The relationship we have with ourselves is the most important in our lives. The voice of modern culture touts several ways to cultivate self-love. Like the Buddha counsels, “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” We must first learn to meet our own needs before we can love another being and affect real change in the world. Abhyanga, a unique form of Ayurvedic massage originating in India, offers us a daily lesson in love and self-care. And it’s easier than you think.
By devoting just ten minutes a day to this practice of self-love you can improve your circulation, enhance your mood, and refine your complexion. Sounds simple, right? It is–the critical bit is making this Ayurvedic massage part of your routine, kind of like brushing your teeth.
How Can Ayurvedic Massage Enhance Your Life?
According to Ayurvedic tradition, routine has a vital role in overall health. Through the activities we engage in each day to the food we eat and the thoughts we entertain, our health either flourishes or weakens. Optimal health requires that we routinely rejuvenate our physical, mental, and emotional bodies through the practice of Dincharya–a collection of simple activities, practiced daily. Ayurvedic massage is one of these activities that stimulates the movement of energy throughout the body and enhances holistic wellness.
Before discovering Jiva Botanicals, you might not have encountered much information about abhyanga. Indeed, it is an ancient technique gaining recognition in the West as more people experience how it empowers the body to heal itself. It is commonly used in preparation for panchakarma, an Ayurvedic cleanse that deeply detoxifies the body’s tissues and assists with the expulsion of the ama from the body. But it can also be a simple part of your morning routine, as easy as tongue scraping and much more relaxing than checking your email!
We’ll take a look at all the techniques and benefits of daily, self-performed abhyanga Ayurvedic massage, but first–how does abhyanga work?
An Anti-Aging Practice from Ancient India
According to Ayurveda, aging is the result of moisture leaving the body as ojas decreases, and the body loses its ability to defend itself against free radicals. The Charaka Samhita, an ancient authority text on Ayurvedic wellness cites that a body which receives daily oil massage becomes strong and least affected by aging. Ayurvedic massage stimulates all body tissues, promoting the removal of toxins through increased circulation. It’s an easy way to feel younger every day.
Abhyanga uses the process of oleation or snehana in Sanskrit. Oleation is akin to oil pulling for the whole body. Snehana translates to viscosity (the consistency of oil) and affection, indicating that the therapeutic application of oil to the body through Ayurvedic massage can have a caring, warming effect, providing us with comfort and security.
Sounds like a loving way to treat ourselves, doesn’t it?
You may have heard of Ayurvedic lymphatic massage, performed with Garshana gloves. Abhyanga offers similar benefits to this ancient practice of skin brushing. It promotes the circulation of blood and lymphatic fluid, removing ama and helping to prevent stagnancies by encouraging the movement of energy through the chakras–the body’s main marma points. Abhyanga rebalances the doshas and reduces the risk of disease, helping us feel younger and able to conquer whatever life bestows upon us.
And there are more incredible benefits to this millennia-old practice.
Ayurvedic massage assists lubrication of the joints, tones the muscles, and improves the appearance and luster of the skin. A daily self-practice of abhyanga can immediately calm the nerves and reduce anxiety in the long-term. Gentle manipulation of our tissues encourages us to give our body’s mindful attention and listen to how it responds.
There is no greater act of self-love than the ability to listen to the body speak and what better way to tune in than through touch?
Ignite A Loving Energy Within Yourself
Traditionally, one or more Ayurvedic massage therapists perform the massage simultaneously–in India as many as six people! But let’s face it–not everyone has the time or the economic means to have regular massage–or go to India.
The beautiful thing about abhyanga is its accessibility–anyone can perform in on themselves. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or depleted, find a quiet, comfortable place to try it out. This technique is simple enough to learn quickly, and your body’s response to it will give you one more reason to get out of bed each morning. You’ll experience an immediate calm and loving energy for having engaged in this practice of self-care.
Techniques For A Daily Full-Body Practice
Abhyanga massage starts at the head, where there are vital marma points that influence how the rest of the body functions. While we recommend a daily full-body practice, we realize that time is something on which most of us are a little short. If you can only devote 10-15 minutes a day to abhyanga, the Charak Samhita recommends prioritizing your head and feet.
Heat a quarter cup of massage oil (see below for dosha-balancing types) until it is slightly above room temperature. You may need more or less depending on whether you are doing a full body Ayurvedic massage or just specific parts. Oil should be applied liberally for full coverage.
Head – Shiro Abhyanga
Apply a small amount of oil to the crown of your head (yes, you’ll need a hair wash after). Gently stroke your crown with the palm of your hand a few times. Add more oil and apply circular strokes with the palm of your hand and pads of the fingers. Next, massage your face and outer ears with your fingers using the same circular motion.
Gently massage the front and back of the neck and apply firm, broad strokes to the upper part of your back in the same direction of the muscles fibers (from the base of the neck outward).
Body – Sarvanga Abhyanga
Massage the arms, chest, abdomen, and legs using long strokes in the direction of your body hair (also the direction of your arterial blood). Ayurvedic massage therapists state that only vata types should massage against the body hair to allow for deeper penetration of the oil into the hair follicles. Use firm pressure on your arms and legs and gentle pressure on your chest and abdomen. When massaging the joints, use circular clockwise strokes. On your abdomen, move clockwise in the direction of the large intestine: up, over, and down.
Feet – Pad Abhyanga
Massage the tops and soles of the feet with strong, firm pressure. The toes should be massaged individually. Because the feet contain vital nerve endings, gentle manipulation of the foot tissue can positively affect the whole body. Don’t leave your feet out of your daily abhyanga massage practice!
When you’ve completed your Ayurvedic massage, allow the oil to penetrate for up to ten minutes and finish with a warm bath or shower to remove the oil and cleanse the skin.
Massage specialists recommend abhyanga for relieving a vata imbalance. If you are experiencing signs of excess vata, such as dry skin and nails, incorporating this Ayurvedic massage into your daily routine can help relieve uncomfortable symptoms and balance the vata dosha. Check out Dr. Mike Dhallwal’s comprehensive explanation of a vata imbalance here.
Massage feels great when you’re under the weather but when there is inflammation, fever, pregnancy, or certain types of cancer, health experts recommend holding off on massage unless approved by a doctor. If you’re unsure about whether abhyanga is right for you, check with a health professional.
Recommended Oils By Dosha Type
In his book, Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing, Dr. Vasant Lad recommends using specific oils to balance doshas during abhyanga:
Vata: Use sesame oil to calm and balance.
Pitta: Use sunflower or sandalwood oils as they have cooling properties.
Kapha: Use corn or calamus root oil.
A Lasting Love
While we can create daily experiences of loving kindness for our ourselves, we tend to forget how such acts enhance our lives and improve our health. We know about proper nutrition, optimizing opportunities for movement, and minimizing stress. Ayurvedic wisdom reminds us that an essential part of maintaining health is cultivating a positive, loving relationship with our higher self. Abhyanga Ayurvedic massage promotes self-care and affection through gentle touch with the added benefit of improving our overall physical health. Rise each morning with gratitude, set the kettle to boil, and devote 10 minutes while you’re waiting for your dosha tea to steep to practice some loving kindness in the form of abhyanga. Your body, mind, and spirit will thank you.
Linda Reynolds has studied and practiced Ayurveda and Yoga for more than 6 years. From a career in academia to a full-time freelance-writer and nomad, Linda has always enjoyed research and writing, particularly about topics that support increased self-awareness. Linda loves to sing, play guitar, do yoga, and take long walks in nature. Her greatest act of courage so far was selling everything she owned and leaving Canada to travel and discover a new way of life.