Ayurvedic dhumapana. A forgotten and lost art, culture and tradition of the tribal communities of the mighty Himalayas.

Ayurveda, like other systems of medicine such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Traditional Tibetan Medicine (TTM), Unani, Siddha, and the Egyptian system of medicine, contributes to the overall healing of the human body. Throughout centuries, Ayurveda has offered wisdom and practices for holistic well-being, considering the individual as a complete entity. In the ancient Ayurvedic text Ashtanga Hridayam, Dhumapana holds significant importance within our Ayurvedic tradition. Its primary objective is to detoxify and rejuvenate the body, mind and soul as a unified whole. Classical writings highlight the therapeutic role of dhumapana or herbal smoking which assists in managing emotional and seasonal imbalances and aids in treating various health conditions, including severe pain. Allow us to take you on a journey exploring the essence of Ayurvedic dhumapana.

Dhumapana, derived from the combination of “dhuma” meaning vapor, mist, or fragrant smoke (referring to the smoke of medicinal plants, flowers, herbs, and mushrooms) and “pana” meaning intake, signifies the therapeutic practice of inhaling smoke in Ayurveda. Ayurvedic dhumapana is specifically designed to nourish and fortify the fundamental elements, sensory centers, mental faculties, physical body and vital aspects of the human system. It serves both as a curative and preventive measure, promoting emotional and seasonal balance and is recommended for various health conditions, including acute pain. The significance, purpose and essence of Ayurvedic dhumapana align with the contemporary global trend of herbal smoking, emphasizing the importance of ancient references, scientific methodology and evidence in our Ayurvedic tradition for health and healing. The Ayurvedic understanding of different modes, methods and their specialized application in correcting diseases, incorporating medicinal herbs and mushrooms such as astavarga and functional mushrooms, also assumes a crucial role. Additionally, descriptions of dhumapana can be found in our Vedas, preserved in ancient manuscripts dating back 4000 years, further enriching our knowledge of this practice.

Ayurveda, as an ancient system of medicine, is supported by a wealth of facts and manuscripts that have been passed down through generations. These facts and manuscripts serve as the foundation of Ayurvedic knowledge and provide valuable insights into the principles and practices of this holistic healing system. Here are some key points regarding facts and manuscripts in Ayurveda:

Ancient Texts: Ayurveda draws extensively from ancient texts that were written thousands of years ago. These texts, such as Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, and Ashtanga Hridayam, contain detailed explanations of various aspects of Ayurveda, including anatomy, physiology, pathology, diagnosis and treatment methods.

Scientific Methodology: Ayurvedic manuscripts often outline a systematic and scientific approach to understanding and treating diseases. They describe methods of observation, examination and analysis that form the basis for Ayurvedic diagnosis and treatment planning.

Herbal Formulations: Ayurvedic manuscripts provide comprehensive information about medicinal plants, their properties, and the preparation of herbal formulations. These texts list various herbs, their therapeutic uses, dosage guidelines and methods of administration.

Disease Descriptions: Ayurvedic manuscripts provide detailed descriptions of various diseases, their causes, symptoms, and progression. They classify diseases based on doshas (energetic principles), provide differential diagnoses and suggest treatment approaches tailored to individual patients.

Treatment Modalities: Ayurvedic manuscripts describe a wide range of treatment modalities, including herbal remedies, dietary guidelines, lifestyle modifications, detoxification procedures (such as Panchakarma), yoga and meditation practices and therapeutic massages.

Manuscript Preservation: Over the centuries, Ayurvedic manuscripts have been diligently preserved by scholars and practitioners. Many of these manuscripts are still available in libraries, research institutions and Ayurvedic colleges, offering valuable insights into the historical development and evolution of Ayurvedic concepts and practices.

Global Influence: Ayurvedic manuscripts have not only influenced traditional medical systems in India but have also left an imprint on other ancient systems of medicine worldwide, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Tibetan Medicine (TTM), Unani Medicine and Siddha Medicine.

