Think of body massages, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
A luxurious spa treatment?... lying on the spa bed with your eyes closed?... back massages as you slowly fall asleep?... going into a trance of relaxation?... but waking up to a big hole in your purse? A snap back to reality!
Ayurveda has an accessible alternative that dates back to 5000 years ago, is more effective with the potency of herb-infused oils and does not cost you an arm and a leg! Self-Massage or Abhyanga can be performed any time from the comfort of your home, what can be better than that?
But what exactly is Abhyanga?
Abhyanga is an Ayurvedic concept of self-massaging your body with the use of warm, herb-infused oils that are specifically chosen to help balance the doshas in our bodies.
The Sanskrit word Sneha translates to both “oil” as well as “love”. It is believed that the process of performing Abhyanga on yourself with Ayurvedic oils or ‘sneha’ has the same effect as when one is in love. Science substantiates this fact by showing that a massage induces the release of cascade of feel-good hormones in our body and inhibits the levels of cortisol.
There is no better way to self-love than treating your body to the goodness of potent Ayurvedic herbs.
Ayurveda suggests a synchronized massaging of the body towards the direction of the arterial blood movement or in the direction of the body hair growth (to make it simpler). A scientific reasoning behind this could be that the blood flows even to the most distal parts of the body. For example, if the massage is done towards the heart, or in the direction opposite to that of the body hair, the massage may overwhelm the heart through the increased venous return.
With that being said, Here are 9 Uses and Benefits of Abhyanga!
- Nourishes the entire body and delays the signs of aging.
- It is used for relief of pain, stiffness, and tiredness.
- Increases circulation and rejuvenates the body.
- Calms the nerves and induces quality sleep.
- It also forms an important part of snehana or oleation which is an indispensable prelude to panchakarma treatments, the five Ayurvedic detoxification therapies.
- Abhyanga not only prepares the body for panchakarma, but also helps to mobilize the dosha or morbidity from the periphery toward the core in order to get them eliminated through the body orifices.
- Vata dosha is particularly pacified by Abhyanga. Pitta and Kapha can be pacified with a massage using different massage mediums like ghee and herbal powders respectively.
- Abhyanga is considered an important treatment modality for balancing the dosha.
- Helps grow voluminous, luscious, glossy, and thick hair.
But how is it different from regular massages that we know of?
Abhyanga invariably uses copious amounts of oil for massaging the body, this is where the difference kicks in.
Unlike regular massages, which are used for recreation and relaxation, Abhyanga is a therapeutic procedure used to help with many health disorders. Medicated oils or herb infused oils are used for their unmatched therapeutic effects on the body.
Interestingly, Ayurvedic texts have mentions of certain Abhyanga techniques:
- Samvahan meaning gentle rubbing
- Peedan meaning pressing and squeezing
- Mardan meaning pressure massage, which corresponds to modern-day massage techniques
These massage techniques have been developed over the centuries.
Infact, Marma massage and Kerala foot massage, which were traditionally used to heal injured warriors, were carefully guarded secrets. Now they are being taught openly for the wellbeing of humanity.
Regularly performing self-massage, preferably in the morning on an empty stomach is recommended by Ayurveda for flawless skin, healthy body, lively joints, and a happier life!
How exactly do I do that? You might be wondering. So here it is!
How to perform a full body massage or (Sarvanga Abhyanga) on your own?
The Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita specifically mentions the full body Abhyanga (Sarvanga Abhyanga), head massage (Shiro Abhyanga), and foot massage (Pad Abhyanga) separately. This shows the relative importance of massaging these parts of the body. They can be massaged in isolation or along with full body massage.
Here are some Important Guidelines that you must follow while performing Abhyanga
Ideally, full-body Ayurvedic massage should start with the head and end at the feet!
- The body should be massaged in sections and not at once in a stretch. This is to facilitate the proper flow of blood and lymph and induce relaxation of the body part by part, from the head downwards.
- Massage should be done slowly with varying pressures. Firm pressure should be applied on the extremities and light to very light pressure should be applied to the neck, abdomen, heart area, face, eyes, and forehead.
- The extremities can be massaged with long strokes in the direction of the body hair. The back of the neck, waist, and sides of the body can also be massaged using long and firm strokes.
- Circular clockwise motion should be used on the joints. The abdomen should be massaged in a clockwise circular motion in the direction of the large intestine. Move up on the right side then straight across the abdomen and then downwards on the left side.
- Abhyanga should be performed for 5-15 minutes on a routine basis and on weekends one should give at least 10 -15 minutes to each of the three areas of the body – head, body, and feet.
- Rest for 15 minutes after massage then take a warm water bath.
- Make sure you are in a comfortably warm, ventilated but draft-free room like a bathroom.
- Warm oil should be used for the body and cool to lukewarm oil should be used on the head. In peak summer season cool oil can be used and in cold seasons lukewarm to warm oil should only be used even on the head
- For Pitta dominated people or for those with Pitta aggravation, oil at room temperature can be used.
