Yesterday, my friend Daniela and I went exploring and managed to climb 1008 stairs to the very top of the Chamundi Hill here in Mysore, India… all in order to see a temple. 1008 steps people! I think that’s the most stairs I’ve ever climbed in one attempt and I am totally feeling it today in my calves. Lucky for me, today’s blog topic is abhyanga (pronounced ah-bee-yawn-ga), which just so happens to be the perfect solution for my sore muscles.
Over the past few days we’ve some spent time exploring the importance of the Ayurvedic practice dinacharya (daily routine), as well as the benefits of jala neti. Today, we are going to break down the practice of anhyanga, which is one of the principle actions within a strong and healthy dinacharya, and we are going to answer the following questions:
Abhyanga – What is abhyanga?
Abhyanga is the anointing of the body with oil. Often this oil is chosen specifically for your particular dosha or condition while keeping the current season in mind. The oil is usually warm and is massaged into the entire body before bathing.
It is believed that the effects of abhyanga are similar to those received when one is saturated with love. From my experience, I completely agree. Like the experience of being loved, abhyanga can give a deep feeling of stability and warmth. There is no greater expression of self-love than lovingly anointing ourselves from head to toe with warm oil. Doing so allows the oil/love to pass through minute channels in the body and to penetrate deep layers of our bodily tissue.
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:
“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 - (One of the Great ancient texts of Ayurveda
Benefits – What are the benefits of Abhyanga?
"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
Abhyanga provides the means for trans-dermal 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.
Oils – Which oils should I use?
Oils used can vary depending on the season and the individual’s constitution (prakrti) but commonly used oils include sesame, coconut, sunflower, mustard and almond. The seasons change and therefore if we are to live in harmony with the seasons, we must change as well. For example, during the winter, you may want to use a warming oil such as sesame oil which is particularly helpful for the cooler, lighter vata dosha. However, being that pitta is already a fiery dosha, you may want to balance it out during the winter by using sunflower oil, opposed to the heating sesame oil or the cooling coconut oil. No matter which oil you are using, attempt to find organic, cold-pressed oils as they are better for you opposed to regular cooking oils.
If you would like to learn what your dosha is and/or receive a recommendation of an oil for your abhyanga, feel free to look over my Ayurvedic Services and then contact me. I’m happy to help!
Sesame Oil: If you choose sesame oil, look for cold-pressed, chemical-free organic sesame oil for the best results from your massage therapy. Sesame oil contains antioxidant properties, and is helpful in protecting the skin from free radical damage. It is considered highly nourishing for the physiology and has heating properties.
Coconut Oil: Coconut oil has keshya properties -- that is, it improves hair quality. In Southern India, women apply coconut oil to their hair every day – which gives them long, lustrous locks. Applying it to the body results in a cooling effect.
Sunflower Oil: Sunflower oil is basically a neutral oil which is good for every dosha at some point throughout the seasons. It can be mixed with sesame oil to lessen the heating properties of that oil or it can be added to coconut oil to increase the heating properties of that particular oil. Sunflower oil also has a natural anti-bacterial property which makes it great for infection prone skin.
• Vata Dosha: Sesame oil or sunflower oil
• Pitta Dosha: Coconut oil or sunflower oil
• Kapha Dosha: Sunflower oil
Routine – What are the steps of an abhyanga routine?
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.
Enjoy the feeling of having nourished your body, mind, and spirit and carry that with you throughout your day. Daily abhyanga is generally followed by yoga or gentle stretching exercises and meditation.
Today I slathered myself in coconut oil and instead of showering it off, I left it on the entire day and it felt glorious! Take a look at my makeshift abhyanga station. I boiled some water and then turned off the heat. Instead of placing the plastic bottle of organic coconut oil into the boiling water, I placed some of the oil in a small metal bowl and then kept the bowl afloat with a large spoon. After a short period of time I dipped my finger into the oil to confirm that it was warm and then used a small spoon to repeatedly lift some of it out to place on my palm. I slathered it into my hair, my face (which I washed off at the end), my ears and joints, my body and feet. It was an amazing and super nourishing morning. I have felt so calm and peaceful all day. I hope you enjoy abhyanga as much as I do. You may not get to do it everyday, but trust me, just a few times a week makes such a difference in your overall well-being and health. Enjoy!
Oh! It's especially helpful before your yoga practice because it lubricates the joints, allowing you to sit in lotus more comfortably for example. Shower before the yoga though or you'll slip all over your mat!