Ayurveda, an ancient medical system, offers wisdom and practices for maintaining a healthy life in alignment with nature. It is closely related to Yoga and is an integral part of the Atharva-Veda literature. Ayurveda recognizes that the physical body and organs can only thrive when consciousness is present, connecting the body, mind and soul. This understanding forms the basis of various Ayurvedic treatments aimed at promoting health, preventing disease, and addressing its root causes. Ayurveda takes a holistic approach, considering the individual as a whole which applies to dhumapana as well. The manufacturing of herbal smoke mixes for dhumapana draws upon the most ancient and authoritative Ayurvedic texts such as Charak Samhita, Sushrut Samhita, Ashtanga Hridayam and Ashtanga Sangraha. Ayurveda also emphasizes the importance of a healthy daily routine, known as “Dincharya,” which encompasses dietary choices, exercise, yoga and thought processes. This self-help model in Ayurveda promotes daily detoxification and rejuvenation. Dhumapana, or smoking certain herbs, mushrooms, and plants for medicinal purposes, is integrated into both daily routines and treatment plans in Ayurveda. Its primary focus is on purifying the body from toxins, strengthening the fundamental elements of the human system and balancing emotional and seasonal imbalances associated with various ailments. It can also aid in addressing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Ayurveda provides clear guidelines for incorporating dhumapana into daily life in a scientific and methodical manner. The therapeutic benefits of dhumapana are mentioned in Ayurvedic texts, particularly for the health of vital parts of the body like the head and neck.

Ayurvedic health and healing encompass a holistic approach that includes nutrition, lifestyle patterns and other individualized factors. By following Ayurvedic principles, individuals can enhance their overall well-being and strive for a harmonious existence. The approach of Ayurvedic herbal smoking is distinct and unique. However, it is important to note that the inhalation of smoke is not meant for addiction. Instead, it showcases the combination of fire and air elements, possessing delicate and microscopic features referred to as Sookshma in Ayurveda. These features aid in the rapid delivery of phytochemicals and medications throughout the head and neck area, utilizing various channels. Ancient classical texts describe dhumapana as an Ayurvedic detoxification procedure known as nasya, where medications are administered in the form of smoke. This implies that dhumapana involves the inhalation of medicinal smoke which can be achieved through dried dhum-sticks, burning medicinal plants in a copper vessel, or rolling herbs in leaves. However, as time has passed and modernization has taken place, the methods of inhaling herbs and mushrooms have evolved according to lifestyle changes. Today, they are employed in the form of roll-up joints, chillums, vapors and smoking pipes, all done in a systematic and scientific manner. Now, let’s delve deeper into the ancient practices of dhumapana.

Dhumavati (smoking sticks): These sticks are crafted from essential herbs, flowers, and mushrooms and are commonly used during fire ceremonies. The preparation methods for these sticks vary depending on the type of dhumapana. For instance, in the Prayogika/Shaman Dhumapana, a 10 to 11-inch piece of sharakanda (a type of grass stick) is soaked in water for an entire day and night. It is then wrapped in silk cloth and covered with the prescribed herb paste. After drying in the shade, the sharakanda is removed. According to the Ayurvedic classic Ashtanga Hridayam, the stick’s thickness should be equivalent to the thumb. It is recommended to apply a total of 5 layers over the sharakanda, allowing each layer to dry completely. Finally, desi ghee is spread on top. The stick is inserted into the basal opening of the instrument, and the outer end is lit to produce smoke. Various herbs and functional mushrooms such as Clitoria ternatea (white variety), Jyotishmati, Orpiment, Agaru, Kedar Patti, Neel kanthi, Mesima, among others are utilized to eliminate doshas from the head to the neck.

Hookah: The hookah has a long-standing ancient history and holds traditional and cultural significance, particularly among those residing in the Himalayan region. Let’s explore the detailed description of the dhuma instrument preparation outlined in Ayurvedic scriptures. According to Ashtanga Hridayam, the dhumapana instrument should consist of three chambers with appropriate tube dimensions based on the specific type of dhumapana. It should have a straight structure with two divisions. The basal entrance should be the size of a thumb, while the mouth should be the size of a zizyphus jujube lam, according to Sushruta Samhita. Alternatively, the mouth’s diameter should match that of a green pea, as described in the same text. The instrument incorporates a controlled flow mechanism to prevent immediate inhalation of smoke. The prescribed dosage, timing and method are designed to ensure the well-being of the sense organs. The smoke is channeled through a partition, regulating its release and preventing direct entry into the lungs. Ayurvedic classical texts emphasize the importance of mindful smoking with self-control to maximize the benefits of Ayurvedic dhumapana. During the dhumapana ritual, one should sit in a comfortable position with a straight body and backbone. The mouthpiece of the dhuma equipment should be held between the lips while smoking. The smoke is drawn into the mouth and then inhaled. In Charak Samhita and Ashtanga Hridayam, it is advised to focus straight ahead during the fire smoking process. Ashtanga Sangraha emphasizes the importance of regular breathing throughout the dhumapana ritual. Sushruta Samhita describes specific breathing techniques for different types of dhumapana. In the Prayogik type, the smoke is breathed through the nose, while in the snaihik type, it can be inhaled through either the nose or the mouth. The Vairechanik type involves breathing through the nose, and the other two types (Vamaniya and Kasahara) require inhaling through the mouth. One complete inhale and exhale cycle is referred to as an Apan. Three such cycles make up a single set, and three to four sets are typically repeated for therapeutic administration. According to Charak Samhita, the Snaihik type of dhumapana should not be performed more than once a day, the Prayogik type not more than twice a day, and the Vairechanik type a maximum of three to four times a day. The Kasahara type which aims to reduce coughing disorders, follows a slightly different procedure. Burning coal is placed in an earthen saucer, and powdered herbs, plants, flowers and mushrooms are sprinkled on top. Another saucer with a hole in the center is placed over it, and a tube is attached to the hole for inhalation of the smoke. The length of the tube can be around 8 to 10 fingers.

