A look at Svedana, an Ayurvedic Body Therapy

Svedana also spelled Swedana, is an Ayurvedic practice that offers numerous health benefits to the body. The treatment involves the application of heat using a variety of unique techniques to induce the body into sweat. It is an excellent treatment for all conditions in which there is stagnation, coldness, or stiffness; These conditions primarily affect Kapha and Vata Doshas. Through sweat, the body is able to purify itself of Ama (Toxins). This benefit is one of the main reasons saunas are so popular in today’s health spas, not to mention how relaxing and comforting the sensation of heat is when it is experienced on the body.


Svedana Interpretation 

Svedana, meaning heat or sweat therapy in Sanskrit, is the process of both fomentation (The application of hot or moist substances to the body) and sudation (The act of sweating). The objective of Svedana is to increase the body’s temperature. This causes all the channel systems of the body (Known as Nadis and Strotamsi in Sanskrit) to dilate, therefore increasing circulation and flow. As circulation increases, the additional blood flow helps to warm certain areas of the body. As a person sweats, Toxins (Ama) can be released from their body. Typically, in a Panchakarma cleanse, the body is first lubricated both internally through the diet, and externally through massage. This lubrication helps to “loosen up” the Ama, which then sets the stage for Svedana to liquefy and purge it from the human vessel. Even without going through a Panchakarma cleanse, the principles of lubrication through oil massage and the sudation of the Ama can still be applied; Though care should be taken to avoid vitiating Pitta Dosha with the usage of heat.

Many of the indications for a Svedana are imbalances of a Vata or Kapha nature, while contraindications are of a Pitta pathology. A few of the main indications and contraindications are listed below:

Indications – Contraindications

Cold conditions (Vata and Kapha vitiation) – Excessive heat (Pitta vitiation)
Stiffness, myalgia, arthralgia, contracture (Vata vitiation) – Dry conditions (Vata and Pitta vitiation)
Ear, neck, and head pain (Vata vitiation) – Conditions of weakness (Low Ojas)
Cough and dyspnea (Kapha vitiation) – Bleeding (Pitta vitiation)
Abdominal distension, constipation, and colic (Vata vitiation) – Pregnancy
Edema (Kapha vitiation) – The very old and very weak (Low Ojas)
Neuralgia, numbness (Vata vitiation) 
Hoarseness (Vata and Kapha vitiation)

*Patients with a Pitta nature, who do not have significant Pitta imbalances, may utilize fomentation therapies.


Signs of Over-Fomentation

While there are many benefits to Svedana therapy, too much of a good thing can cause problems as well, these symptoms typically include:

  • Red Skin.
  • Dry, Cracked Skin.
  • Fainting or Dizziness.
  • Irritability.


Benefits of Svedana

While the concept of sweating is far from foreign, the perception of its therapeutic use is seldom contemplated. One of the main reasons Svedana is applied is to increase the absorption of oil into the skin/body. While applying oils/lotions on top of the skin can help to hydrate it from the outside in, sweating hydrates the skin from the inside out. When oiling and Svedana are combined, the heat causes the pores to dilate. This allows the large oil molecule to penetrate much deeper into the skin. The oil moistens the skin as it goes deeper into the body, as the sweat simultaneously hydrates the skin as it travels toward the surface. This synergistic interaction allows for maximum absorption of the oil and an enhanced level of skin hydration to take place. This is especially important for those who tend towards dry skin (Vata Dosha). 

Svedana is very important in a Panchakarma to cleanse. This cleanse lasts on average between 1-4 weeks. With Pancha meaning five and Karma meaning action, the cleanse utilizes five main cleansing techniques to purge the body of disease. A preliminary requirement for the Panchakarma to take place is for the preparation of the body to be able to release its diseases, of which Svedana is of premier importance. The body is oiled regularly during this preliminary phase of the Panchakarma, both internally and externally. As mentioned previously, the oil helps to lubricate and loosen up the Ama (Toxins) in the body. The application of Svedana allows the Ama to be carried out of the body through sweat, supporting an overall purification of the body. This purification helps also to reduce surplus fat and in excess, even a reduction of the muscle tissue is possible. This purifying effect is why Svedana is not recommended for people who already have tendencies towards weakness i.e., the very old and the very young. For diseases of a Kapha imbalance, purification is almost always required as Kapha Dosha produces excess, making this a very beneficial therapy for them. 

Other Benefits Include:

  • Improved Circulation.
  • Improved Agni (Digestion).
  • Relaxed Muscles.
  • Reduced Stiffness.
  • Smooth/Soft Skin.
  • Reduced Swelling from Edema.

Types of Heat and Ayurvedic Svedana Distinctions 

Common within today’s spas are two main types of sweat therapy: Dry heat and wet heat. Dry heat can be experienced by standing near a wood-burning fire, or by going to an infrared sauna. Wet heat can be experienced in a more traditional steam-style sauna. Wet heat is more suitable for Vata and Pitta Doshas. Pitta requires the least amount of heat, as warmth is a quality already inherent deep within their constitution. That being said, the Water content of wet heat (Steam) helps to contain the Fire element, making it slightly less vitiating for Pitta. Dry heat is only suitable for Kapha Dosha, as, without the Water, the Fire element is both too profuse for Pitta, and too drying for Vata. Kapha, which is comprised of the elements Water and Earth, is still able to benefit from wet steam as the heating and purifying qualities counteract the moistness of the steam.

One significant difference to note which separates an Ayurvedic Svedana from a sauna: In a Svedana, the head is never heated. Several contraptions have been constructed to allow for this to take place such as A steam box that the person would sit in, which leaves the head exposed, or a steam tent that can be placed over the body, excluding the head. The intention for this is to allow the brain – a very sensitive organ and a significant location site of Pitta Dosha – to remain cool. When the forehead starts to perspire, this is a sign that the Svedana should be concluded.