Select the oil of your choice according to your body needs
The choice of oils should preferably be made according to your dosha or body type and the area to be massaged.
According to Doshas:
- For Vata constitution, use sesame, olive, or castor oil
- For Pitta constitution, use coconut, sunflower oil, or
- For Kapha constitution, use mustard, sesame, corn, or
According to body parts:
- For the body, use sesame, olive, sunflower, mustard, or corn oils
- For the head, use coconut oil, or sesame oil infused with cooling herbs
- For the feet use ghee or any oil appropriate for the dosha
In addition, there are several herb-infused oils available for different purposes and can be selected following the advice of an Ayurvedic practitioner.
Steps to follow when performing Full-Body Abhyanga on yourself
1. Begin by heating a quarter cup of massage oil
Take your choice of oil and place it in a container with hot water so that the oil gets warm. The oil should be warmer than body temperature, 38°C or 100°F.
2. Start by massaging the head
- Put a small amount of oil on the crown
- Massage with gentle dabbing strokes using your palm
- Pour more oil on the scalp and massage using the open palms of the hands and the flat surfaces of the fingers (rather than the fingertips) in circular strokes
- According to Ayurveda, it can be a quick fix for headaches, insomnia, and stress.
Tip: Spend more time on the head than on other parts of the body as it has Marma points (vital points) which can influence the rest of the body.
3. Massage the face and outer part of the ears
Massaging the ears is said to influence the whole body. Give them some extra time, but don’t massage them vigorously.
- Massage the entire outer ear
- Apply some oil at the opening of the auditory canal and massage
using your little or index finger.
4. Smear oil all over the body before massaging
This Allows maximum time for the potency of oils to penetrate the skin.
- Massage the front and back of the neck, and the upper part of the back using firm and long strokes along the direction of muscle fibers.
5. Next massage the arms, chest, and stomach
- Massage the arms using long strokes in the direction of the body hair (from the shoulder towards the hand)
- Massage in circular motion on the shoulder, wrist and elbow joint
- The palms, back of the hands, the individual fingers, and the finger joints should also be massaged with firm but gentle pressure using the thumb and finger
- Repeat for the other arm
- Now come down to the chest and stomach. Use moderate to light pressure particularly on the heart area
- Massage in circular motion over the pectoral area, and a very gentle, vertical motion over the breastbone and solar plexus
- Use a very gentle circular motion over the abdomen, moving clockwise, in the direction of the large intestine
- Massage the back, spine, and sides as far as your hands can reach using firm and long strokes.
6. Massage the legs and feet
- Massage the legs in the same way you did the arms: straight on the bones, circular on the joints, and from the hip downwards, in the direction of the body hair
- Take more time massaging your feet. Massage the sole and top of the foot vigorously, applying firm pressure with your palms. The toes are massaged individually like fingers. spending more time
- Feet also contain many vital points and nerve endings.
The ideal length of a daily full body massage is 15 to 30 minutes, but even a quick massage for 5 minutes could be very beneficial. In these short massages prioritize the head and the feet.
7. Post-Abhyanga rituals that you must follow:
- Take a warm shower 20 minutes after your massage
- Do not use soap on the body.
Instead, take black gram flour for Vata dominant body types or triphala powder for Kapha and Pitta dominant body types. Mix the powder of choice with some water to make a thick paste and apply all over. Rub it off once it starts drying, it will take away most of the oil. Leave the remaining oil on your body because it will nourish your body even further.
- For taking oil out of the hair an herbal shampoo can be used
For Kapha types who have a Kapha dominance, and in the case when the weather is too humid:
The same steps of massage can be done using raw silk gloves. Alternatively, first, smear the body with a paste of triphala powder mixed in warm water and let dry. Then rub it off using the same massage strokes. For the head and face, bare hands must be used. To enhance the effect, the dry massage can be done in the direction opposite to the body hair.
Abhyanga (oil massage) should be performed daily, or, if not daily, at least applying oil to the head, ears and foot is a must to lead a healthy life. Ideally, it should be done for 5 -10 minutes daily as a part of Dinacharya or daily routine and to treat any condition depending upon strength, age etc.
Melt away that built up tension and stress in your muscles with a daily 10-minute Ayurveda indulgence. There is no need to shell out big bucks on those extremely expensive spas and salons. Switch to taking matters in your own hands (pun intended) and perform self-massage with herb-infused oils in the comfort of your home to reap benefits for the body-mind-soul!
Tell us about that one thing that makes ‘spa day’ an absolute treat for you? If not, what is that one deciding factor that often becomes a roadblock when making that spa appointment?
1Massage increases oxytocin and reduces adrenocorticotropin hormone in humans https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23251939/
2Importance of Abhyanga in Today’s Scenario https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324326991_Importance_of_Abhyanga_in_Today's_Scenario