What are the types of Dhumapana?

There are three types of Dhumapana mentioned in the Ayurvedic classics:

Charak Samhita:
It mentions three types of Dhumapana – Prayogik, Snaihik, and Vairechanik.
Sushrut Samhita:
It describes five types of Dhumapana – Prayogik, Snaihik, Vairechanik, Kasahara, and Vamaneeya.
Ashtanga Hridayam:
It categorizes Dhumapana into three types – Snigdha (having fats as a base), Madhya (of medium potency), and Teekshna (having high potency).

According to Sushruta Samhita, Dhumapana is classified into these five categories based on their therapeutic impact which is explained in terms of the Ayurvedic Tridosha Theory.

Tridosha Theory refers to the three fundamental bio-energies in Ayurveda: Vata (air and space), Pitta (fire and water) and Kapha (earth and water). These doshas represent the functional energies that play a crucial role in maintaining holistic health. Imbalances in these doshas are believed to be the cause of diseases.

Charak Samhita provides detailed indications for Dhumapana, which are also included in the works of Sushruta Samhita and Ashtanga Hridayam. According to Ashtanga Hridayam, the age range for Dhumapana is recommended from 21 to 60 years. It is suggested for health preservation as part of a daily routine and is often prescribed as a follow-up procedure after the Panchakarma process (a set of five Ayurvedic detoxification procedures). Dhumapana effectively helps in removing residual Kapha from the thorax and sinuses after the Vaman (therapeutic emesis) and Nasya (nasal medication) processes which are two of the Panchakarma procedures. Dhumapana is known to provide relief from congestion, wheezing, breathlessness, asthma, psoriasis, and also aids in weight reduction, lowering cholesterol and triglycerides levels. It helps in alleviating symptoms like stiffness, weakness and fatigue. The therapeutic administration of beneficial herbs through Dhumapana facilitates quick and natural recovery from acute symptoms.

The timing of Dhumapana administration is based on the vitiation of Vata and Kapha. It is recommended to practice Dhumapana at eight specific time slots in relation to daily routines. These time slots include after bathing, after eating, after vomiting, after brushing teeth, after nasal medication, after applying collyrium, after waking up from sleep and after sneezing. Sushruta Samhita adds additional time slots such as after daytime sleep, sexual intercourse, urination and defecation, laughing, becoming furious and after surgical procedures.

According to Sushruta Samhita, the specific time slots for different types of Dhumapana are as follows:

Dhumapana should be done immediately after urination, defecation, sneezing, laughing, becoming angry and sexual intercourse.

Dhumapana should be done following bathing, vomiting and daytime sleep.

Dhumapana should be done following bathing, meals and surgical procedures.
The timing and dosage of Dhumapana are administered based on the type and indication of Dhumapana as per the guidelines mentioned in the classical texts.

Dhumapana can be performed multiple times as needed. Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of taking utmost care of the head as it is considered the most vital part of the body. Properly performed Dhumapana as part of a daily routine helps in maintaining the balance of Vata and Kapha in the head and neck region, preventing related disorders. Sushruta Samhita states that Dhumapana brings freshness, vitality to the senses, speech and mind. It strengthens the hair and teeth and it also promotes mouth fragrance and cleanliness.

According to Ashtanga Hridayam, Dhumapana helps prevent conditions such as coughing, dyspnea, rhinitis, abnormal discharges from the nose, mouth and ears as well as dullness, hiccups and hair problems.

While cigarette smoking has been associated with deadly diseases due to the chemicals and nicotine present, Ayurvedic Dhumapana (herbal smoking) is being explored as an alternative or adjunct therapy for de-addiction from nicotine-based cigarettes. Herbal Dhumapana is created using organically cultivated herbs, plants and mushrooms, without any chemicals, additives, or nicotine. It is important to note that any form of smoking, including herbal blends, can be harmful to health if consumed excessively. Awareness and mindful consumption are essential when using herbal smoke for therapeutic purposes.

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