Massage can seem like a luxurious thing for some people. In Ayurveda however, Abhyanga is a recommended daily practice. Abhyanga means “ayurvedic massage with oil” and can be a great practice for balancing each of the doshas.
The Sanskrit word Sneha means both “oil” and “love”. The experience of oiling one’s body with oil can give feelings of stability, warmth, and comfort – similar to the effects of being saturated with love. Therefore, Abhyanga is considered a practice of self-love and self-care.
One of the classical Ayurveda texts, the Ashtanga Hridayam, suggests abhyanga be given daily to prevent and heal illness. It is considered the “king” of treatments to balance an aggravated Vata dosha. The oil being used for the massage into pass through minute srotas (channels) of the body and can penetrate deep into the dhatus (tissues). This stimulates the lymphatic system to carry toxins away from the cells while also providing nourishing nutrients to them. This would be an important thing to remember as we enter into this very dry vata season.
Decreases the effects of aging and nourishes entire body
Assists in elimination of toxins and repressed emotions
Increases longevity and stamina
Benefits sleep patterns
Softens and lubricates skin reducing wrinkles and dryness
Imparts firmness to the limbs
Imparts tone and vigor to the dhatus (tissues) of the body
Stimulates the internal organs of the body, increasing circulation
Pacifies vata and pitta and stimulates kapha
Choosing the Right Oil:
Choosing the right oil for your self-massage practice is important and you should take into account your environment, your current imbalances (vikriti), and your natural constitution (prakriti).
Vikriti: If one of the doshas is elevated, a dosha-pacifying oil is most beneficial. For example if you are experiencing a lot of heat in your body and have oily skin, a pitta pacifying oil will be best for you.
Prakriti: If you are not experiencing any elevated dosha, consider your most dominant dosha for your Abhyanga. If you are well balanced but your natural constitution is Vata, choosing a pitta oil or kapha oil will help maintain a better balance.
Your environment: The seasons play a large role in aggravating the doshas. If it is summer (pitta season is hot and oily), and you are naturally a pitta, or experiencing elevated pitta qualities, a pita-pacifying oil will benefit you most. Or if you are naturally a Vata person and are feeling healthy but fall is approaching, using Vata-pacifying oil can help maintain your balance as you enter into the dry, cold qualities of fall.
A great resource for choosing your oil is Banyan Botanicals. They have a great guide for choosing oil. Click Here for more information.
How to Practice Abhyanga:
Warm approximately 1/4c – 1/2c oil in glass or squeeze bottle in a pan of hot water. In the hotter months, room temperature oil is fine.
Sit or stand comfortably in a warm room, on a towel that you don’t mind ruining with oil over time.
Apply oil generously to your entire body and work oil into the body starting with the head and face, then extremities to middle of body, then feet.
Scalp: place a few drops of oil at the crown of the head and massage in circular motion into scalp.
Face: apply a few drops and massage in circular motion on forehead, temples, cheeks, jaw, and ears.
Begin at the extremities and work towards the middle of your body, applying long strokes on the limbs and circular strokes at the joints. Go against the grain of your body hair.
Abdomen: follow the path of digestion; moving up on the right side, then across below ribs, then down the left side.
Feet: give a little extra attention to the soles of the feet as they are home to important internal organ pressure points.
Massage the body for 5 – 20 minutes with love and patience, remembering you are nourishing your body, mind, and spirit.
If possible sit with the oil for 5 – 15 minutes, possibly practicing meditation or asana
Enjoy a warm bath or shower to let the oil nourish and detoxify all the tissue layers. You can use a mild soap on the “strategic” areas, but avoid vigorously rubbing the body with soap.
When you get out of the bath or shower, pat the body dry gently with a towel. Consider a specific towel you don’t mind ruining due to the accumulation of oil overtime.
Put on a pair of cotton socks or slippers to protect your environment from residual oil on your feet.
When you first start introducing Abhyanga into your routine, it may be a bit messy and take a little time knowing how much oil to use and where. We want to emphasize the importance of being present during this practice and listening to your body while you do this. You are taking time to massage your tissues and with that comes detoxification, physically and emotionally. Be patient with this process and find the comfort and clarity this self-care act can be.
Santa Cruz Ayurveda currently offers 60 minute and 90 minute Abhyanga massage to you. We can guide you in finding problem areas and which oils would be best for you to use in your own self-practice.