Over the past few days we’ve some spent time exploring the importance of the Ayurvedic practice dinacharya (daily routine), as well as the benefits of jala neti. Today, we are going to break down the practice of anhyanga, which is one of the principle actions within a strong and healthy dinacharya, and we are going to answer the following questions:
- What is abhyanga?
- What are the benefits of abhyanga?
- Which oils should I use?
- What are the steps to the abhyanga routine?
Abhyanga is the anointing of the body with oil. Often this oil is chosen specifically for your particular dosha or condition while keeping the current season in mind. The oil is usually warm and is massaged into the entire body before bathing.
It is believed that the effects of abhyanga are similar to those received when one is saturated with love. From my experience, I completely agree. Like the experience of being loved, abhyanga can give a deep feeling of stability and warmth. There is no greater expression of self-love than lovingly anointing ourselves from head to toe with warm oil. Doing so allows the oil/love to pass through minute channels in the body and to penetrate deep layers of our bodily tissue.
Abhyanga — the Ayurvedic oil massage — is an integral part of the daily routine recommended by this healing system for overall health and well-being. Traditional ayurvedic texts wax eloquent on the benefits. Here's what one says:
“The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries, or strenuous work. By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age”. ~ Charaka Samhita Vol. 1, V: 88-89 - (One of the Great ancient texts of Ayurveda)
Benefits – What are the benefits of Abhyanga?
- Nourishes the entire body—decreases the effects of aging
- Imparts muscle tone and vigor to the dhatus (tissues) of the body
- Lubricates the joints
- Stimulates the internal organs of the body
- Stimulates circulation – especially to nerve endings
- Increases mental alertness and the level of stamina throughout the day
- Assists in the elimination of impurities from the body
- Soothes and invigorates the sense organs
- Calms the nerves
- Benefits sleep patterns—better, deeper sleep
- Enhances your vision
- Makes hair (scalp) grow luxuriantly, thick, soft and glossy
- Softens and smoothens the skin; wrinkles are reduced
- Pacifies Vata and Pitta dosha; Harmonizes Kapha dosha
- Reduces stiffness and soreness in the body and tones the muscles
- On a subtle level, abhyanga dislodges mental ama (toxins) such as repressed emotions
"By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age." ~ Charaka Samhita Vol. 1, V: 88-89
Abhyanga provides the means for trans-dermal absorption of the healing qualities of the material used in the massage, and it helps the skin, which is the largest organ in the body, perform its diverse functions efficiently, whether it is allowing toxins to be released from the body or nourishment to be absorbed by the tissues. It is like oiling the engine of your car — if you do it regularly, your engine will be in peak condition, and give you years and years of trouble-free performance.
Oils – Which oils should I use?
Oils used can vary depending on the season and the individual’s constitution (prakrti) but commonly used oils include sesame, coconut, sunflower, mustard and almond. The seasons change and therefore if we are to live in harmony with the seasons, we must change as well. For example, during the winter, you may want to use a warming oil such as sesame oil which is particularly helpful for the cooler, lighter vata dosha. However, being that pitta is already a fiery dosha, you may want to balance it out during the winter by using sunflower oil, opposed to the heating sesame oil or the cooling coconut oil. No matter which oil you are using, attempt to find organic, cold-pressed oils as they are better for you opposed to regular cooking oils.
If you would like to learn what your dosha is and/or receive a recommendation of an oil for your abhyanga, feel free to look over my Ayurvedic Services and then contact me. I’m happy to help!
Sesame Oil: If you choose sesame oil, look for cold-pressed, chemical-free organic sesame oil for the best results from your massage therapy. Sesame oil contains antioxidant properties, and is helpful in protecting the skin from free radical damage. It is considered highly nourishing for the physiology and has heating properties.
Coconut Oil: Coconut oil has keshya properties -- that is, it improves hair quality. In Southern India, women apply coconut oil to their hair every day – which gives them long, lustrous locks. Applying it to the body results in a cooling effect.
Sunflower Oil: Sunflower oil is basically a neutral oil which is good for every dosha at some point throughout the seasons. It can be mixed with sesame oil to lessen the heating properties of that oil or it can be added to coconut oil to increase the heating properties of that particular oil. Sunflower oil also has a natural anti-bacterial property which makes it great for infection prone skin.
• Vata Dosha: Sesame oil or sunflower oil
• Pitta Dosha: Coconut oil or sunflower oil
• Kapha Dosha: Sunflower oil
The ayurvedic massage is traditionally performed in the morning, before your bath or shower to facilitate the release of toxins that may have accumulated during the previous night.
- Begin by dry brushing the body in the direction of the heart. (Use a natural bristled body brush)
- Keep about one cup of oil in a squeeze bottle. When you wake in the morning, place the bottle of oil in a pan or sink full of hot water, until the oil is pleasantly warm. If the oil you are using is coconut oil that has solidified, consider placing some of it in a mug or glass jar and heating it that way.
- Sit or stand comfortably in a warm room.
- Pour a small amount of oil into a cupped hand, rub hands together then transfer the oil to your body, applying oil first to the crown of your head (adhipati marma) and work slowly out from there in circular strokes—spend a couple of minutes massaging your entire scalp (home to many other important marma points—points of concentrated vital energy). A scalp treatment every day feels wonderful and a mild shampoo is all that is needed to remove excess oil from your hair.
- Face: Massage in circular motion on your forehead, temples, cheeks, and jaw (always moving in a upward movement). Be sure to massage your ears, especially your ear-lobes—home to essential marma points and nerve endings.
- Put a couple drops of warm oil on the tip of your little finger or on a cotton ball and apply to the opening of the ear canal. (Not if you have an infection).
- Put a couple of drops of warm oil on the tip of your little finger and apply to the opening and inside of the nasal passages. (Not if you have an infection).
- Beginning at the extremities and working toward the middle of the body. Use long strokes on the limbs (long bones), and over joints and marma points (body locations identical to acupuncture points). Rub in a circular, clockwise fashion to stimulate and align the body and always towards the heart.
- Massage the abdomen and chest in broad, clockwise, circular motions using lighter pressure. On the abdomen, follow the path of the large intestine; moving up on the right side of the abdomen, then across the transverse colon, then down on the left side of the stomach.
- Finish the massage by spending at least a couple of minutes massaging your feet. This will stimulate nerve endings to help balance energy pathways, which lead to internal organs.
- Lovingly and patiently massage the oil into your entire body for about 5-10 minutes. Sit with the oil for 5-15 minutes if possible so that the oil can absorb and penetrate into the deeper layers of the body.
- To control headaches, massage the web between your thumb and forefinger daily.
- Before moving off the towel or mat, wipe excess oil from the soles of your feet.
- While performing this self-nourishment, consider saying a mantra to yourself to keep you focused and present.
- Enjoy a warm bath or shower. You can use a mild soap on the “strategic” areas, but avoid vigorously soaping and rubbing the body.
- When you get out of the bath, towel dry gently. Blot the towel on your body instead of rubbing vigorously.
Enjoy the feeling of having nourished your body, mind, and spirit and carry that with you throughout your day. Daily abhyanga is generally followed by yoga or gentle stretching exercises and meditation.
Oh! It's especially helpful before your yoga practice because it lubricates the joints, allowing you to sit in lotus more comfortably for example. Shower before the yoga though or you'll slip all over your mat!