Every single morning for the past nearly 11 years I have treated myself to one of Ayurveda's oldest secrets for health and longevity. With herbs and warm oil in hand I rub my entire body down with a gentle massage which has helped me to retain elastic skin and a vibrant body. Abhyanga is the Ayurvedic term given to describe warm oil self-massage (often with herbs) and it is simply heavenly.
It all started back when I was pregnant with my first son. I had read that regular oil massage could reduce the chance of getting stretch marks. Enough said. I purchased both sesame and almond oil along with some sweet rose oil and frankincense because I had read they were of the highest vibrational herbs and oils available. Simply warming the oil under hot running water was how I began, and each and every day I would practice this technique, either before or after my morning shower.
Abhyanga is incredible not only for the skin, but for the entire body and every system in the body. It helps to move the lymph, tone the muscles, remove toxins and encourage the proper functioning of all organs and glands.
You can get Abhyanga done by an Ayurvedic Massage therapist, which is equally wonderful, but the nice thing about self-massage is that it is a way to increase connection to the self and enhance self-love and body appreciation – which are important elements in the overall health of the body and factors which determine how easily the body can move towards health physically as well as emotionally and psychologically.
How to Begin:
It is simple to practice Abhyanga. All you need is a base oil such as Sesame, Almond, Apricot, Olive, or Coconut. Then, a way to warm the oil is required, such as a cup of boiled water to set your oil in, or you can simply run the oil under hot water if that is all you have access to. Herbs or essential oils are a beautiful addition to warm oil massage, though they are not required.
Start by placing a bit of oil into your hand and massage fingertips into the scalp with circular motions. I often skip the scalp if I am massaging post-shower because then my hair is left greasy, but in a pre-shower massage I love to get my scalp and even tug at my hair. It really stimulates the health of the hair and the entire brain and face get an increase in circulation and relaxation. After the head I move to the face and use only gentle pressure around the eyes, but emphasize the jaw area and the ears. Moving down into the neck, longer strokes are helpful to move the lymph.
From the neck Abhyanga takes you around the shoulders and across the chest. When massaging the arms it is good to stroke towards the heart to return any stagnant blood or toxins to the center of the body. Around joints, such as the elbows, wrists and fingers I like to use more circular motions to release synovial fluids and relax tension.
It isn't necessary to lavish your body with tons of oil, unless you like that or you are taking a shower afterwards, which really does leave you with super soft skin, but using just a small amount of oil does the job.
After the arms comes the chest, navel and buttocks. When massaging the belly it is important to run your hands in a clockwise direction, which is the same way that the intestinal system flows. If you massage in the opposite direction it is possible that you could back up your colon – which is not fun.
From the belly and buttocks, which you can address with long circular motions, the legs and feet are massaged much like the arms, with strokes that send blood flow back up to the heart.
After self-massage daily throughout my entire pregnancy I am happy to say that I did not get a single stretch mark. I fell so in love with this practice that I continued it throughout the years between my two kids and went through yet another stretch mark-free pregnancy with number two. Now I am just kind of addicted to doing the massage. I even carry bottles of oil when I travel, and if worse comes to worse I just do the oil at room temperature, even though warm adds the bonus of penetrating the muscles to a greater degree.
The benefits of Abhyanga include:
Pacifying all the doshas
Nourishing the nervous system
Calming the mind
Toning the muscles
Detoxing the organs and glands
Moving the lymph
Increasing sleep depth and quality
Nourishing entire system
Beautifying skin tone
Improving nerve endings
Relief from aches and pains
Reducing chance of stretch marks/improved skin elasticity
Increasing sexual vigor
Greater body connection
Deepening sense of Self
Whether you love massage or have never had one, it is worth your time to try a self-massage before your next shower. It may seem like a bit of time add-on at first to get started, but after a few times I promise you will be hooked on the joy and benefits of the ancient healing practice of Abhyanga massage. And as stated in the texts of old:
“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: Sutrasthana: V: 88-89