By Beka Bright
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Imagine incorporating a practice into your routine that daily makes you feel loved, nourished, calm and connected… Imagine taking a few minutes of “you time” each morning or evening to envelop yourself in self-love and in doing so, feeling the transformative effects of being surrounded by that love. Does a single self-care practice exist?
Yes, my friend, it does.
Allow me to introduce you to Abhyanga, Ayurvedic oil massage. Abhyanga is recommended daily in Ayurveda to ward of old age, increase vitality and calm the nervous system. The thought of massage might bring up images of expensive spa treatments available to us only once in a while. However, Ayurvedic self-massage is a practice you can learn to do at home to bring the luxury and benefits of massage into your daily experience. Learning how to do self-abhyanga (and other Ayurvedic self care practices) empowers you to be proactive with your health and awaken the inner healer that is accessible within each of us.
In Sanskrit, the ancient text behind the sciences of Yoga and Ayurveda, the word for love, “sneha” can also be translated to mean oil. We can see by this translation that the ancient Vedics held the powerful effects of oil in high regard. It is through this definition that we understand that the practice of Abhyanga isn’t just providing moisturization to the skin, it’s truly an act of deep self-love.
Benefits of Self Oil Massage
Provides a warm layer between your skin and the cold air during the cool months
Creates an energetic buffer between your system and the world around you
Calms your nervous system and supports sounds sleep
Relaxes and soothes your muscles
Creates a nourishing self care practice to feel pampered and luxurious
Keeps your skin hydrated and supple
Supports healthy circulation and lymph flow
Fosters a deep sense of self love
Who Should do Abhyanga?
Abhyanga is recommended for almost everyone. However, there are times when it’s best to hold off. If you are feeling feverish, have indigestion or constipation, are pregnant, menstruating or have signs of excess kapha, it is often suggested to do a gentle version or skip it altogether.
What Time of Day is Best for Abhyanga?
As per the daily Ayurvedic routine, it is encouraged to do your abhyanga each morning before you go out and interact with the world. The practice itself fosters a sense of nourishment and love throughout your entire system. The oil acts as a gentle buffer between you and the world around you. Both of these benefits make abhyanga a wonderful way to start the day. However, if abhyanga fits better into your nightly routine, massaging the oil into your skin and taking a warm bath before bed can support a wonderful night’s sleep.
It’s also nice to set aside a longer period of time one day a week, perhaps on your day off, to go deeper with this practice. Light some candles, draw a bath with your favorite essential oils and give yourself a luxurious pampering experience. This act of self- love is a beautiful way to soothe and ground your mind, body and spirit. Yes, there are “optimal” times to do abhyanga but Ayurveda recommends doing practices at times and in ways that make the most sense for you and your unique lifestyle.
What Season is Best for Abhyanga?
Ayurveda is ultimately a study of nature and how we can attune our microcosmic bodies and energy to the cycles and flow of nature. Therefore, there is a season for everything. During the dry and cold seasons, it is recommended to increase oiling practices or re-commit if you have fallen off the wagon in the warmer months. During the fall and winter, Vata is the dominant elemental energy. Vata is comprised of Ether and Air and includes the qualities: dry, light, cold, clear, subtle, mobile and rough. Every quality has an opposite to balance it. This theory is used in virtually every Ayurvedic practice. Oil is dominated by the elements Water and Earth and contains the qualities moist, heavy, obvious, slow and smooth. When we warm the oil or take a warm bath or shower after, we also balance the cold quality.
In the warm and rainy months, you may find that your body doesn’t need abhyanga every day because of the moist, oily and dense properties in nature. During this time, it’s still nice to set aside a self-care session each week to do a lighter abhyanga practice if it feels nourishing to you.
What Kind of Oil Should I Use?
The best type of oil to use varies depending on each person and the season and environment they are living in. However, the general Ayurvedic theory can be applied here to choose which oil is best for you. During cool months or in colder climates, choose a warming oil like sesame or almond. During warm months or in warm climates, choose a cooling oil like coconut or sunflower. There are also herbal oils that are formulated to balance all doshas, like this one. Be sure to choose a high quality, ethically sourced, organic body oil when possible.
