"Learn to love your body and it will automatically take care of you". This is the train of thought you can find widely discussed in beauty forums, international ad campaigns, and conventions. Ayurveda has been speaking about this exact insight for thousands of years. Ayurvedic oils and their uses have been well recognized and received across the world.
The concept of self-care and listening to one's body is the very foundation of Ayurveda. It laid the ground rules for stress relief, ayurvedic aromatherapy, and holistic nourishment way before beauty products were even a thing. The concept of ayurvedic massage oils is grounded in nourishing both the external and internal systems of our body. From stress-relief to weight loss to joint pain, ayurvedic massage oils find practical uses for day to day discomforts.
Abhyanga, also known as Abiyangam, is a form of Ayurvedic therapy that involves a holistic massage with Ayurvedic oils. Unlike conventional massage therapy, abhyanga is deemed as an expression of self-love and serves to boost an individual’s physical, mental, and psychological well being.
Over time, a regular abhyanga regimen improves the balance of ayurvedic doshas in the body and improves longevity. The practice of abhyanga is considered an expression of self-love and nourishes the body and mind in the same way as the feeling of being deeply loved.
This article will enlighten you about the benefits of abhyanga, how to choose the right Ayurvedic massage oils, and how to customize your own abhyanga regimen to balance your specific dosha.
Massage alone is strongly recommended as a way of relaxing the bodily muscles and easing mental tension. In Ayurveda, it is believed that the beneficial effects of massage are enhanced by including an Ayurvedic massage oil. The sensations involved in Ayurvedic massage emulate the feeling of a warm embrace, easing anxiety and mental stress and infusing you with peace and contentment. The Sanskrit word “Sneha” translates to “love” as well “oil,” and Ayurveda emphasizes on this inherent link between the feeling of love and covering the body in oil. The sensation of “Sneha” – be it love or through oil – is a subtle one (sukshma), allowing it to enter through the smallest channels of the body through its seven tissue layers (dhatus). Massage also helps to improve blood circulation and thus ease up tension within the body, which further reduces stress levels.
The benefits of abhyanga, in fact, go beyond stress relief. Massage in Ayurveda is recommended as an excellent remedy that can enhance the working of the nervous system, repair sleep patterns, promote healthy hair and skin, strengthen the limbs, and improve overall longevity. Massage is also a good way to lose excess body weight, as the oils work as fat burners when massaged deeply into the skin. If you suffer from dry or lifeless skin, abhyanga will lead to a visible improvement in skin quality as the oils work to repair your tissues and reverse the effects of dehydration, aging, and wrinkles. In addition, the healing properties of abhyanga oils serve to flush out toxins from the body and enhance the overall health of the internal organs.
The word ‘massage’ instantly calls to mind an indulgent session at some exotic hotel or spa. However, not all of us can afford to get regular spa sessions. Fortunately, you do not need the services of a professional to benefit from the wonders of abhyanga. Ayurvedic home remedies are widely practiced and enjoyed by people all over the world. You too, can pick an oil based on your Ayurvedic dosha type and treat yourself to a relaxing self-massage right in the comforts of your home. As the name suggests, self-massage is the act of massaging your own body, all over or in parts. However, abhyanga goes far beyond merely applying some oil on yourself for a few minutes.
Abhyanga requires you to devote at least fifteen minutes each day towards massaging yourself thoroughly so that the oil penetrates deep into your skin. By doing so, you are emulating the feeling of a loving embrace and giving yourself the self-care you deserve. While the idea of an oil massage may seem messy and difficult to do on your own, with some practice you can reap all the benefits of a massage in the comfort of your home and have a self-care routine you can enjoy each day.
Ayurveda is all about achieving the right balance in the body. According to Ayurveda, opposites balance each other out and like enhances like. When picking a massage oil for yourself, it is thus essential to choose one that corrects imbalances in your body. For this, you need to take the three key Ayurvedic doshas into account – Vata, pitta, and Kapha – and how those doshas impact different aspects of your life. These aspects include
The ways in which each oil reacts uniquely with your mind, spirit, and body are complex. One option is to choose a simple carrier oil like castor, sesame, or coconut oil to enjoy a relaxing massage. Coconut oil has cooling properties and is ideal for use in the hotter months as well as by individuals with excess heat in their bodies. Sesame oil, on the other hand, has warming properties and is perfect for use during the cooler months as well as by individuals with excess coolness in their bodily systems. However, to experience the full benefits of the abhyanga, it is ideal to pick oils that have specific dosha-balancing properties for your self-massage.
The properties of Vata dosha are primarily light, cool, dry, and subtle. These characteristics are essentially the opposite of the properties of an oil, so you have a number of options when it comes to picking a Vata balancing oil. One of the best options for Vata balancing oils is plain sesame oil from untoasted sesame seeds. Ayurveda, in fact, considers this to be the king of oils. You can use it on its own in a refined or unrefined version. Alternatively, you can use it as a base for other herbal oils. For instance, ashwagandha oil is known for its potent ability to strengthen muscles and is highly recommended to supplement an active lifestyle. You can mix this with sesame or olive oil to create a massage oil solution that will help build up muscle mass while also relaxing you.
Don't want to get your hands dirty? Pre-made Tejas Oil is an excellent choice to balance your Vata imbalance improving vigour and vitality while also helping you get rid of dry skin issues. Bala oil has similar muscle-enhancing properties and is also a good option. Another option is Mahanarayan oil, which contains twenty essential Ayurvedic herbs and can be mixed with warm sesame oil for an invigorating massage that helps to heal aching joints. After a massage with Mahanarayan oil, you can enhance its efficacy with a warm bath coupled with one-third cup each of ginger powder and baking soda. If you are looking to massage localized areas that need attention, ghee (clarified butter) is an excellent alternative to sesame oil, particularly if you have dry skin.
