Abhyanga: The Art of Self Love through Massage

by Jade Shutes

ABHYANGA

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

WHAT IS ABHYANGA?

In Sanskrit, the ancient, vibrational, written, and sometimes spoken language from India, abhy means to rub, and anga means limb, so together they make up the word massage. Abhyanga is an anointing of the body with warm oil, often infused with healing herbs and balancing essential oils.

In the West, we are beginning to catch on to the importance of massage from a wellness and preventative health standpoint.

In Ayurveda, the healing aspects of Abhyanga include relaxation of the muscles and calming of the nervous system, as well as attention being paid to many subtle healing aspects that make it a holistic healing modality.

The act of anointing the body with warm, herbal oil is called snehana. The Sanskrit word sneha means oil and love. The benefits of regular snehana invite the same qualities as being deeply loved, loving yourself, and loving another: strength, stability, openness, and warmth.

In the Charaka Samhita, another ancient Ayurvedic text, abhyanga in the form of snehana is said to be like a pot smeared with oil, and the impurities of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha cannot stick to it. In the same way, if the body is properly oiled with abhyanga daily, impurities cannot penetrate, and disease cannot develop.

THE BENEFITS OF ABHYANGA TO DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE BODY ARE OUTLINED IN THE CHARAKA SAMHITA AS FOLLOWS:

Abhyanga for the head: nourishes the hair, soothes the sense organs, provides for sound sleep, increases cheerfulness and happiness, and can relieve or prevent headaches, premature graying, or balding of the hair.

Abhyanga for the body: nourishes the body, firms, nourishes, and soothes the skin, particularly beneficial for Vata disturbances, strengthens the body’s tolerance, increases longevity, prevents invasion by Vata, imparts firmness and strength to the limbs (body)

Abhyanga for the feet: nourishes the skin, prevents dryness/cracking of the soles of the feet, relieves fatigue and numbness of the feet, provides strength and firmness, pacifies Vata, supports clarity of vision, and improves tone and blood flow.

MORE BENEFITS OF ABHYANGA AS STATED BY THE ANCIENT AYURVEDIC TEXT, ASTANGA HRIDAYA:

• Improves Sleep
• Promotes sturdiness of the body
• Promotes longevity
• Nourishes the body
• Promotes better eyesight
• Prevents and corrects affliction of the nervous system
• Overcomes fatigue
• Prevents and corrects the aging process
• Detoxification of the body

Abhyanga is best performed daily before bathing or showering. After the warm oil is massaged into the skin, it is best to sit for 15-20 minutes in a warm room to allow the oil to penetrate deep into the tissues.

Depending on your current state of balance and the seasons, you can choose the most balancing oil for you.

FOR SPRING AND KAPHA (COLD AND WET) TYPES:

The best oils to apply are organic sesame oil, jojoba, olive oil, or sunflower oil. Essential oils can greatly enhance the emotional and spiritually balancing aspects of the abhyanga so I highly recommend adding 1-4 of these to your base oil: tulsi, eucalyptus, frankincense, rosemary, grapefruit, fir, sage, lemon, peppermint, pinion pine, Scots pine, juniper berry, and cinnamon leaf.

FOR WINTER, CHANGE OF SEASONS AND VATA (DRY, COLD, LIGHT) TYPES:

Best oils to apply: organic sesame oil, olive oil, almond oil, and essential oils of jatamansi, lavender, ylang ylang, geranium, cedarwood, tulsi, patchouli, ginger, cinnamon leaf, sandalwood, neroli, and myrrh.

FOR SUMMER AND PITTA (HOT, INFLAMED, OILY) TYPES:

Best oils to apply: coconut oil, sunflower oil, neem oil, safflower oil, almond oil, and essential oils of sandalwood, rose, lavender, jasmine, vetiver, sweet orange, lime, clary sage, and geranium.

HOW TO PERFORM AN ABHYANGA

Remember you are anointing your body with oil as a way of loving yourself and to increase your state of health in your mind, body and spirit. Take your time, be gentle and soft with yourself.

  1. Choose your base oil and essential oils. Generally, a safe proportion is 2 oz of base oil to 20-25 drops of essential oil.
  2. Heat your massage oil. Warm the oil in its container in a sink full of warm water or a large Pyrex measuring cup filled with warm water.
  3. Begin by applying a small amount of oil to the top of your head. Massage the top of the head in a clockwise manner with the center of your palm. This is the Maha (great) Marma point and regulates the amount of prana that moves throughout the body.
  4. Next, apply oil to the entire body, beginning with the neck and arms. Remember to do circular motions over the joints and long strokes on the limbs.
  5. Clockwise circular strokes will be performed around the breast area and on the abdominal area.
    Continue the sequence to hips, buttocks, legs, and ending on the feet.
  6. Let the oil soak in for 15-20 minutes for maximum benefit.
  7. Take a warm bath or shower. Use gentle soap (if any); it is good if a little oil remains on the skin.

Repeat daily.

Enjoy the benefits of daily Abhyanga!

Interested in learning more about Ayurveda?

Consider our online course Ayurveda 101: The Art and Science of Life and Longevity With Instructor Radha Schwaller