“Oleation therapy is the best remedy for alleviating vata – the most important among all the doshas.” Caraka Samhita
Abhyanga is the Sanskrit word for Ayurvedic massage and means loving hands. While abhyanga can be done therapeutically for a longer duration by a professional pancha karma technician, it is also an important daily or weekly practice in the self-care regimen. Applying oil to your skin removes excess fat from the skin; protects and rejuvenates the skin from dryness, cracking and roughness; and rejuvenates the nervous system while soothing your endocrine system. The oil helps loosen and liquefy toxins, so that the toxins can drain into the body’s GI tract for elimination. It is an excellent remedy for today’s modern stresses.
Lastly, oil massage is one of the most effective ways to balance the vata dosha which is the law of nature at work in the mind and body that controls all movement including the flow of thought, circulation of the blood, elimination of wastes, respiration and a woman’s monthly cycle. This vata life energy is dominant during the late fall and early winter season which is NOW for those of us in Wisconsin!
How to do Abhyanga
- Choose your oil. Use the oil recommended for your specific needs by your Ayurvedic practitioner. Generally sesame oil is used for vata, coconut or sunflower for pitta, and safflower or mustard for kapha. If your skin is red or inflamed, consult your practitioner before choosing oil yourself.
- Heat your oil. Warm your oil in its container in the bathroom sink, in a pot/cup of hot water, or on the stove top. Do not microwave the oil. The oil should be pleasantly warm to the touch.
- You will be applying a small amount of warm oil to your entire body. Start with the feet and apply with an even pressure, using the palms of your hands and some fingertips. Use long,straight strokes over straight areas such as the neck and long bones of arms and legs and circle strokes over areas such as the knees and wrists. All strokes should go towards the heart. Rubbing in a vigorous manner will aid in absorption. The massage doesn’t need to be done for a long time – a couple minutes is sufficient – as it is not the massage itself that is the main purpose but rather the oiling and subsequent absorption.
- Let the oil soak in for 15-30 minutes for maximum benefit. You might use this time to brush your teeth, shave, trim your nails, say affirmations or do some energy work or yoga. If you can’t leave it in that long, try for at least 5 minutes so some of the oil is absorbed. You can also apply before bed and allow it to soak in overnight.
- Take a warm, leisurely bath or shower after the allotted time to rinse off. Use only gentle soap, ideally only using soap under the arms and in the groin area and simply rinsing the rest of thebody. It is good if just a little oil remains.
©2011, Jamie Durner, Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner & Wellness Educator at Ayurveda Wellness in Pewaukee, WI