Of all the types of massage, abhyanga may be the most well-respected — and some think it should be done every day.
“The abhyanga massage is part of Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine of India, which can be translated to the ‘science of life,’” says Surinda Cavanagh, a Kripalu-certified Ayurvedic bodyworker at the Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa in Stowe, Vermont. “It is a traditional body treatment that has been practiced for thousands of years.”
This rhythmic warm oil massage uses complex herbal oils that are carefully chosen based on the season and the specific needs of the individual. The practice is becoming more popular because abhyanga is purported to improve well-being.
“Abhyanga is profoundly grounding and calming to the nervous system, which is the essential first step in healing the mind and body in this fast-paced way of living,” Cavanagh adds. Some of its benefits may include boosting skin suppleness, toning muscles and improving sleep. A pilot study reported clinically reduced stress in those who practiced it.
It’s easy to start a daily abhyanga practice, and you can do it by yourself every day. Fun fact: In Ayurveda, it is said that one who receives abhyanga daily will live to be 100 years old.
The practice can be done daily, but check with your doctor before you start. In addition, there are some situations when practitioners suggest you avoid doing abhyanga:
- Over swollen, painful areas or masses on the body
- Over infected or broken skin
- When there is high ama (toxicity, often indicated by a thick, white coating on the tongue) or great physical discomfort
- When you have acute fever, chills or flu
- When you have acute indigestion
- When you have a medical condition (unless your healthcare provider says it's OK)
- During your period
- During pregnancy
Larissa Hall Carlson, dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda in Lenox, Massachusetts, offers three steps to getting started:
1. The oils matter.
“A high-quality organic cold-pressed oil is ideal because it’s in its most natural state and is most absorbable,” she says. Match your oil to the season, too, and it’s recommended that you consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner to find out which oils will be best for you. “Generally speaking, we recommend using a sesame seed oil in the cold months of fall and winter and coconut or sunflower seed oil in the hot summer months since it’s more cooling and refreshing.” Tip: If you prefer to use warm oil, fill your sink with hot water and place the glass bottle of oil in the sink and submerge it for 10 minutes before you use it. Always test the oil on the inside of your wrist before you apply it to your skin to make sure it’s not too hot.
2. Go for the count.
“Abhyanga is a choreographed massage,” Carlson says. “So you’ll want to do five strokes up and down the shin bones and three circles around the knee, for example. Doing circles at the joints and long strokes along the long bones ensures that the body is evenly massaged.”
3. Consider this an act of mindfulness.
As you massage this cold-pressed oil on your skin (in the same way you’d apply a moisturizer), spend time relaxing in the moment, Carlson says. “This is an opportunity to not only lubricate your skin and remove dryness but it’s also a time to avoid distractions — to be in a simplified state. This time out is so important, especially since so many of us don’t give ourselves any time for nurturing, rest and quiet.”
Here's a video that shows how to perform abhyanga on yourself.
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