Abhyanga, or Ayurvedic self massage is one of my go to self care techniques.
Abhyanga is originally mentioned in the Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, and the Ashtanga Hridayam; these three texts are among the ancient Ayurvedic texts that lay the foundation for Ayurvedic medicine. Abhyanga is self massage and it is intended to support vitality and longevity. The practice calms the nervous system, balances the body, and helps to improve circulation while stimulating the organs.
There are many benefits including softening and toning the skin and muscles, nourishing the body, increasing longevity, improving sleep, strengthening the immune system, pacifying vata and pitta, and relieving anxiety.
To begin an abhyanga practice you’ll need to know what your primary dosha is, or you’ll want to have an idea of what dosha is most active. You can identify your dosha here. Once you know what dosha you most identify with you can select your oil.
Vata governs the respiratory system, muscle movements, heart pulsations, contraction and expansion within the body, nerve signals, digestion, and elimination. Locations for vata include the hips, thighs, colon, ears, bones, skin, and nerves. Vata qualities are dry, brittle, cold, windy, crisp, and astringent. Coconut oil is the best oil to pacify vata. Warm the oil prior to beginning your session. Make sure you have a head-to-toe cover to keep you warm while meditating.
Pitta governs hunger, thirst, luster, digestion, internal heat, and skin tone. Pitta is located in the small intestine, stomach, blood, eyes, sweat, and glands. Qualities of pitta include hot, sharp, flowing, light, liquid, oily, smooth, and aggressive. Coconut oil and sesame oil are ideal for pitta. I am pitta and I love coconut oil. It is extremely soothing and calming.
Kapha governs form, energy, stability, internal fluid, taste, and lubricant. Kapha is located in the stomach, chest, throat, head, pancreas, sides, lymph, fat, nose, and tongue. Its primary site is the stomach, which is also where apana (grounding energy from the earth) resides. Kaphas are already hydrated and benefit from dry brushing or brushing with chickpea powder.
I like to create a ritual around my self care practices. I bring in candles and a mantra. I dim the lights and draw a really hot bath to steam up the bathroom. For me, the purpose of abhyanga is to connect to Self and to be whole in the experience. You have to leave any judgements you have about yourself at the door.
Set up your space and make sure that you have some old clothing or a robe to use while you allow the oil to permeate your skin. Select your oil and warm it in the microwave or with a tea light in an oil warmer. I warm my coconut oil for 10 to 15 seconds in the microwave. For a cover up I use a velcro towel wrap and a few old beach towels to make a pallet.
Once you set up your space, begin by applying the oil or dust to your scalp and hair. Massage the scalp thoroughly moving down the neck and shoulders. From there, I work from the outer most areas towards the heart. I start, for example, at the fingertips, massaging up the fingers and in circular motions towards the heart space. Once you’ve thoroughly worked the oil over your whole body, wrap up and settle in for a 20 to 30 minute meditation.
When you finish with your meditation you can rinse the oil from your body using warm water. Most Ayurvedic practitioners recommend practicing abhyanga several times a week. I find it to be a wonderful way to connect and center myself in my human experience.
Integrating abhyanga into your self care practice will invigorate and strengthen your connection to source.