Basti Therapeutic Enemas in Ayurveda
Curious about the use of enemas in ayurvedic cleansing? Before you get uneasy, rest assured that this safe practice has been performed in ayurvedic medicine and many other forms of natural medicine for thousands of years. Traditionally, enemas have been used to cleanse the lower portion of the large intestine and the colon. In Ayurveda, basti therapy is used to treat the entire mind and body, to stimulate peristalsis, and to reduce excess doshas and ama (toxins). Bastis are extraordinarily powerful systemic healers.
There are many different basti recipes used in Ayurvedic treatments that detoxify (niruha) or nourish (anuvasana) the entire body. Different from a colonic whose intention is to cleanse the entire 8 foot long large intestine of fecal matter, we use bastis — or therapeutic enemas, to administer the herb. As foreign as it may sound, ayurveda understands that the colon is a receptacle organ. Meaning, what is placed in the colon will be consumed by the body. It bypasses the hepatic portal system in the digestive tract, transfers through the membranes in the colon, and enters directly into the blood system. If there are any compromises in the digestive tract, bastis can be a powerful way to heal the body without losing the efficacy of the herb taken orally when digestion is not working properly. Administration of basti, usually results in a faster action of the herb properties and a longer duration of its contents in the blood stream. Bastis are one of the most powerful treatments we have in Ayurveda.
The Colon Is Vata’s Seat In The Body
Vata’s predominant site is the colon. Ayurvedic basti involves the introduction into the rectum of herbal concoctions of sesame oil and certain herbal preparations. Basti is the most effective treatment of vata disorders, but can be used to treat excess pitta and kapha as well.
Basti therapy is predominantly used to treat excess or deficient vata through the use of herbal decoction and/or oil-based enemas. Basti differentiates itself from regular, water-based enemas and colonics through the introduction of herbal combinations that can be tailored to correct specific imbalances. Unlike pure water colonics or enemas, herbal decoctions and oil maintain hydration of the colon. The entire body can be treated through the colon. This is the most powerful therapy in panchakarma, and after lifestyle, it is the most powerful therapy used to treat disease. Bastis stimulate the liver bile production and elimination, increase colon tone and function, and reduce vata imbalances.
There are three main types of basti used in Ayurveda
Anuvasana (unctuous): Anuvasana basti reduces all vata conditions, promotes mental clarity, energy, strength, agni, and complexion. Oil- or ghee-based enemas, they are retained in the body for an extended time. Nine hours is recommended. They are nurturitive, restorative, and good for those with dry colon (constipation) and for excess vata conditions. Anuvasana can be used alone or in detoxification therapies. Always administer anuvasana bastis first.
Niruha (non-unctuous) are herbal-based decoction enemas made with less oil and used predominantly for detoxification purposes. Niruha bastis should only be adminidstered after anuvasana bastis. Niruha basti prevents aging, balances metabolism, cleanses, draws out feces, enriches ovum and semen, and cleanses ama out of the srotas (channels).
Uttara is used for medicinal applications via the vaginal opening for female reproductive issues. This cleanse does not use uttara.
See Nutritive and Detoxifying Enemas In The Recipe Section.
Contraindications for basti include:
- Intestinal inflammation
- Intestinal bleeding
- Same day as vamana or virechana
- Colitis, Chron’s disease, and anal fistulas
Indications for basti include:
- Low back pain
- Any vata disorder
- A slipped disc and herniations
How to Administer Basti
This administration is generally safe for all doshas assuming there are not any medical issues involved with the colon, the anus, or the entire digestive system.
Bastis can be used from 1 day to 11 days. Always start and end with anuvasana basti. Anuvasana basti can be used the same day as niruha basti.
The best time for administration is in the early morning or the evening at bedtime and on an empty stomach, and in a clean and comfortable environment. Anuvasana bastis can be retained for up to 24 hours. This can be done by administering the basti at bedtime and retaining it overnight. Wear a sanitary napkin and sleep on a towel in case of a rare accident.
Anuvasana and niruha bastis should be comfortably warm at insertion. The enema bag can be hung; however, the flow will be influenced by the height of the bag. Use a steady and slow flow, so that the body does not reject the contents. For this reason I recommend holding the bag oneself, so the flow can be controlled. Release the air out of the enema bag tube, and clasp the valve shut.
Lay on your left side, with your left leg straight and right knee bent. Use oil to lubricate the tip of the enema bag. Carefully insert the tip into the rectum, release the valve, and allow the fluid to enter. Take as much time as you need. After the administration of all of the contents, slowly remove the tip. If a bowel movement happens before all the contents are released, calmly return to a lying position and resume basti administration.
Anuvasana bastis are ideally are held from 30 minutes to 24 hours. Niruha bastis should be evacuated between 15 and 48 minutes. Do not strain to hold basti. Take a light meal following basti therapy, but only if hungry.
Indications of correct basti application: To eliminate stool, urine, and gas. To promote appetite and metabolism and to give a feeling of lightness. To alleviate ama, and to restore strength and sleep. To rejuvenate vata depletion. To reduce lower backache, constipation, and vata excesses.
Indications of wrong basti application: Do not apply basti if you are experiencing any pain in the head, the heart, or the pelvic area, and if you have excess mucus, edema (swelling), or intestinal griping and nausea.
If you do not feel comfortable doing basti therapy, you can skip it if you desire. You may consider visiting a colon hydrotherapist open to administering the herbs and/or oils for you, or to discussing colon health further.