Abhyanga: The Ayurvedic Daily Massage
A Pleasant Prescription for Mind/Body Health
How can a ritual so luxuriously relaxing, so blissfully comforting as a full-body warm oil massage, rev up your body and mind, gearing them up for peak performance? There is an explanation for the seeming contradiction. Accumulated stress and toxins in the mind and body dissolve during the daily massage. A daily full-body warm oil massage therefore acts as a powerful recharger and rejuvenator of mind and body.
Abhyanga — the ayurvedic oil massage — is an integral part of the daily routine recommended by this healing system for overall health and well-being. Traditional ayurvedic texts wax eloquent on the benefits. Here's what one says — "Give yourself a full-body oil massage on a daily basis. It is nourishing; pacifies the doshas; relieves fatigue; provides stamina, pleasure and perfect sleep; enhances the complexion and the luster of the skin; promotes longevity; and nourishes all parts of the body."
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.
The ayurvedic massage is traditionally performed in the morning, before your bath or shower, to facilitate the release of toxins that may have accumulated during the previous night. You can use cured sesame oil, an herbalized massage oil, or an aroma massage oil. Maharishi Ayurveda offers them all.
If you choose sesame oil, look for cold-pressed, chemical-free organic sesame oil for the best results from your massage therapy, such as the Organic Sesame Oil offered by Maharishi Ayurveda. Sesame oil contains antioxidant properties, and is helpful in protecting the skin from free radical damage. It is considered highly nourishing for the physiology. To "cure" or purify the sesame oil, heat the oil to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from heat once this temperature is reached, cool and store for use as needed. Up to a quart of oil can be cured at a time. Of course, you should observe safety precautions when curing oil. All oils are highly flammable. Use low heat, and don't leave the oil on heat unattended. Maharishi Ayurveda also offers pre-cured Sesame Oil for your convenience.
Herbalized massage oils contain a blend of carefully chosen herbs known for their ability to strengthen the physiology and balance the mind. So the daily massage with an herbalized massage oil has twice the beneficial power — the benefits from the performance of the actual massage and the added healing wisdom of the herbs. Country Mallow, Winter Cherry and Sensitive Plant are some Ayurvedic herbs you'll find in herbalized massage oils. Country Mallow (Heart-leaf Sida) is renowned for its nourishing effect on the physiology. Winter Cherry (Ashwagandha), a powerful adaptogenic, aids the body's natural ability to withstand stress, and helps balance the mind and emotions. Sensitive Plant helps nerve regeneration. The Maharishi Ayurveda Moisturizing, Soothing and Stimulating Massage Oils are carefully blended to correct Vata, Pitta and Kapha imbalances respectively.
For special needs, ayurvedic vaidyas formulate even more targeted massage oils. For example, the Youthful Skin Massage Oils for Men and Women are especially helpful for improving the quality of your sleep if massaged onto the lower arms, hands, lower legs and feet before bed. If you use these oils for abhyanga, you can cut them with 50 percent of an appropriate base oil.
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!
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.