Self-massage = Self-Love. There is no greater expression of self-love than lovingly anointing ourselves from head to toe with warm oil – this practice is called abhyanga. The Sanskrit word Sneha can be translated as both “oil” and “love”. It is believed that the effects of abhyanga are similar to those received when one is saturated with love. Like the experience of being loved, abhyanga can give a deep feeling of stability and warmth.
A daily abhyanga practice restores the balance of the doshas and enhances well-being and longevity. Regular abhyanga is especially grounding and relaxing for vata dosha imbalances, but all three doshas benefit from this practice
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
Benefits of abhyanga (according to the ancient texts of Ayurveda)
• Decreases the effects of aging
• Nourishes the body
• Increases longevity
• Increases circulation, especially to nerve endings
• Imparts muscle tone and vigor to the dhatus (tissues) of the body
• Imparts a firmness to the limbs
• Lubricates the joints
• Increases mental alertness
• Calms the nerves
• Benefits sleep – better, deeper sleep
• Stimulates the internal organs of the body, including circulation
• Assists in elimination of impurities from the body
• Moves the lymph, aiding in detoxification
• Increases stamina
• Enhances vision
• Makes hair (scalp) grow luxuriantly, thick, soft and glossy
• Skin becomes softer and smoother; reduces and removes wrinkles
• Pacifies Vata and Pitta and stimulates Kapha
Dosha specific oils
Vata – Heavy and warming oils – Sesame, almond
Pitta – Cooling and calming oils – Sunflower, coconut (excellent choice in summer)
Kapha – Light, heating and stimulating oils – Safflower, mustard
Note – anyone with excess Kapha dosha imbalance should avoid oil massage and instead practice dry brushing with loofah or raw silk gloves (garshana) or massaging with a mixture of powdered grains and lentils (udvartana)- example rice and chickpea flour
Massage the body for 5-20 minutes, with love and patience.
• Warm the oil – test the temperature by putting a drop on your inner wrist, oil should be comfortably warm and not hot
• Sit or stand comfortably in a warm room
• Massage the oil into your entire body, beginning at the extremities and working toward the middle of the body.
• Apply 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)
• Face – massage in circular motion on your forehead, temples, cheeks and jaws (always moving in a upward movement). Be sure to massage your ears, especially your ear-lobes – home to essential marma points and nerve endings
• Use long strokes on the limbs and circular strokes on the joints. Always massage toward the direction of your heart
• Massage the abdomen and chest in broad, clockwise, circular motions. On the abdomen, follow the path of the large intestine; moving up on the right side of the abdomen, then across, then down on the left side
• Finish the massage by spending at least a couple of minutes massaging your feet. Feet are a very important part of the body with the nerve endings of essential organs and vital marma points
• Sit with the oil for a few minutes if possible so that the oil can absorb and penetrate into the deeper layers of the body
• Enjoy a warm bath or shower. You can use a mild soap on the “strategic” areas, 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 through out your day.
Sandhiya Ramaswamy CAS, PKS is an Ayurvedic Practitioner and an Ayurvedic chef. She is a faculty member at the California College of Ayurveda (CCA) and the Director of the Southern California Campus of CCA. Born and having lived in India, she has had a lifelong and intimate connection with Ayurvedic healing. Her practice Green Lotus Wellness is based in Orange County, California.