Seeking deep healing? The Ayurvedic Abhyanga is the self-massage for you
An “Abhyanga” is a massage using oil, according to the Ayurvedic tradition. Ayurveda, in case you’ve missed it, is a 5000 year old traditional Hindu healing system that takes into account the constitution, or “dosha” of each individual. It balances the body accordingly, using diet, herbal and mineral remedies, yoga and yogic breathing, massage and other detox rituals. Essentially, it’s one of the oldest, most respected holistic healing systems.
The Abhyanga practice is a special wellness ritual that you can do daily. According to the Chopra Center website, it’s extremely valuable to practice on yourself regularly, “When stimulated through therapeutic touch or massage, the skin releases a pharmacy of healing chemicals that have health-promoting effects on the physiology. In addition to feeling good, regular massage and loving touch detoxifies the body’s tissues, increases circulation, calms the mind, and enhances immune function.
“The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries, or strenuous work. 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, “Giving yourself a daily self-abhy with aromatherapy massage oils is a deeply healing and deeply enjoyable ayurvedic practice that activates the body’s inner pharmacy and slows the aging process. Depending upon your unique mind-body type (dosha), your massage technique can be gentle or more vigorous.”
So, what are the benefits, exactly? Doing an Abhyanga can:
- Increase the softness and healthy glow of the skin
- Flush toxins from the lymphatic system
- Decreases Vata (autoimmune illnesses such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and Polymositis are considered Vata imbalances and self massage is extremely beneficial for calming symptoms)
- Strengthens the Dhatus (the body’s tissues in accordance to the Ayurvedic texts) and helps tone muscles
- Increases strength and stamina
- Improves vision
- Promotes healthy sleep
- Reduces anxiety and depression
- Promotes flexibility
- Release healthy endorphins which, in turn, help balance hormones, an especially important practice for women
Best Dosha Practices
Before you go diving in, there is one essential key to examine first. You must know your dosha; as Ayurveda is a holistic, individual-based system, “one size fits all” is definitely not the practice. You can take a quick dosha quiz here, and then figure out the best Abhyanga practice based on your body type.
Vata types require a warming oil like sesame or almond. For your body type, it’s best to do an Abhyanga 2-3 times a week. Vata is a cold and dry Dosha, so warm oil is very nourishing in balancing your systems. It helps lubricate the dry skin and protect the joints as well. Mahanarayan oil and Dhanvantaram are two classical oils used in Ayurveda to help alleviate the inflammation and stiffness of joints. A light to medium pressure should be used.
A hotter Dosha than Vata, Pitta types need a cooling type oil in order to balance, so coconut and olive oils are an excellent choice. Medium pressure should be used when massaging. Many Pitta types have inflammatory skin issues. Ayurveda has some specific oils for use on specific ailments.
Kapha is another Dosha that requires a warming oil. Use mustard and sunflower; both are excellent choices. Sesame is also a very good choice, particularly if you live in a cooler climate. Medium to heavy pressure is recommended and best for Kapha types, which will let the oil deeply penetrate as it should.
Now you’re ready to go! Here are the steps you will need to take for your Abhyanga:
- Begin by running some hot water over the bottle to gently warm the oil; warm oil is best to work with on your body.
- You can use a loofah or body brush to dry brush the entire body.
- Pour a tablespoon of warm oil onto your scalp and vigorously work in the oil.
- Using your fingertips, vigorously massage your head and scalp with small circular strokes, as if you are shampooing.
- Move to your face and ears, massaging more gently.
- Using an open hand to create friction, massage both the front and back of the neck.
- Vigorously massage your arms, using a circular motion at the shoulders and elbows, and back-and-forth motions on the upper arms and forearms. Massage in the direction of the hair follicles, allowing the oil to cover the body evenly.
- When performing Abhyanga on the joints, use a circular motion.
- When massaging your chest and stomach, use a gentle circular motion and a straight up-and-down motion over the breastbone.
- After applying a bit of oil to both hands, gently reach around to the back and spine and massage them as well as you can without straining. Start at the base of the spine and work upwards in a long, continuous stroke. You can also have a partner help you with this part.
- Vigorously massage your legs as you did your arms, using circular motions at the ankles and knees, back-and-forth motions on the long parts.
- After massaging your legs, spend extra time on your feet. The feet contain many important Marmas (pressure points in accordance to the principles of Ayurveda). Using the open part of your hand, massage vigorously back and forth over the soles of the feet. When massaging the feet, be sure to apply the oil to the entire foot, taking care to get in between the toes.
- After the application of oil, sit quietly for 5-15 minutes to allow the oil to be properly absorbed by your skin. During this time you may choose to meditate, as it’s a good time set apart for relaxed spiritual practice. Keeping a thin, almost imperceptible film of oil on the body is considered very beneficial for toning the skin and warming the muscles throughout the day. Or, you can take a shower once the oils have absorbed.
What's your Ayurvedic dosha? Take this quiz and find out
The balance of your Ayurvedic doshas, also known as prakruti, is a key part of understanding your holistic health.
