If there is one thing that relaxes me, it has to be a massage. Give me a head and a body massage and I am a happy person.
When we think of self-care, images of elaborate spa rituals come to mind, where one person massages your head, while another works your feet, and you see a person in complete bliss. It’s what movies and TV shows have got us to believe, but the truth is that you don’t need a battalion for self-care – it’s called ‘self’ for a reason!
Your happiness lies in your hands, and your body’s well-being too.
In case you’re wondering how on earth you can give yourself a massage, there’s an answer for that too, and it’s called Abhyanga or Ayurvedic Self Massage.
What is Abhyanga or Self Massage?
Abhyanga is an Ayurvedic oil massage that you do on yourself.
In Ayurveda, it is considered a daily self care ritual, to heal the mind and body from the stresses of daily life.
Abhyanga is believed to help all the systems of the body, while increasing strength and flexibility of muscles and joints. It is also a natural and chemical free way to encourage youthfulness and improve the quality of the skin and hair.
Several scientific studies have found that a massage has numerous health benefits, especially when done with oil and in a proper, rhythmic manner.
A good massage encourages the body to produce more oxytocins, the feel-good hormone, which is why abhyanga is believed to be as good for the mind as it is for the body.
Here is a more detailed look at these benefits.
Health Benefits of Abhyanga or Self Massage
- Better circulation throughout the body
- Provides lubrication for the joints, reducing pain and inflammation
- Encourages elimination of toxins and impurities from the body
- Increases strength of bones and muscles
- Helps tone the tissues of the body
- Improves immunity and tolerance
- Removes stiffness in body parts
- Decreases symptoms of fatigue, especially for the feet
- Improves sensitivity of the sense organs
- Enhances concentration and focus
- Relaxes the mind and promotes better and deeper sleep
- Makes skin softer and smoother, reduces wrinkles
- Encourages growth of thick, shiny hair
- Slows down visible signs of ageing
Abhyanga according to Doshas
According to Ayurveda, one of the biggest benefits of Abhyanga is in the pacification of doshas.
Everyone has their own unique personal constitution, or prakriti, involving the five elements, which manifest through our doshas. Thus, doshas also vary widely from person to person, and when we tailor our self-care routine to work in tune with our prakriti, we reap immense benefits.
The three doshas are Vata, Pitta and Kapha and you can undergo a test at any Ayurvedic center to determine which type you are or which dosha needs balancing.
Your Abhyanga routine should take the doshas into consideration, along with the current weather. Here are a few guidelines for Abhyanga, depending upon the dosha that needs to be balanced.
- Frequency - Daily or at least 5 times a week
- Massage Oil – Sesame oil, Almond oil, Jojoba oil, Ghee in small parts
- Post Massage Essential Oil – Rose, Mitti
- Frequency - 3-4 times a week
- Massage Oil - Coconut oil, Sunflower oil, Jojoba oil, Neem oil in small parts
- Post Massage Essential Oil - Rose, Khus
- Frequency - Once or twice a week
- Massage Oil - Safflower oil, Jojoba oil, Olive oil, Corn oil
- Post Massage Essential Oil - Hina, Myrrh
Correct Technique of Abhyanga or Self Massage
For the benefits of the oil to penetrate our deepest tissues, ideally 15 minutes of massage is recommended, a minimum of 5 minutes.
Find a time slot in your day that allows you this time and make sure it is free from distractions. Get rid of unnecessary emotional baggage before you begin.
You can also do a brain dump on a sheet of paper so you can get everything out of your head and focus on the massage without random thoughts running through your mind.
Find a warm room without any noise to do the abhyanga. Close windows and openings to ensure cold winds don’t get in. Get the following things ready:
- Massage oil of your choice, depending upon your dosha
- A heat proof bottle to hold the oil
- A tub or basin of hot water to place the oil bottle
- A towel or mat to stand upon while doing the Abhyanga
- Another towel to dry off after the massage
Steps of Abhyanga
- Get undressed, stand or sit in a comfortable position. Warm the oil and pour on the palms. Rub it gently and start with the massage.
- Start with a head massage. In abhyanga, the head massage is given a lot of prominence and is expected to take up the most of your allotted time. Use the fingertips and palms to massage the scalp in circular motions.
- Gently massage the face and the outer ears, moving down toward the neck and throat and including the shoulders and upper spine.
- Massage the arms with long strokes, focusing on the joints with smaller strokes. Include the hands and fingers.
- Massage the torso, starting with the chest and moving to the abdomen. Use gentle circular moves over the heart, and follow the path of the intestines when massaging the lower abdomen.
- Massage as much of your back as you can reach, then move to the legs, using long strokes. Use circular strokes on the joints, and finish off with vigorous motions on the soles of the feet.
It is recommended to let the oil absorb into the body for at least ten minutes and follow up with a warm shower.
You can expand or shorten the abhyanga depending upon how much time you have. If you’re strapped for time, go for a quick massage in the shower rather than skipping it. When you have time to spare, like on the weekends, take the time to sit down and apply the oil.
DOs and DON’Ts of Abhyanga
Here are a few important points to remember regarding Abhyanga or self massage.
- Avoid commercial soap to wash off the oil, since it is too drying. Opt for a lighter, natural alternative instead.
- Wash your feet thoroughly to make sure there is no oil left.
- Use separate towels for the abhyanga, since they are likely to get stained with oil.
- Don’t perform Abhyanga during menstruation or pregnancy.
- Don’t massage over an injured body part or over broken or inflamed skin.
- Don’t try the massage when you’re not feeling well, even if it is a mild illness.
If you have any pre-existing medical condition, be sure to get the go-ahead from your doctor before starting abhyanga.
It is important to do the abhyanga in a state of complete calm and gentleness, and not with fear or worrying about getting hurt.
In Sanskrit, the word ‘Sneha’ means two things - oil and love. That is why Ayurveda considers the two to be related. A lovely, relaxed self abhyanga can be one of the most loving things you can do to yourself, and truly brings out the meaning of the words self-care and self-love.
(Pratibha Pal spent her childhood in idyllic places only fauji kids would have heard of. She grew up reading a variety of books that let her imagination wander and still hopes to come across the Magic Faraway Tree. When she's not rooting for eco-living or whipping up some DIY recipes to share with her readers, Pratibha is creating magic with social media. You can view her blog at www.pratsmusings.com or reach to her on Twitter at @myepica.)
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