How to do Abhyanga
What you will need:
1-2 ounces of high quality body oil
A mug or bowl of hot water that your oil bottle can fit into
A couple of old towels you don’t mind getting oily
A warm and quiet space; a clean, comfortable bathroom can be ideal!
1.) Warm your oil if you would like by placing your oil bottle into your mug of hot water. Allow it to warm to a comfortable temperature for your skin.
2.) Get comfortable sitting or standing on your towel and make sure you are protected from any drafts. Be warm.
3.) Massage the oil all over your entire body. Move from your extremities in toward the center of your body, using long strokes on your limbs and circular strokes around your joints. Massage your abdomen in a big clockwise direction. Move your hands from your lower right side up, across and down the left side to stimulate digestive circulation.
4.) Spend as much time as you like on your self-massage. A few minutes each morning can be sufficient for getting oil on the skin. You may also want to set aside time once a week for a longer more in-depth session. During this time, you can also massage oil into your scalp and pay extra attention to your feet or any areas that need a little extra TLC.
5.) Dab a little oil into your ear canals and nostrils.
6.) If you massage your feet, be sure to wipe any excess off or promptly put socks on so you don’t slip.
7.) After you’ve thoroughly massaged your oil in, take a warm shower or bath. This may seem a bit counter-intuitive. However, the heat will open your pores and allow the oil to penetrate deeper into your tissues, soothing your muscles and nervous system. It’s recommended to only use soap on the most necessary areas to allow most of the oil to stay on your skin.
8.) After your bath or shower, pat dry and put on socks to protect your floors from the oil and let your feet absorb the rest.
9.) Pay attention throughout your day after enjoying this practice to see what you are feeling in your body, mind and nervous system.
Considerations for Each Dosha
Vata: Vata folks may benefit the most from daily abhyanga. Because of Vata’s tendency to have dry skin and experience anxiety, incorporating warm abhyanga daily can be a life-changing practice. Vata people may experience an over-all sense of calm, security and nourishment. The most basic oil that is suited for Vata is Sesame Oil. Other supportive oils include formulations with ashwaghanda, shatavari, bala and mahanarayan oil. My favorite oil for balancing Vata is called Shine by Osi Oils.
Pitta: Pitta folks benefit greatly from massage with a cooling oil, such as coconut. With their fiery and over-heated tendencies, the cooling oil provides relief and the practice of abhyanga provides them with a sense of calm. In the summer, Pittas may want to lighten the amount of oil used and do not warm the oil if using on the scalp. The best basic oils for Pitta are coconut and sunflower. Other appropriate oils include herbs such as brahmi, gotu kola, neem, lavender, tulsi, rose, shatavari and chamomile. Check out Osi's Pitta Balancing oil, Manifest.
Kapha: Kapha folks will typically need oil massage the least of the three doshas. Kaphas already have a moist and oily composition and adding excess oil can make them feel overly sluggish and heavy. However, in our culture where Vata imbalances are dominant, Kapha people can still benefit from this practice- especially if they are experiencing anxiety, fear or overwhelm. To balance the heavy quality, choose a lighter and more stimulating oil such as grapeseed, mustard or sunflower. The herbal oil, Mahanarayan is also helpful for drying excess moisture in the joints. Kapha people can also do dry brushing before their massage and use more quick and invigorating strokes as they work the oil into their skin. One of my favorite oils for balancing Kapha is Rejuvenate by Osi Oils.
No matter the dosha, season, climate, amount of available time or type of oil that’s accessible, we can all benefit from the healing affects of Abhyanga. To shift into incorporating this practice into your routine, choose a time of day or week that feels realistic to you. Decide how much time you would like to dedicate to it. Start small and with what can be consistent. You may start with a 5 minute foot massage each evening before bed, for example. Over time, you might notice a greater sense of well-being, peace and contentment that you didn’t realize was possible before. That’s the healing power of Ayurveda.
If you'd like to incorporate receiving Abhyanga into your routine, click here to book your Ayurvedic massage with me in Indianapolis!