Unlike conventional western massage, Abhyanga herbal oil therapy is NOT a massage therapy.
What is Abhyanga Massage Therapy?
Abhyanga (meaning applying oil to one’s body) is an ancient Ayurvedic Massage therapy meant to be a holistic healing and complementary medicine program. It can be done daily at home or by an Ayurvedic therapist using warm aromatic herbal oils. Abhayanga doesn’t work towards muscles and tissues relaxation but focuses on penetration of these curative oils into cells, triggering healing at a cellular level.
Abhyanga is known to relax (through effective detoxification) and energize (by enabling efficient nutrient absorption and healing) at the same time. Since the oils are applied to the skin, the largest organ in the body, its therapeutic benefits affect all the internal organs while also enabling detoxification. Using hands to gently massage the warm oil along the energy channels of your body in a synchronized manner helps unblock and restore the flow of vital energy (Prana) while squeezing out toxic accumulation from channels. It also has a very therapeutic effect on physical and psychological levels, including the calming of the mind and nervous system.
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
Healing and Restorative Effects of Abhyanga Massage:
- Moisturizes the skin and improves blood circulation.
- Pacifies aggravated vata (due to improper diet and lifestyle choices)
- Strengthens the 7 Dhatus (body tissues)
- Detoxifies physical, mental and emotional toxins by calming the nerves and removing stress.
- Promotes sound sleep.
- Prevents signs of ageing
- Builds energy, stamina and endurance
- Makes joints supple and flexible.
- Improves nutrient absorption.
Choosing the right oils as per your Body type:
Ideally use only cold pressed, extra virgin, chemical free and organic oils for Abhyanga.
Choosing the right oils for Abhyanga contributes to both providing relaxation and healing. The base oils (sesame, almond, coconut or olive) provide the nutrients and the herbs mixed with the base oils provide the healing. Ayurveda emphasizes on selecting the right oils based on your prakriti (nature) and doshas to maximize the effectiveness of the therapy.
For Vata types:
Vata is generally a cold and dry Dosha, so “warm” oil like sesame or almond works best. These provide deep nourishment to tissues, moisturizes dry skin and lubricates joints since aches in joints is a common complaint amongst Vata body types.
Two classical oils, Mahanarayana and Dhanvantaram are normally recommended in Ayurvedic texts to help alleviate the inflammation and stiffness of joints. Apply light to medium pressure during the massage.
For Pitta types:
Pitta is generally a hot and intense Dosha, so “cool” oil like coconut or olive or jojoba is recommended. Most Pitta types are plagued by skin inflammations (like eczema) so based on the ailments choose the right herbs (like neem oil) to mix with the base oils for efficient healing. Use a medium pressure for massage.
For Kapha types:
Kapha is generally a heavy and cold Dosha, so “warm” and deep penetrating oil like mustard or sunflower or sesame (especially if you staying in a cooler climate) is recommended. Medium to heavy pressure is recommended and best for Kapha types to allow deep penetration.
Steps to perform Abhyanga Massage:
1) Only warm oil has to be applied on the body. Inside a warm water bath, carefully heat the oil (in a small container) to a pleasant temperature.
2) Start with a few drops on the head, gently massaging the oil into your scalp using fingers and palms.
3). Use gentle circular motions to apply the oil to your face, throat, ears and neck.
4). Apply a small amount of oil to the chest and abdomen and use clockwise motions to gently rub the oil in.
5) On the hands massage oil with slightly more pressure and speed with a back and forth motion.
6) While massaging your joints use a circular motion. The rule is to use a back and forth motion on straight parts and circular motion on rounded parts like the joints.
7) For your back, start at the base of the spine and work upwards in long, continuous strokes. Ask a partner to help.
8) Use ample oil and perform back and forth motions for the feet and circular parts on the knees and ankles.
9) Special care and time should be given to feet as there are many pressure points (marmas). Apply the oil to the entire foot, taking care to get in between the toes and apply firm pressure on the soles of your feet.
10) Wait for atleast 15-20 mins for the oil to be absorbed, utilizing this time to meditate or do pranayama or breathing exercises. Use a wet warm towel to wipe off excess oil before taking a hot shower to rinse the oil off.
Best Time to Practice Abhayanga:
Vata dosha: Perform Abhayanga before you shower in the morning or at night before going to bed to relieve feelings of anxiety, nervousness, fear and sleeplessness.
Pitta dosha: Apart from performing Abhyanga in the morning, massage brahmi oil (no heating needed) in the scalp and soles of the feet at night to relaxing your frayed nerves. Neem oil can be also used to heal skin inflammations common in Pitta types.
Kapha dosha: You can also perform dry skin brushing with essential oils before taking a shower or a bath in the morning or before sleeping.
Times to Avoid Abhyanga Massage:
Ayurveda advises not to perform Abhayanga during the following conditions:
1. During pregnancy.
2. During menstrual cycle as body is already in detox mode.
3. If case of cuts, bruises, broken bones, swollen and painful skin condition.
4. During acute illness or severe medical condition.