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Meditation Through Massage
The practice of giving oneself a daily oil massage has passed the test of time as an important part of a healthy Ayurvedic daily routine. In Sanskrit, the word for oil is sneha, which also means love. An Ayurvedic massage, or abhyanga, is not just an application of oil, but a practice of self-care, self-awareness, and mindfulness. The mind-body benefits of this ancient practice are now well supported by science.
In one study, published in The Journal of Traditional Medicine and Clinical Naturopathy, researchers found that a daily abhyanga can provide these benefits:
-Cleanse the body of toxins -Improve complexion
-Maintain elasticity of the skin -Support natural immunity
-Rejuvenate tissues -Slow aging
-Promote health -Improve physical health
-Support sound and deep sleep -Reduce stress
-Stabilize mood -Promote happiness
Daily self-massage is more than just a lymphatic drainage technique; it is a powerful tool for improving stress levels, mood, self-love, and deep sleep.
Abhyanga for Stress
There is no shortage of studies on the benefits of massage for stress. In a 2011 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, 10 men and 10 women were each given a one-hour abhyanga massage. Both groups experienced a significant reduction in stress, lower heart rate, and lower blood pressure (for those who were predisposed to high blood pressure).
There are numerous mechanisms for the stress-reducing effect of an abhyanga. An oil massage activates millions of sensory receptors on the skin that respond to touch, the warmth of the oil, the stretching of the skin, and the pressure and vibration created by the massage. Applying a warm, herbalized Ayurvedic massage oil on the skin calms these sensory receptors, effectively turning down the noise and volume of sensory input firing from the skin into the central nervous system.
In Ayurveda, these sensory nerves are governed by vata (air) which carries information throughout the body. Excessive sensory input can aggravate vata and cause a host of stress-related concerns including physical pain, cognitive issues, and emotional ups and downs.
One study in 2018 was designed to measure the effect of a massage on stress and the fight or flight instinct in the nervous system. Forty-four healthy women were randomized to receive either a real, rhythmic massage or a placebo/fake massage. The fake message was conducted by having therapists simply place their hands (without movement) on the participant, switching locations on the body every few minutes. The group that got the real massage saw changes within their autonomic nervous system, which has two branches: the reactive ‘sympathetic’ nervous system and the calming ‘parasympathetic’ nervous system. The participants with real massage saw a significant boost in the activity of the calming and rejuvenating parasympathetic nervous system. This was seen alongside a reduction of the stressed fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system. The group that received the fake massage did not see any noticeable changes.
Abhyanga for Mood
New research has linked certain sensory receptors in the skin to the emotional centers in the brain. Modern neurobiology has discovered receptors in the skin called C-fibers that interact with the body’s limbic (emotional) system and the autonomic nervous system. Activation of these C-fibers through light touch massage has been found to be an effective therapy for certain types of psychiatric, behavioral, and mood-related health concerns.
In support of these findings, a study was conducted with 100 women with breast cancer who complained of mood concerns including anger, anxiety, and depression. Three times a week for five weeks, they received either a 30-minute massage or routine breast cancer care. Based on a standardized emotional stress questionnaire, the women who received the massage saw a significant reduction in stress and improvement in mood compared to the control group.
Abhyanga for Love and Bonding
Perhaps the most powerful benefit of a self-massage is the natural release of the body’s longevity hormone—oxytocin. Oxytocin is released when we engage in what Ayurveda calls sattvic behavior, such as loving, giving, caring, touching, hugging, and supporting others. The trick to getting oxytocin released in your body during your daily abhyanga is to massage yourself mindfully and with awareness. Just as oxytocin is released by caring for others, the act of caring for yourself through the abhyanga also triggers the release of the hormone. Some of the health benefits of oxytocin as a result of massage are decreased anxiety, decreased stress, lower cortisol (a stress hormone), and decreased craving. Oxytocin has also been shown to play an important role in boosting immune system function, improving social bonds, extending lifespan, and increasing sexual potency and desire.
Abhyanga for Sleep
Poor sleep may be one of the greatest risk factors for poor health. In Ayurveda, poor sleep is due to a vata imbalance, when the nervous system is overstimulated and exhausted.
Many studies have found massage to be an effective therapy for supporting deeper sleep. In one study, post-menopausal women complaining of sleep concerns found that massage helped them get to sleep faster and enter stage 1 REM (rapid eye movement) sleep more quickly. They also entered deep sleep faster and stayed there longer. Based on their self-reported sleep diaries, the women that received massage therapy also saw a significant reduction in anxiety and depression.
While massage is an important tool for supporting healthy sleep cycles, there are many factors according to Ayurveda that can disturb sleep. To troubleshoot your sleep concerns, download my free eBook: The Ayurvedic Guide to the Best Sleep of Your Life.
The Best Ayurvedic Massage Oil
At LifeSpa, we carry two Ayurvedic massage oils: our Lymphatic Massage oil and our Tridoshic Massage Oil. Both have a base of organic sesame oil infused with many organic Ayurvedic herbs that are efficiently carried into the deep layers of the skin by the sesame oil. The reason why Ayurvedic oils are infused with Ayurvedic herbs is that massaging with pure vegetable oils can be very drying on the skin. The size of fat molecules in vegetable oils is too large to easily penetrate the skin, but the oil can sit on the skin’s surface and actually pull impurities out of the skin. While this is a good way to pull out impurities, it can also dry out the skin in the process. Cooking moisturizing herbs into the base oils can increase the moisturizing properties of the massage oil, as the herbs can be escorted across the skin’s phospholipid layer, providing deep moisturization to the skin.
LifeSpa’s Organic Lymphatic Massage Oil has a sesame oil base infused with herbs like manjistha, turmeric, arjuna, purnanava, calamus, phyllanthus, bala, and more. These herbs support the activation of the skin-associated lymphatic tissue which supports the skin’s ability to both nourish and detoxify the body.
Wondering if you have a lymphatic issue? Take our Lymph Quiz to Decode Your Symptoms.
LifeSpa’s Organic Tridoshic Massage Oil is primarily designed for balancing vata, targeting concerns such as sleep, nervousness, worry, dry skin, restless legs, cognitive concerns, and stress. It is a light formula meant to be very effective for all body types. The Tridoshic oil has a base of sesame and olive oil that is infused with herbs such as ashwagandha, shatawari, bala, tulsi, lemon verbena, passion flower, and valerian. These herbs have a balancing effect across all doshas—vata, pitta, and kapha.
LifeSpa’s Ayurvedic Body Butter is a blend of mango, avocado, and shea butters that have been infused with organic herbs. These fruit butters have smaller molecules than sesame and olive oils and are therefore able to penetrate and moisturize the skin more effectively. The LifeSpa Body Butter is a favorite product for skin care, as it can be used on the whole body including the face. It is infused with organic shatavari, turmeric, neem, and manjistha; these herbs work to protect, moisturize, and detoxify the skin while supporting lymphatic drainage.