Swedanam or Steam Therapy in Ayurveda

Swedanam is one of the common procedures done in Ayurveda and there are references about it in ayurvedic texts written several centuries ago.  The term swedanam is said to be derived from the Sanskrit language.  The word ‘swid’ in Sanskrit means “to sweat or perspire”, and swedanam simply means “sweating”.  Also, the word ‘sweda’ pertains to the “internal excreta of the body” which is said to be a by‑product of meda or otherwise fat tissue.  So swedanam therapy is very helpful in liquefying the sticky and adherent doshas which have become deposited in the peripheral tissues of our skin.  If swedanam is done correctly by qualified people in the proper way, it will soften and melt these toxins in an optimal manner for the body to effectively expel them with the assistance of the pradhanakarmas (main therapies).  The panchakarma therapy liquidifies the doshas and makes it easier for the body to throw out the toxins directly through sweat.  The swedanam process opens up the pores on our skin and helps the body to get rid of the impurities of our body through the sweat glands.

 

Classification of Swedanam Techniques

There are several types of classification of fomentation therapies according to different Ayurvedic schools.  The most common among several classifications are as follows:

  • With the use of direct heat or without the use of direct heat.
  • Applied to the whole body (Sarvaangasweda) or to one local area (Ekasweda).
  • Wet (unctuous) fomentation or dry fomentation.
  • Based on the intensity of fomentation, as mild, medium, or strong.

Among them, the most common therapy applied is with the use of direct heat or steam.  In this type of treatment, you will be made to sit in a herb-infused steam box for about 10 to 30 minutes until you begin to sweat profusely.  Using heat/steam for inducing sweating is a natural and effective way to encourage the process of detoxification and has been accepted as an effective method since long time ago.  The special medicinal herbs and plants used in the process also stimulate the flow of oxygen all through our body, at the same time the steam triggers the natural sweating process which is very substantive for the release of the accumulated toxins in our body.

Swedana Box

A sitting type steam box where a person can sit with his head out through an opening provided for the same. [Courtesy: soinsayurvedic.over.com]

The specific herbs and spices used in swedanam aids to stimulate oxygen flow throughout the body, where at the same time the steam activates the natural sweating process which is important for the release of the accumulated toxins.  During swedanam, the temperature inside the steam box or steam tent will most likely be anywhere between 105 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit depending upon the climatic condition, type of treatment, and the client’s endurance to heat.  The heat from the steam encourages the patient to sweat thereby releasing toxins, and it also helps to bring an extra flow of blood to the skin and subcutaneous tissue.  This increased supply of blood to the subcutaneous tissue is beneficial as it carries oxygen and nutrients, which acts as a catalyst allowing skin and subcutaneous tissue to heal and regenerate fast.  The moisture from the steam is also very helpful as it helps in opening skin pores thereby helping our body to eliminate the built-up sebum and impurities from our body through the skin, and at the same time softening dead skin cells.  The increased blood flow to the superficial layers of the body will help in increased production of collagen, which is well-known for anti-ageing effect and even helps in the reduction of wrinkles.

With the advancement of the treatment, the heat will penetrate into the client’s muscles.  As this happens, the muscle tissues will also get increased supply of blood and thereby an increased flow of oxygen.  The heat from the steam will also make the muscle tissue more flexible and relaxed, which helps improve the mobility and stiffness of the muscles.  The heat therapy is a good option for people suffering from fibromyalgia, as the heat will not cause the muscle soreness common from manual therapy, but can be just as effective in reducing pain.  This treatment is also an effective way for the treatment of people with rheumatoid arthritis, back pain, and menstrual pain.  Swedanam also intensifies the flow or movement of lymphatic fluid with in our body which is helpful in relieving inflammation and edema from joints and limbs.  Because of this benefit of swedanam, it is very helpful and appropriate in the treatment of any injury to the musculoskeletal system as it aids in the process of promoting lymphatic drainage and cellular regeneration.

Adding herbs like eucalyptus leaf and bay leaf to generate steam, helps to improve respiratory conditions like dryness in the respiratory system.  It also helps in relaxing muscles involved in breathing.  These leaves are traditionally used for their anti-viral and anti-spasmodic effects and are used for these purposes from a very long period of time.

A sweet and gentle aroma of the herbs will also be there in your skin for about 24 hours after the massage.

 

Procedure:

First the special oil used for the swedanam massage is gently applied on the whole body of the client.  After that the patient is moved to the steam chamber.  The herbs and leaves used for the steam is selected very carefully depending on the condition of the patient and his predominance of a specific dosha.  Ayurveda strongly regards that the eyes and head of the patient should be protected from overheat during the steaming process.  For this the eyes of the patient are covered by tying a soft cloth around the eyes; and also the head of the patient is covered with the use of a wet cotton pad.  The treatment process continues until the forehead and abdomen of the patient starts to sweat very well.  After this the procedure is terminated and the patient is allowed to take a hot water shower.  One hour after the sudation, the patient is given light creamy or oily food that is warm.

Swedana Room

A typical Swedanam box for steam therapy while lying down. [Courtesy: budgethotelsinrishikesh.com]

Benefits:

  • Helps to keep the balance of Vata and Kapha characters in the body.
  • Aids in the expulsion of toxins in the body through the tiny pores of the skin along with sweat.
  • Increases the blood circulation and also reduces any joint inflammation.
  • Rejuvenate and revitalize the skin, giving it a smooth texture.
  • Helps to improve digestion.
  • Helps in fighting depression.
  • Acts on fat tissue thereby aids in weight loss.
  • Relieves stress.
  • Eases pain in the muscles and also sore muscles.
  • Reduces numbness, stiffness, rigidity, heaviness of your limbs and thereby improves mobility.
  • Clears bodily ducts and channels.

Although swedanam massage therapy has many benefits and advantages as given above, one should be very careful while opting for it as it should not be done by pregnant ladies, people with bleeding disorders, those who have used alcohol recently, persons who are very fat or very thin, persons with diarrhea, jaundice, anemia etc.  Also people who are having problems from fainting, dizziness, nausea, fever and similar ailments should refrain from this treatment.