Now that we understand the basic fundamentals of Abhyanga, we will dive deeper into the practice. Understanding the intricacies of how to actually conduct an Abhyanga and make it more effective.
Which Oil is used for Abhyanga?
As is true with any good massage, it all starts with the oil! Oils are much easier to procure than you might think. Grocery stores often carry a wide variety of oils that can be used for Abhyanga. It is important to look for both cold-pressed and organic quality oils (This is a good rule of thumb for purchasing cooking oils as well) to employ during the massage. Different oils have different medicinal properties, the same way that herbs do. Sesame oil is very grounding and tonifying, a good choice for strengthening the body and dry skin. Coconut oil and Sunflower oil are both cooling making them good for skin irritation and inflammation. Olive oil can even be used (if you don’t mind the smell) which helps with joint problems. Castor oil is wonderful for all types of pain, be it sore muscles, tension, or even menstrual cramps! Visit our Shanti Shop Oils
Adding Essential Oils
To enhance both the absorption and the aroma of your Abhyanga, Essential Oils can be added to the carrier oil. Essential Oils are a product of steam distillation which extracts the volatile medicinal component of the herb being extracted. These medicines are extremely potent and if they are going to come into contact with the skin, a carrier oil should always be used to prevent skin irritation. Undiluted Essential Oils should rarely come into direct contact with the skin. There are a few exceptions, some Essential Oils are not nearly as irritating to the skin as others have the potential to be. However, minimizing direct contact with undiluted Essential Oils is a good standard practice, as the sensitivity of everyone’s skin is unique.
As discussed earlier, Essential Oils containing Terpenes act as accelerants, which help to drive the carrier oils deeper into the skin. When working with oil that does not smell as pleasant as was hoped, these Essential Oils are an easy way to mask the smell of the oil as well! Essential Oils can also be used in a more clinical sense to work with certain conditions or disease, as they are extremely potent medicinally. For an 8oz. bottle of Abhyanga oil, between 40-60 drops of essential oil can be used for general aromatherapy and moderate medicinal effect. Using 80 drops in an 8oz. bottle works more at a clinical level. Keep in mind that these Essential Oils are quite volatile, meaning they are particularly heat-sensitive. Try to avoid prolonged and unnecessary exposure to heat (When warming up the Abhyanga oil) as over time these Essential Oils will dissipate, negating some of their effectiveness. Visit our Shanti Shop Essential Oils
How To Administer A Self Abhyanga
To begin the Abhyanga, the oil should first be warmed up. This will increase the permeability into the skin, all the while feeling delightful as it goes onto the body! In order to warm up the oil, it should first be stored in a glass bottle. This is to prevent plastics from leeching into the oil during the heating process. Once the oil is in a glass bottle or jar, the most common method is to warm it up using hot water. This can be as straightforward as running the sink faucet until hot and rotating the bottle under the stream (taking care to avoid spilling any water into the oil container- as this will cause the oil to go rancid). Other options include setting the bottle inside a small crockpot, or in a pot of freshly boiled water. When the bottle feels hot to the touch, it is ready to apply the oil!
Quick Tip: An Olive oil pour spout (Available at most grocery stores) fits into most standard bottle sizes and makes pouring the oil a breeze!
Now that the oil is up to the correct temperature, it can be applied to the body. Working from the head, down to the toes, will have a grounding effect (Good for Vata). While working from the feet, up to the crown of the head, will have a more stimulating effect (Good for Kapha). This can change from day to day depending on both your intention and the time of the Abhyanga.
To apply the oil fill up one palmful (approximately 1tbsp) per major section of your body e.g. lower arm, upper arm and shoulder, upper torso, stomach, upper leg, lower leg, etc. Attempt to build up friction while applying the oil by moving the hands in small, swift circles, using the broad side of your hand. Remember that this is also a massage and while the main emphasis is on the application of oil onto the body… it should feel good too! When you discover areas of tension or pain, spend some extra time in this space to explore it. More or less pressure can prove useful in providing relief, as well as using slower strokes with your thumbs to penetrate deeper into the area. Oiling the bottoms of the feet is very grounding for Vata, however, you will need an old pair of socks to prevent tracking oil all around the house if you choose to do so!
The oil should remain on the body for a minimum of 30 minutes. This will give it the proper time to absorb fully into the skin. After this time has passed, most of the oil will have been integrated almost completely. The skin will still be slightly oily to the touch, but a stark change will be observed from the original level of oiliness. You can light an incense stick as a “timer”. Most standard sticks burn for approximately forty-five minutes. You can either allow it to completely burn out or until it is 2/3 of the way finished (thirty minutes will have passed at the 2/3’s mark) to gauge how long the oil has been on. Take care to avoid surfaces that may get oily in the process. Choosing an old pair of “sweat style” clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty can be an easy way to move about the house, a designated bathrobe works as well! To pass the time, you may enjoy some gentle yoga. Throw a bath towel down on the ground to prevent oil from getting on the ground surface as a “yoga mat”. The internal heat generated from the yoga practice will further help with the absorption of the oil. You could also prepare a meal, water your houseplants, meditate, and dance, the possibilities are truly endless!
After the Abhyanga, a shower is optional, but if one is taken, it is encouraged to only use soap under the arms and the privates. This is because the soap strips away the oils which were just worked into the skin. Try showering before the Abhyanga and meekly patting yourself dry with the damp towel from the previous shower after your Abhyanga has finished. Most of the time, this pat dry with a damp towel is sufficient to keep any leftover oil from getting on clothes and/or furniture.
Enhance Absorption with Swedana
To further enhance the absorption, heat or steam can be used to dilate the pores further; This is fundamentally the meaning behind Swedana- to perspire. A warm room to be in during the Abhyanga is helpful. During warm months of the year, being outside in the sunshine will also warm the body allowing the oil to sink deeper into the skin. One trick for an improvised steam sauna at home is to run your shower as hot as it will go. Next, point the shower head towards the wall/away from the main showering area. Stand or sit in the shower space allowing the steam to prompt you into perspiration. Staying in this steam for 5-10 minutes should allow your body to absorb the oil at a much faster rate. You can also add a few drops of Essential Oils to the shower’s floor. The extreme heat of the water will vaporize the Essential Oils, providing you with a DIY aromatherapy diffuser as well!
- Heat up the vessel of oil in a crockpot, in the sink, or in a pot of freshly boiled water.
- For grounding (Vata or Pitta), start at the head and work down towards the feet, with long, smooth, gentle, and slow strokes.
- For stimulating (Kapha) start from the feet and work up towards the head with fast, short strokes, and moderate pressure.
- Apply one palmful of warmed oil onto each main area of the body e.g. upper arm, lower arm, chest, abdomen, upper leg, lower leg, etc.
- Leave the oil on for 30-60 minutes for maximum absorption.
Optional: Shower or pat dry.
Hari Om ॐ To End All Suffering