The main characteristics associated with pitta dosha are a sharp-minded nature, oily sensations, and a fleshy body odour. The best pitta massage oils are predominantly light oils such as coconut or sunflower oil that have a cooling effect. Moreover, since the pitta dosha shares a number of properties with oil, the addition of appropriate herbs to the massage oil can greatly enhance the efficacy of the abhyanga. For instance, oils that feature herbs like licorice, Shatavari, Brahmi, or Manjistha can have a cooling effect on the body, particularly in the summertime or if there is excess heat in your body system. Tejas Oil is a great way to improve resistance to heat which is a major pain point for people with Pitta imbalance. Brahmi, in particular, is an excellent choice when combined with coconut oil (for a cooling effect) or sesame oil (for a warming effect). Another option you can add to your base oil is neem oil, which has a strong cooling effect and is ideal if your body has an excess of pitta dosha. Other options you can consider are the Bhringraj oil for a relaxing scalp massage and the Brahmi oil for calming and nourishing your mind.
The main characteristics associated with Kapha dosha are cool, oily, smooth, and heavy. This is similar to the properties of most oils, so the application of unprescribed oils may end up enhancing the Kapha dosha rather than decreasing it. However, here comes the importance of adding the correct herbs to your base oil so as to enhance the invigorating and healing properties of the massage oil and counteract the Kapha dosha. Some of the best Kapha balancing oils include plain sesame, corn, or almond oil, which can help to warm your body when you massage yourself vigorously. Be sure to use an untoasted variety of sesame oil with a less pungent scent. Consider adding oils that contain herbs such as rosemary, calamus, and Chitrak, all of which serve to energize your body and stimulate lymphatic movement and circulation when you massage vigorously. Kapha tends to get elevated during the spring, so be sure to take extra care with your massage oil during this season.
In addition, you can also consider using massage oil with tridoshic properties, i.e., which are ideal for balancing all three doshas – Vata, pitta, and Kapha. Some of the herbs you are likely to see in such massage oils include Guduchi (soothing and rejuvenating qualities), Tulsi (invigoration), Bala (strengthening) and Brahmi and Bhringraj to strengthen the mind.
While this is not a compulsory step in your massage regimen, the addition of dusting powder can have further beneficial effects on your body and mind. In particular, those with Vata and Kapha doshas can benefit from the application of dusting powder as long as it does not irritate your skin. The best way to benefit from this step is by mixing chickpea flour with water to make a paste and applying it gently to the body (as an alternative to soap) during your shower after the massage. Let the paste rinse off on its own. Alternatively, Kapha individuals can vigorously apply an appropriate dusting powder such as chickpea flour or organic calamus powder (Vacha) either before rubbing in the abhyanga oil or afterward while rinsing the oil off.
While performing an ideal body massage on yourself may seem daunting, you can accomplish it easily with some practice. Be sure to set aside at least fifteen minutes for your massage so that the oil can penetrate all the seven tissue layers (Dhatus) of your body for maximum effect. If you are looking for the perfect massage routine to perform in the morning for an energetic day or before you sleep for a restful night, here is an excellent routine as recommended by Ayurveda practitioner Dr. Claudia Welch.
One side effect of Ayurvedic oil massage is that your sheets and towels can get stained with oil over time. To ensure that there is minimal damage to your linen, be sure to keep a separate towel to sit on during your massage and another one to dry yourself with after your shower. In addition, if you are performing abhyanga at night, have a separate set of cotton nightclothes to wear after your shower for at least an hour before sleeping to absorb any excess oil. You can also spread a towel over your pillow before you sleep so that any residual oil in your hair gets absorbed.
Another useful way to protect your clothes is by adding a diluted mixture of vinegar and baking soda to your washing machine at the start of the cycle. While corrosive in large quantities, this is excellent for removing oil stains when combined with hot water. You can also use a natural, environment-friendly detergent to wash your clothes. It is essential to remember that oil is highly flammable, so be careful when drying oily towels and clothes. Ideally, you should let them dry naturally – if using a clothes dryer, use a low-heat setting so that they do not risk catching fire. You should also be careful not to leave oil-stained clothes or towels in a car.
Abhyanga is more than just a body massage – it is a way for you to express self-love. By giving yourself a soothing oil massage, you are embracing yourself and thanking yourself for being who you are. The benefits of abhyanga are physical, emotional, and mental and can benefit people of all ages and from all walks of life. As long as you choose the correct massage oil for yourself and take care of your towels and clothes, a daily massage can be a simple yet extremely special part of your routine. Allow yourself that healing “me time” and set aside time each day for an Ayurvedic oil massage – you will undoubtedly feel long-term benefits and a heightened sense of wellbeing and happiness amidst the cares of daily life.
About Dr. G R Chandran
One of the leading practitioners of Ayurveda medicine in India, Dr. G R Chandran is a reputed doctor and an important member of the Ayurveda Medical Association of India. Specializing in the delicate treatment of Abhyanga, Dr. Chandran has an expansive knowledge of and extensive experience using various healing oils, herbs and spices to provide immediate detoxification and pain relief for the patient. Practicing out of Indiranagar, Bengaluru from the Kerala Ayurveda Ltd. Clinic, Dr. Chandran has successfully treated over one lakh patients in his 29 years long career. His primary treatment areas include rheumatoid arthritis, spondylitis, obesity, PCOD, dermatological problems and infertility.