Abhyanga (“oil massage”) is a form of Ayurvedic medicine that involves massage of the body with large amounts of warm oil. The oil is often pre-medicated with herbs for specific conditions. Abhyanga can be done as part of the steps of panchakarma therapy, especially in the first stage: Purva Karma (pre-treatment), or as its own therapy.
It is often followed by svedana therapy, a warm bath, yoga. Many times abhyanga is performed by two or more massage therapists working in sync but it can also be done by oneself. Oils used can vary depending on the season and the individuals constitution (prakrti) but commonly used oils include sesame, and coconut .
Tha Abhyanga as prescribed in the Brhtatrayi and Laghutrayi texts is vigorous, brisk, and generates heat. Through this process, the Abhyanga helps open up the minor Sortas, removes ama through the skin, melts kleshma (fat secretions blocking the srotas), and helps in deep cleansing and moisturisation of skin.
Here are some of the benefits traditionally associated with regular performance of this pleasant daily ritual:
- Increased circulation, especially to nerve endings
- Toning of the muscles and the whole physiology
- Calming for the nerves
- Lubrication of the joints
- Increased mental alertness
- Improved elimination of impurities from the body
- Softer, smoother skin
- Increased levels of stamina through the day
- Better, deeper sleep at night
Abhyanga provides the means for transdermal absorption of the healing qualities of the material used in the massage, and it helps the skin, which is the largest organ in the body, perform its diverse functions efficiently, whether it is allowing toxins to be released from the body or nourishment to be absorbed by the tissues. It is like oiling the engine of your car — if you do it regularly, your engine will be in peak condition, and give you years and years of trouble-free performance.
So how is the ayurvedic abhyanga done?
- Use comfortably warm massage oil. (Store your massage oil in a plastic flip-top and warm it by holding the container under running hot water for a few minutes.)
- Dip your fingertips into the warm oil and apply it lightly to the entire body. Wait for 4-5 minutes to let some of the oil be absorbed by your skin.
- Then massage the entire body, applying even pressure with the whole hand — palm and fingers.
- Apply light pressure on sensitive areas such as the abdomen or the heart. Use more oil and spend more time where nerve endings are concentrated, such as the soles of the feet, palms of the hands and along the base of the fingernails.
- Circular motions over rounded areas such as your head or joints, and straight strokes on straight areas such as your arms and legs, work best.
- After you’re done, relax for 10-15 minutes, letting the oil and the massage do their magic. The longer the oil is on, the deeper it penetrates. During this time you can read something relaxing or uplifting and rest; or shave, cut nails, and get ready for the day.
- Dab excess oil off with paper towels if you like, then follow with a relaxing warm bath or shower. If your schedule doesn’t allow for a daily massage, try to squeeze it in at least three or four times a week. You’ll find it’s worth it!