredients into my InstantPot and let it continue to cook down throughout the day. Even though I’m no longer doing the cleanse, I continue to make myself kitchari for lunch and dinner on days I need something quick, easy, delicious, and digestively supportive.
Hot Tip: Surya’s Balancing Spiced Ghee is a gamechanger for kitchari novices, with all of the spices already added to the ghee. It’s absolutely delicious and endlessly convenient.
Purgation | On the fifth day of my at-home prep, I drank two tablespoons of food-grade castor oil first thing in the morning as the final part of the detox. I also had to clear my schedule for the latter half of the day in the event I needed to be near a bathroom at a moment’s notice.
It is said that the castor oil goes through and pulls out all of the accumulated toxins, allowing your body to expel the remaining ama. This was one of the more awesome aspects of the cleanse because I could literally see the effects of the castor oil (I will say no more).
Detox Support | Throughout the 5 days, I would dry brush and then take baths, switching between my own detox recipe and Surya’s Hormone Soothing Bath Soak. Post-bath, I’d perform a self-abhyanga massage with their Cooling Body Oil, which felt like a self-care treat that upped my overall wellbeing.
After my in-spa treatments and my five-day, at-home prep, my skin was glowing, my acne was gone, and my bloating was nowhere to be seen. My energy was up and my mental clarity was optimal. I felt quiet, still, and joyful. Why would I ever want to go back to daily life?
All in all, I think it’s safe to say that I can’t stop thinking about my time at Surya. So much so, I have already been back for a post-pancha follow-up with Martha. I worry that I’m becoming Surya-dependent, but I’m also certain that what was once a bucket-list item has actually just become a health essential for my future. Is it worth it? Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes.
In the future, I’d love to explore Surya’s 3-day, 5-day, or 7-day panchakarma, doing the prep before my treatments to get the absolute most out of the ancient practice. However, if you’re in a slog and you need a new reason for being, I highly recommend starting with a single-day protocol.
If you’re pancha-kurious: Don’t think you can watch a YouTube video and do this at home. Panchakarma is a very deep, medicinal practice that should be guided, monitored, and performed by an Ayurvedic practitioner, who can ensure that your detoxification is optimized and customized based on your needs.
Process over product, my friends!