The Sanskrit word sneha means both “oil” and “love.” Thus, to anoint your body with oil is to saturate yourself with love. The ayurvedic practice of abhyanga, self oil massage, is a deeply nourishing practice that’s easy to incorporate into your daily or weekly routine. The benefits are tremendous: lubricated joints (less popping and crackling), reduced fine lines on the face, increased alertness, softer skin, improved elimination, deeper sleep, and an overall sense of calm. The skin is your largest organ, and abhyanga is a marvelous way to feed it.
Abhyanga differs from Western-style massage in technique and effect. To begin, purchase an organic, unrefined oil that’s appropriate to your constitution. Banyan Botanicals offers oils with medicinal herbs, and Hale Pule provides oils as part of a guided purification process. According to ayurveda, the body is composed of seven layers of tissue. To allow sneha to penetrate the deepest layers, where it loosens toxins at the cellular level, apply it very slowly and leave it on for at least 20 minutes.
Follow this sequence for best results:
1. Warm ¾ to 1 cup of oil in a stainless steel or copper pan.
2. Apply a generous amount of oil to your body with your palms, not fingers. Rub slowly, gently, and thoroughly—in circular motions on the joints and long strokes along the muscles. The entire body should take at least 15 minutes.
3. Start at your sacrum (low back).
4. Continue to the hip joints, in a circular motion.
5. Progress down the left leg to the sole of the foot, and then the right leg.
6. Spiral clockwise once from the navel, finishing down the left side.
7. Oil the left side of the chest, then the right. Follow with the left shoulder, arm, and hand, then the right shoulder, arm, and hand.
8. As much as you are able, oil your back, from your waist to your shoulders.
Finally, apply oil to your neck, face, and head. With your pinkie fingers, apply a few drops to your ear canal. Be sure to oil the crown of your head.
9. Absorb the love! Relax for 20–60 minutes before rinsing off—without soap—in a hot bath or shower.