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The purpose of Ayurvedic daily oil massage – also called abhyanga – as part of the daily routine is to balance the nervous system, prevent physiological imbalances and to lubricate and promote flexibility of the muscles, tissues, and joints. The classical texts of Ayurveda also indicate that daily massage promotes softness, youthfulness and luster of the skin, and placing oil in your ears and nose can help support upper respiratory immunity. There are at least 1000 sensory neurons per every square centimeter of your skin – meaning that if you were to massage your arm, you would be affecting and soothing at least 1 million sensory neurons! (1) The following are some simple instructions to assist you in learning how to perform abhyanga. Enjoy!
Choose Your Oil
Unless specific oil has been recommended for you, use sesame oil, or learn more about LifeSpa’s herbalized massage oils. If you find sesame oil unsuitable in some way, you may also try olive oil or coconut oil. Ayurvedic oils are unique as they have certain herbs cooked into them, allowing the oil and the herbs to better penetrate the skin and deliver a more therapeutic massage.
Create A Calm Environment
Before you start your Ayurvedic self-massage, take a moment to quiet your mind. Start the massage with awareness, giving your full attention to each stroke. The more attention, love and awareness you deliver with each stroke, the more powerful the results. The science suggests that the more sincere each stroke of the massage, the more oxytocin is produced. (2-5) Oxytocin is linked to optimal health, longevity and happiness. (5,6) Not a bad return on investment! Give yourself a little love and get a lot of bliss.
- Head Massage: Heat ¼ cup of cured oil to slightly above body temperature. Start by massaging the head. Place a small amount of oil on the fingertips and palms and begin to massage the scalp vigorously. The massage for the head and for the entire body should be with the open part of the hand rather than with the fingertips. Since the head is said to be one of the most important areas to be focus on during Ayurvedic Daily Massage, spend proportionately more time on the head than you do on other parts of the body.
- Face and Ears: Next, gently apply oil with the open part of the hand to your face and outer part of your ears. You do not need to massage these areas vigorously.
- Neck: Massage both the front and back of the neck, and the upper part of the spine. Continue to use your open hand to rub the neck.
- Body Application: You may want to now apply a small amount of oil to your entire body and then proceed with the massage to each area of the body. This will allow the oil to have maximum amount of time in contact with the body.
- Arms, Hands and Fingers: Next massage your arms. The proper motion is back and forth over your long bones, and a circular motion over your joints. Massage both arms, including the hands and fingers.
- Chest and Abdomen: Now apply oil to the chest and abdomen. A very gentle circular motion should be used over your heart. Over the abdomen, a gently circular motion should be used, following the bowel pattern from the right lower part of the abdomen, moving clockwise up, over, and down towards the left lower part of the abdomen.
- Back and Spine: Massage the back and spine. There might be some areas which you may have difficulty reaching.
- Legs: Massage the legs. Like the arms, use a back and forth motion over the long bones and a circular motion over the joints.
- Feet: Lastly, massage the bottoms of the feet. The feet are considered especially important, and proportionately more time should be spent here than on the other parts of the body. Use the open part of your hand and massage vigorously back and forth over the soles of the feet.
This completes the abhyanga. Ideally, about 10-20 minutes should be spent each morning on the massage. However, if this time is not available on a particular day, it is better to do a very brief massage in the shower than to skip it altogether.
More on Oxytocin
Studies have shown that oil massage allows the body to naturally produce oxytocin, the loving, giving, feel-good hormone. (2-4) Oxytocin is best produced when the massage is offered to yourself or partner with love and attention. Oxytocin has the benefits of helping to balance our immune system and hormones, increase our overall fitness, provide measurable enhancements in our external “glow of health” as seen in our skin and hair, increase our skin wound-healing capability, and may even have significant positive effect upon our mood and behavior. (5-7) On top of that, oxytocin has been shown to increase our empathy to others’ pain (8) and to strengthen loving bonds between people. (9)
Once you have added the abhyanga into your daily routine, the benefits will naturally inspire you to continue it on a permanent basis.
Please share with us the how you feel when doing your daily self-massage!
Q. When is the best time to do my abhyanga?
A. You can do it before, during, or after a shower.
- Before Shower Tips:
In the bathroom, place an old sheet or towel on the floor, bench or wherever you plan to sit and massage. Perform the abhyanga as described above.
- During Shower Tips:
As soon as you enter a hot shower or bath, apply an herbalized oil and massage deeply into the skin. So that you do not feel rushed, you may want to turn off the water and sit down either on a stool or in the tub to massage.
Once the oil is rubbed, continue with shampoo, conditioning etc… Use minimal soap, if any! When ready to get out of the shower, take a wet wash cloth and rub the oil off your skin. The applied oil will “pull” impurities out of the skin, so it is important to take this oil off. Finally, before leaving the shower, apply a fresh thin coat of oil all over the body.
Note: Large amounts of oil are not necessary. When you use the oil in the shower, the water will naturally and evenly spread a very small amount of oil all over the body and wash off any excess. The result we are going for is moisturized, but not greasy.
- After Shower Tips:
You may want to use a smaller amount of oil, as using lots of oil on your skin may stain your clothes. If you do get oil on your clothes or sheets, use 6 drops of dish soap and add it to your detergent load of laundry. This will cut the oil out of the sheets. In the rare occasion the oil does not come out, a stain remover may be necessary.
Q. How do I get the oil out of my hair?
A. Add shampoo to oil-soaked hair and massage thoroughly. If that doesn’t get it all out, mix 1-3 tablespoons of baking soda into your shampoo, and massage into scalp for a couple of minutes. Rinse thoroughly.
This article was originally published December 24, 2008. It was updated and republished September 5, 2015.