Ayurvedic self-massage has been practised for thousands of years and the benefits are both numerous and immediate. Oryana Angel road tests the practice.
With benefits ranging from decreasing aging, toning muscles and detoxing, to bettering vision, reducing wrinkles and improving sleep, I was pretty excited about trying Ayurvedic self-massage “Abhyanga” for the first time.
Like most, I’m juggling multiple responsibilities – looking after children, putting long hours into work, while still trying to make time for family, see friends and also look after myself. As a society it seems we are more stressed and overworked than ever before, the latest Australian Work Life Index shows seven out of 10 working mothers say they are ‘almost always feeling rushed and under pressure’.
How Ayurvedic self-massage works
First thing you need to do is choose an oil that fits with your body type or dosha – sesame oil, almond oil or a vata pacifying oil is best suited for people who are vata dosha (ruled by the element of air); for pittas (fire) coconut or sunflower oil, or a pitta pacifying oil works well; while for kaphas (water and earth) safflower or kapha balancing oil are the way to go. If you don’t know your body type, you can find out here.
Start by gently warming about half a cup of water and place the bottle of oil in to warm it up. It is really important not to get water in the oil itself, to avoid it going rancid while stored. Then pour a few tablespoons into your palms and rub them together to create friction and warmth – apply this to the crown of your head, then start the massage from your feet up to your head.
While I was initially concerned about the after-effects of greasy, oily hair, it slowly faded from my thoughts as I worked the oil in circular strokes to my toes, soles of my feet and heels. I spent a fair bit of time here, realising on a day-to-day level I pay so little attention to the lowest extremity of my body. My feet were dry, my heels were cracked and warming them up with an oil massage seemed the most logical way to look after them.
Working up the body, the next step is rubbing oil in circular motions to your ankles and knees, then up the rest of the legs in long, sweeping movements. By this stage I started to feel increased energy and heat in my legs – almost like waking up parts of the body that are ignored most of the time.
When massaging the abdomen and chest you need to do broad, clockwise, circular motions, following the path of the large intestine (moving up the right side then across and down the left side). It’s also good to reach around to your back and spine and, without straining, massage them as much as possible.
Next you move up to the elbows and shoulder with circular motions and then vigorous, long strokes on the base of the arms. Then spend time on the front and back of the neck as well as forehead, temples, cheeks, jaw and chin.
By the time I reached my ears (which I found out have key energy points and nerve endings), the stress of the week had long faded away.
Once finished I jumped into a warm shower, careful not to rinse all the oil off - it’s recommended that some of the oil is left to sink in to your skin - so it can continue to nourish your body. With a tendency towards dry skin – and having spent the morning outside in the dry, wind – I was quite happy with this plan.
Self-abhyanga can take anywhere between five and 20 minutes, in my case it was a good quarter of an hour and the time was well spent – it was a luxurious exercise in self-care.
I hear a lot about the importance of self-care and why we need to find these little moments in our day to do something for ourselves, I found that self-abhyanga is something that can easily be done at home to calm your racing mind and relax. Even more important, like most Ayurvedic practices, they are based on thousands of years of knowledge, and the benefits are far-reaching. Other reasons why self-abhyanga is good for you include increasing circulation, stimulating internal organs, keeping bowel motions regular, nourishing the body and also losing weight and toning your body.
It’s recommended that vata body types, who are prone to anxiety and stress, practice self-abhyanga 4-5 times a week; whereas pittas can get away with 3-4 times a week; and sturdy kaphas might only look at doing this 1-2 times a week. You can practice this yourself, or have a therapist do it for you.
Abhyanga is also particularly beneficial to those in the vata stage of life (50 plus) when there is a tendency to dry skin, bone and muscle deterioration, arthritis, joint pain, loss of memory, digestive issues, constipation and inability to sleep. Another good time to do this is when you’re travelling - it gets the energy flowing after long hours on a plane.
For more help
If you’re feeling like you’d like a bit more support with this, or to book a session and dive into your specific health concerns with one of our Ayurvedic practitioners, contact the clinic here, or check out our Health Dynamics 28-Day Detox program which address more aspects of Ayurvedic living and detoxing.