Doshas are the three energies found in nature, and also in the human body. They are broken down into three types: vata, pitta and kapha. The doshas are responsible over our bodies, minds, emotions, and thoughts. From birth, we are each individually made with a very specific blend of the five basic elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. That unique blend is your prakruti, or what uniquely constitutes your individual body, and can be broken down by a combination of the three doshas: vata (ether + air), pitta (fire + water), and kapha (water + earth).
The three doshas are the building blocks to understanding our prakruti, and once you understand which is your dominant dosha, you can know what your balanced state looks like. This is vital, as through this lens you can spot exactly when your body goes out of balance, and how to bring it back into balance. Humans are being of nature, constructed from the same five elements, and thus can use the opposing elements as needed to bring us back into balance.
It all hinges on knowing your doshas, however. You can get a general sense of where your dosha balance lies, and go from there to correct the problems. You can even seek out the help of an Ayurvedic practitioner, who can take a look at your insights and prescribe anything from food and herbs to a new lifestyle. Thanks, Ayurveda!
Tally up the number of v’s, p’s, and k’s you receive (standing for vata, pitta, and kapha), whichever you have the most of is your dominant dosha:
- v) I am a slender person and I hardly gain weight
- p) I am medium build
- k) I am well built and I gain weight no matter what I do
- v) My skin is dry, thin, and itches often
- p) My skin looks flushed; I have lots of moles and freckles on my body
- k) My skin is smooth and soft, it looks pale sometimes
- v) My hair is dry, thin and brittle
- p) My hair is neither dry nor oily (for men: I have a receding hairline)
- k) My hair is thick, full, lustrous, and slightly oily
- v) My face is oval
- p) My face is triangular (pointed chin, prominent jaw line)
- k) My face is round
- v) My eyes are small; they feel dry often and have a bit of dullness (usually brown)
- p) My eyes are medium in shape; sharp & penetrating (usually blue)
- k) My eyes are big and round in shape, full eyelashes
- v) My hands are generally dry, rough; slender fingers; dry nails
- p) My hands are generally moist, pink; medium fingers; soft nails
- k) My hands are generally firm, thick; thick fingers; strong & smooth nails
- v) My joints are small, prominent bones, and often crack
- p) My joints are medium and loose
- k) My joints are large, sturdy, with lots of muscle surrounding
- v) I am a very active person (always on the go, mind constantly thinking)
- p) I like to think before I do anything
- k) I am steady and graceful (I don’t like to rush)
- v) I walk fast and talk fast
- p) My actions are very thoughtful and precise
- k) I like a slower pace and I take my time to accomplish things
- v) I do not sleep soundly at night. I tend to toss and turn. I wake up early in the morning
- p) I am a light sleeper but if something wakes me up, I can go back to sleep easily
- k) I am a heavy sleeper
- v) Varies, sometimes I feel hungry, sometimes not, I feel anxious if I don’t eat
- p) I always feel hungry. If I don’t eat I get irritable and angry
- k) I don’t feel very hungry. I can go without food easily for a day
12. Bowel Movement
- v) I tend to have constipation and can go a day or two without a bowel movement
- p) I am regular and sometimes stools are loose (tend to get diarrhea)
- k) I have no problem. I wake up to go to the bathroom.
- v) My voice tends to be weak or hoarse
- p) I have a strong voice, I may get loud sometimes
- k) My voice is deep, has good tone
- v) I am a born worrier, I often feel anxious and nervous
- p) If things don’t happen my way, I feel irritable and angry
- k) I am a happy person, very caring and loving
15. Weather Preference
- v) I love warm and humid weather
- p) I enjoy cool weather, I dislike a warm climate
- k) I like warm but dry weather
- v) I sweat little but not much
- p) I sweat profusely and it might have an unpleasant odor
- k) I never sweat, unless working very hard
- v) I remember quickly and forget quickly
- p) I remember what I want to remember and never forget
- k) It takes me a while to remember, but once I do I never forget
- v) I tend to be spontaneous
- p) I am a list maker. Unless I plan, I don’t do anything
- k) I don’t like to plan, I prefer to follow others
- v) I like to do things in spurts and I get tired very easily
- p) I have medium stamina
- k) I can work long hours and maintain good stamina
- v) My mind gets restless and racing easily
- p) I get impatient easily
- k) It takes a lot to make me mad. I usually feel very calm
21. Decision Making
- v) I change my mind more often and will take time to make a decision
- p) I can make a decision easily and stick with it
- k) I want others to make the decisions
- v) “Is it too late to change my mind”?
- p) “It’s my way or the highway”
- k) “Don’t worry, be happy!”
- v) I like action
- p) I like to win
- k) I like to have fun
24. Health Problems
- v) My symptoms are mainly pain, constipation, anxiety and depression
- p) I often get skin infections, fevers, heart burn, and hypertension
- k) I tend to get allergies, congestion, weight gain and digestive problems
- v) I like art (drawing, painting, dance) and travel
- p) I like sports, politics, and things that get my adrenaline pumping
- k) I like nature, gardening, reading, and knitting