Abhyanga is the Sanskrit word for a certain style of massage used in Ayurveda.
It is much simpler than it may sound, and this is a basic introduction to a simple self-massage. Massage stimulates the immune system, cleanses the lymph, increases circulation, and releases beneficial chemicals in the brain for mental well-being.
Ideally, this will be done in the morning – you can even be doing your oil-pulling whilst massaging yourself! But it can be when you return home from work or before bed, or whenever you can fit it into your busy schedule.
Each Dosha will have its different oils or scrubs to use whilst doing this therapy, and this may vary with season and individual condition. See our Intro to the Doshas for more information.
Vata : use warmed sesame oil with essential oils such as vetiver, cinnamon, rosewood, jasmine, frankincense, patchouli, peru balsam, myrrh, eucalyptus, basil, palo santo, coriander, sandalwood, cinnamon or scrub of chickpea flour with shatavarie, rose or fennel
Pitta : use coconut or sunflower oil with essential oils such as rose, sandlewood, gardenia, ylang ylang, chamomile, lavender, rose, vanilla, geranium or a scrub of mung bean flour with herbs of white turmeric, rose and neem
Kapha : use mustard oil or spiced safflower oil with essential oils such as clove, juniper, ginger, bay leaf, pine, cedarwood, bergamot, petitgrain, clary sage, cardamom or eucalyptus. Or a scrub of rice with herbs of cinnamon, orange peel or cloves.
Traditionally, we would perform the oil Abhyanga, followed by the scrub to remove the excess oil. Vata benefits from keeping oil on the skin more than Pitta or Kapha, who would want to remove the excess.
Creating the right environment to do an Abhyanga self-massage :
A room which is warm, private and free from drafts is important for comfort with a cloth to sit on that may get oily or messy with the scrub and a place to bathe afterwards. The oils want to be warmed for the Vata & Kapha Dosha and blood temperature for Pitta.
Alternatively, this can be done in the shower, using oil, scrubs or a blend of oil and coarse rock or sea salt.
The Abhyanga massage :
The basic rule here is a gentle rhythmic motion with stronger movements towards the heart than away: long on long bones ( such as the shin and thigh ) and round on joints (such as the ankle or knee). This can be leisurely in a half hour or swiftly in 5 – 10 minutes depending on your schedule.
Start with the left foot, with either the oil or the scrub, and rub the toes in a more upward direction, going in between the toes too. Move along the foot, top and sole in longer strokes, and then round strokes at the ankle. Long strokes up the calf and shin, round ant knee, long on the thigh, particularly the inner thigh which accumulates a lot of lymph congestion and into the groin where the main lymph nodes sit. Go up the left side of the body, front and back, towards the heart. Then start on the left fingers and hand, up to the shoulder and armpit, where again is a special place to shift the lymph stagnation. Circle the chest and breast on the left side. Stroke the neck towards the heart.
Repeat on the right side.
After the massage: Rinse off in the shower or soak in a bath of warm water. In Ayurveda, we never use soap on the skin as it strips all the natural moisture out leaving our largest organ dry and depleted. Instead, we would use the scrub as a soap or use a softened loofa or soft brush to remove excess oil and dead skin cells.
Vata would benefit from a long warm shower, or a warm hot alternating with a cool stream with a gentle scrub. Keep the head dry particularly in a cold climate or season.
Pitta would benefit from a cooler shower or alternating between warm and cold with a soothing scrub.
Kapha would benefit from a hot–cold alternating shower and a vigorous scrub.
Doing a daily Abhyanga does wonders for your health – try it and let me know how good you feel!