It’s no secret that massage helps increase circulation, moves lymph, enhances our immunity and helps alleviate body aches and pains. Massage has the power to reduce stress while releasing happiness hormones in the body and brain. When the body is gently anointed & massaged with warm oils, dryness is counteracted, joints are lubricated & excess skin is sloughed away.
Ayurvedic oil massage, known as Abhyanga, has those benefits and more.
A daily Abhyanga practice restores the balance of the body and enhances well-being and longevity. While the occasional professional massage has tremendous value in self-care and healing, Ayurveda suggests it’s much more beneficial to make massage a daily practice. The precious 5-10 minutes you spend each day on self-massage delivers sustenance to the skin and will leave you feeling grounded, calm, sattvic, with a sense of stability and warmth. If you break down the meaning of the Sanskrit word Abhyanga, you’ll find the syllables refer to the movement of sustenance towards all body tissues so they are radiant with health.
- Gives muscle tone to bodily tissues
- Softens and smooths skin
- Lubricates joints & supports mobility
- Increases circulation
- Moves lymph, helps body detox and eliminate impurities
- Nourishes body and decreases effects of aging (helps wrinkles disappear!)
- Calms nervous system & vata dosha
- Alleviates stress, anxiety & insomnia
How to Perform Abhyanga:
- Begin with approx. 1/4 c. warm or room temperature oil.
- Apply oil first to the crown of head and work slowly out from there in a circular direction, massaging your entire scalp (lots of important marma points there-areas of concentrated energy)
- Massage face-don’t forget the ear lobes (again, marma points and nerve endings there)
- Use longer strokes on the limbs (arms and legs) and circular strokes on the joints, massaging towards the direction of your heart.
- Massage the belly and chest with broad, clockwise, circular motions. Follow the path of the large intestine: move up R side of belly, across, then down L side.
- Massage tops and bottoms of feet. This is grounding as the feet have many nerve endings that correlate with essential organs (it’s like giving yourself a reflexology treatment!)
- Let the oil sit and be absorbed by the body for 5-20 minutes. The longer it’s on your skin, the deeper it penetrates into the body tissues. Listen to music, stretch, meditate, do whatever you do when you hang out naked, with a robe or towel on 🙂
- Take a warm bath or shower.
Do I Really Have to Shower After?
Ayurveda suggests that you shower after Abhyanga for a few reasons.
- Ideally, you allow the oil sit on & nourish the skin for up to 20 minutes; this allows the body time to adequately absorb what it needs. The heat from the shower water opens pores & allows oil to penetrate deeper into the body.
- Oil also has purifying qualities in addition to nourishing ones. Just like oral oil pulling “pulls out” & removes harmful bacteria & toxins from the mouth; abhyanga does that with the bodies largest organ- your skin!
Do I Have to Use Oil? What About Lotion?
Your skin is your largest organ; whatever you put on it goes directly into your bloodstream, more quickly than if you were to swallow it! Many lotions and body care products have chemicals, dyes, alcohols, parabens, synthetic fragrances and toxic stabilizers in them…not what you want to be putting in your body. As a general rule, if you wouldn’t eat it, you shouldn’t be putting it on your skin- otherwise you’re inviting more toxins into your body.
Ayurveda prefers the use of natural oils; if the idea of putting oil on your skin seems gross, I suggest trying less- the smallest amount possible you can use to rub into yourself and provide some “glide” for massage. If you have very oily skin naturally and have concern about breaking out, use a light oil like sunflower
Oils for Your Constitution:
Medicated herbal Ayurvedic oils specific for massage can help balance doshas, strengthen muscles, reduce pain & inflammation while nourishing nerves. However, every day high quality cooking oils work just fine.
- Vata Dosha: sesame, almond, olive, jojoba, apricot, ghee
- Pitta Dosha: coconut, sunflower, olive, jojoba, walnut, apricot, ghee
- Kapha Dosha: safflower, mustard seed, corn, apricot, jojoba
**If you are unsure of your constitution, stick with heavier warmer oils in the winter (think sesame, olive and almond) and lighter cooler oils in the summer (think coconut and sunflower)**