by Jana Thevar
Traditional Ayurvedic oil massage, known as abhyanga, has been practiced in India for centuries. A good-quality vegetable oil is massaged into the whole body and left on for a few minutes, than cleaned off in the shower. This simple practice has numerous amazing health benefits. The ancient Vedic health treatise, the Charaka Samhita, says this about abhyanga:
“The body of one who performs oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries or strenuous work. By having 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, verses 88 – 89)
If you find yourself suffering from the effects of stress, aging, pollution and an unbalanced lifestyle, abhyanga will do wonders for you. The scriptures recommend that abhyanga be done daily, preferably in the morning. However, I find that a weekly or even monthly session gives wonderful results. It can be a little messy, but it’s well worth the effort.
Benefits of Abhyanga:
- Keeps the body healthy, toned and youthful
- Helps eliminate accumulated toxins
- Improves blood flow
- Cures stress-related problems
- Promotes abundant and luxurious hair growth
- Improves digestion
- Reduces body odour
- Helps heal skin damage (i.e. from eczema, psoriasis and acne)
- Restores balance to bodily functions
How to Perform Abhyanga at Home
Things You’ll Need:
- ½ cup of good-quality vegetable oil, preferably cold-pressed and organic (recommended oils: sesame, coconut or olive oil)
- 2 – 3 old towels (kept specifically for this purpose)
- A pair of old socks or flip-flops with good sole traction
- 5-8 heaped teaspoons of chickpea flour (also known as gram flour)
1. Pick an appropriate spot to perform abhyanga. It should be comfortably warm and free of distractions, such as pets and children. Bear in mind that once you start abhyanga, you’ll be unable to do anything else until the oil is rinsed off in the shower, so plan in advance. You may play some relaxing music if you wish.
2. Put the chickpea flour into a bowl and add enough water to make a thick paste. Stir well to remove lumps. Leave this paste near your shower area.
3. Warm the oil slightly, taking care not to burn it. The safest way is to put the oil in a metal container, then place the container in a larger bowl filled with hot water for a few minutes. Place the warmed oil near your designated abhyanga area. Note: NEVER microwave the oil; microwaving damages the delicate healing botanical properties, and can be very dangerous if the oil heats unevenly.
4. You may have a quick, warm shower with plain water before abhyanga if you wish. I personally do this to remove dust and sweat. If you do have a shower, dab your skin dry before beginning the massage.
5. Lay one of the old towels down on the floor. Undress and sit comfortably on the towel. Dip your fingers into the warmed oil and start the massage, beginning at the crown of your head and moving down your body, eventually ending at the soles of your feet. Take your time – abhyanga should be performed leisurely and lovingly for best results. Use generous amounts of oil.
7. Use gentle but firm pressure, moving in circular motions across the scalp. Switch to long, firm strokes once you get to the neck, shoulders, arms and legs. The stomach should be massaged with firm, clockwise strokes – this greatly aids digestion. Massage every inch of your skin, paying particular attention to joints, chakra centres, the fingers and toes as well as the spaces between them. When massaging the face, avoid the eye area (oil may irritate sensitive eyes).
8. Once you’ve covered all parts of your body, sit in a comfortable position and meditate for about 5 to 10 minutes. Relax and internally observe the new flow of positive energy. Envision your body regenerating youthful, new tissues and eliminating accumulated toxins. Maintain a gentle smile on your face.
9. Complete your meditation with your palms pressed together and a personal prayer of gratitude to the Universe. I always end my meditation by reciting the Shanthi mantra. Then, using the spare towel, gently but thoroughly wipe all traces of oil off your body. Wipe your feet and toes well to minimise slipping.
10. Put on the socks (or flip flops) and head to the shower. Wet yourself thoroughly, then use the chickpea flour paste to clean yourself, the same way you would with soap. Give your body a good scrub with the paste, then rinse off and towel dry. If you have long hair, you may need an additional amount of chickpea paste to get the oil out.
11. Gently towel dry after your shower and wear loose-fitting cotton clothing. Sit (or lie down) and relax for at least 10 minutes. You may use some music or sip some herbal tea if you wish.
- Make sure the vegetable oil used is of good quality and cooking-grade. Baby oil is unsuitable for abhyanga (it is made of mineral oil, which is a petroleum derivate and has no Ayurvedic medicinal value)
- Take extra precautions to prevent slipping and accidents, especially in the bathroom.
- Don’t use soap to wash off the oil – you have just infused your skin with the precious rejuvenating properties of a natural oil, and we don’t want to ruin that with chemicals immediately after. Chickpea flour paste is sufficient to soak up and remove any excess oil; a very thin film of oil left over after showering is highly beneficial. If you prefer to remove all traces of oiliness completely, prepare more chickpea paste for your shower after abhyanga.
- Abhyanga should be done in a warm room. The shower water should be warm as well. This ensures muscles stay warm and aids circulation, as well as enhances the effects of the massage. If you’re unable to reach all parts of your back, it’s perfectly fine to get someone’s help or use an oiled massaging aid.
- You may play some relaxing music if you wish.