The Ayurvedic practice of abhyanga gets us the benefits of a luxe spa massage for the deliciously low price of a few extra naked minutes post-shower. Our Ayurvedic contributor and author of Idiot’s Guide to Ayurveda, Sahara Rose, is showing us how to master the healing art of abhyanga…
Everyone loves massages, but few of us get them nearly enough. However, you can receive all the benefits of a massage – plus more – without spending a dime on a masseuse.
How, you may be wondering? Abhyanga self-oil massage. Abhyanga comes from ayurveda, the world’s oldest health system and sister science of yoga, focused on mind-body balance. As the author of the Idiot’s Guide to Ayurveda, I’m passionate about modernizing this ancient healing science so everyone can benefit from its wisdom in today’s busy world. Abhyanga is one of my favorite recommendations for today’s stressed out, vata-imbalanced population that can so benefit from some grounding and unwinding.
What is Abhyanga?
The ayurvedic practice of abhyanga is a self-oil massage performed in a soothing, healing manner and often paired with the practice of dry brushing — learn about it here. Abyanga should be performed slowly, with light pressure, moving upwards on the extremities towards the heart and circling clockwise on the joints, for about 15 minutes. The massage should be done in a warm but draft-free room, as air can imbalance the vata dosha. Oil should be warmed up (how to do that below) to increase absorbability and calm the central nervous system. The type of oil you use also depends on your dosha, mind-body type (take this quiz to assess yours.) Performed regularly, abhyanga helps hydrate the skin, balance the doshas, alleviate fatigue, enhance stamina, stimulate our lympathic systems, enhance circulation, promotes longevity, pacifies the subtle energies of the body and nourishes virtually every part of the body.
Benefits of Abhyanga Self-Oil Massage:
+ relaxed state-of-mind
+ heightened awareness of subtle energies
+ heals adrenal fatigue
+ supple skin
+ rejuvenates system
+ drains lymphs
+ restores muscles
+ increases blood flow
+ improves mood
+ enahances circulation
+ balances the doshas and subtle energies
Why Practice Abhyanga?
Self oil massage allows you to come in close contact with your body, noticing what’s going on. Perhaps you come across dry patches, an indicator of a vata imbalance, or a rash you didn’t notice, indicating a pitta imbalance, or you have cool clammy skin, indicating a kapha imbalance. When we come in daily contact with our skin, we are better able to detect what is going on with our bodies and are better able to address our imbalances before they manifest into something greater.
On top of that, the oils are much healthier to use than over-the-counter creams, which are often full of chemicals that are absorbed right into your blood stream. Our skin is our largest organ and whatever we put onto our skin is akin to eating it. We wouldn’t want to rub something into our skin that we wouldn’t want to inject because they are both going to the same place: our blood stream.
Even just the act of abhyanga is extremely soothing and loving. The word ‘oil’ in Sanskrit is sneha, which is also the word for love. Oil truly is love, and when you oil your body, you’re loving your body. Self-touch is extremely nourishing and actually promotes healing of the body because it makes our systems more receptive to healing, whilst soothing our over-active adrenals.
How to Practice Abhyanga
You may be wondering how to practice such a healing ritual. It’s super easy! Here are the steps.
Step 1) Heat up the oil. Traditionally, oil is heated for enhanced absorption, but if you do not have time to heat, then just use it at room temperature. To heat up the oil, place about ¼ cup in a glass bottle and place it in a pot of boiling water. Carefully remove from pan and let cool until it is safe to touch. Then begin your practice. (If you don’t have time to heat up the oil, no big deal! Room temperature is fine; it just doesn’t have quite as many benefits).
Step 2) Set up a peaceful, calm environment. Play some soothing music, light some non-toxic candles, take a warm shower or dry-brush your body beforehand (more on that in a future article). Make sure you don’t have a phone call you have to hop onto right after that will keep you out of the present moment. Turn off your phone and relax.
Step 3) Pour some oil on your hands and rub them together to warm the oil. Take a whiff to smell the fragrance.
Step 4) Beginning with your arms, gently massage the oil into your skin. Continue massaging in long circular directions, always moving towards your heart. Massage in circular clockwise motions on the joints (elbows, knees, ankles).
Step 5) Massage your stomach, stimulating your organs. Make sure to always massage your stomach counter-clockwise, in the direction of your digestion.
Step 6) Add more oil and massage your backside and legs, making your way down to your feet. Massage between every toe. Notice how much oil you absorb and where. Most of us are particularly dry on the backs of our arms and thighs. Pay particular attention to those spots.
Let the oil sit at least 15 minutes before bathing. In my book, the Idiot’s Guide to Ayurveda, I recommend practicing abhyanga before bed to relax your body and let the oil absorb into your skin overnight. You can also increase benefits by stepping into a steam room or hot shower to really let the oil steep into your skin, then follow up with a little more oil. Yum!
What Oil To Use For Your Dosha
For vata types or in the winter months, use sesame oil, which is more warming and grounding. Olive or castor oil also work great.
For pitta types, use coconut oil, which is more cooling. Coconut oil is also a good choice in the warmer summer months. Sunflower oil or ghee also work great.
For kapha types, use mustard oil, which is more stimulating. Sesame or olive oil also work great.
You don’t need to go to an ayurvedic retreat to have a healing panchakarma experience — all you need is some oil love and two hands!
Do you know your dosha? Take the quiz and find out your
Ayurvedic mind-body type and what it means for wellness.