Growing up, I observed that babies in most Indian homes were massaged daily with warm oil. A fussy, tired, cranky baby would be lulled into deep sleep. I also saw the elderly get anointed from head to toe with herbal oils. The relief from pain, even if temporary, was palpable. The warm massage melted away tension, pain, and stress from their muscles and improved people’s circulation and sleep cycle.
Similarly, my mom gave my brother and me head oil massages a few times a week. We would sit on the floor, and she would be on the ottoman for the perfect height difference. The oil that she used would be comfortably warm—coconut oil during summer, and, if there was a headache situation, Brahmi oil massaged into the scalp and certain marma points.
She would also massage my face in an upward circular motion: forehead, temples, cheeks, and jaws. My favorite was when she would massage my ears. I didn’t know at the time that earlobes are home to essential marma points and nerve endings. No wonder I would feel completely relaxed and centered at the end of the session.
Adopting Abhyanga Self-Massage
In the West, we’re used to slathering on moisturizers and going about our day. Abhyanga is an Ayurvedic practice that combines self-anointment with self-massage, by which you rub your body from head to toe with warm oil prior to taking a shower.
In Sanskrit, sneha can be translated as both “love” and “oil”—indeed, there’s no greater love than massaging yourself with dosha-specific oil. Moreover, a daily abhyanga practice restores the balance of the doshas and is said to enhance longevity and overall wellbeing.
Specific Benefits of Self-Massage
- Calms the nervous system
- Improves circulation and lymph drainage
- Tones body’s tissues (dhatus)
- Increases stamina
- Lubricates joints
- Aids in elimination of impurities from the body
- Increases longevity
- Enhances hair growth (there are special herbal oils for scalp massage)
- Improves the quality and quantity of sleep
Abhyanga lowers Vata dosha, which can be especially degraded during the fall and early winter. When Vata
feels under control, we can focus better, which increases productivity, creativity, satisfaction, and sleep.
How to Do Abhyanga
Let the room temperature lean towards warm. Store your massage oil in a small container and warm it by holding the container under running hot water or setting it in a bowl of hot water. You can also use an oil diffuser.
Standing or sitting, start with the crown of your head (adhipati marma) and massage your head in circular strokes. Use long strokes on the limbs (arms and legs) and circular strokes on the joints (elbows and knees). Always massage toward the direction of your heart.
Massage the chest, buttocks, and abdomen using a clockwise circular motion. While massaging the abdomen, follow the path of the large intestine; move up on the right side of the abdomen, then across, then down on the left side. Do not forget to sit and massage your feet as they contain the nerve endings of vital organs as well as important marma points. But be sure to wash them first when you shower, so you don’t slip.
Ayurveda recommends spending a minimum of fifteen minutes on self-massage each time you practice it. Anoint yourself with a warm Ayurvedic oil with love and attention. Let the skin soak up the oil for 10-15 minutes, so it can penetrate deeper and nourish the tissues. I like to meditate while the oil does its magic. Then take a warm shower or bath. Do not apply soap to your oiled skin. After a shower or bath, dry your body gently with a towel instead of rubbing it.
Oils for Each Dosha
Traditional Ayurvedic oils incorporate healing herbs for amplified benefits. The blend is created to benefit a particular Ayurvedic constitution or address specific imbalances.
Vata: Sesame oil. This oil is fundamentally “warming” to the system and is best for late fall, winter, and early spring days, as well as for individuals with excess cold in their system.
Pitta: Coconut oil. Cooling to the system and best for late spring, all summer, and early fall days, as well as for those individuals with excess heat in their system. Do not use it when the outside temperature is cold and coconut is naturally frozen.
Kapha: Almond oil. Food-grade organic mustard oil is also excellent for cold winters for those of Kapha Prakriti. Do not apply on the face or anywhere near the eyes.
Jojoba oil is good for all doshas.
Plan to do abhyanga at least twice a week, if not daily. It’s a ritual that has individual benefits but also helps connect mind, body, and soul on a deeper level. That said, massage during pregnancy is not recommended. Also avoid abhyanga self-massage when you have fever, indigestion, when on your menstrual cycle, during times of great physical discomfort, or if you have an acute illness or medical condition.
Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are looking for advice from a trained ayurvedic coach, contact me here.
Anoint yourself! Try this ayurvedic self-oil massage to saturate your mind and body with love.