Poorva karma is a therapy in the traditional medical system of Ayurveda that prepares the body for the detoxifying and cleansing treatment known as Panchakarma. From Sanskrit, poorva means “first,” “early” or “preceding” and karma translates as “action” or “activity.”
Poorva karma consists of ingestion of medicated or herbal oils, massage therapy with oils, and hot baths or steam baths to induce sweating. All of the poorva karma methods are designed to stimulate the removal of harmful toxins from the body.
These methods of purva karma are divided into two categories, snehana (olation or oil) and swedana (sweating).
The two types of snehana are:
Bahya (external) – This consists of applying medicated or herbal oil to the skin through massage. The skin then absorbs the medicine into the bloodstream.
Abhyantar (internal) – This method is designed to stimulate the digestive system by consumption of medicated edible oil or ghee.
Swedana involves heating the body or a specific area of the body to promote sweating. It is believed that toxins may be eliminated by liquefying or melting them for easier removal.
Which method or methods of poorva karma the medical practitioner uses is based on the condition of the patient and the need for detoxification. For example, swedana is thought effective for arthritis, severe headaches and coughs.