The practice of regularly massaging our body with warm herbal oil is known in Ayurveda as “Abhyanga”.
The oil is massaged into the entire body before showering. It can be beneficial for maintaining health and used as a medicine for certain disorders. Abhyanga can be incorporated into a routine appropriate for almost everyone.
The Sanskrit word “sneha” means both “oil” and “love,” and the effects of Abhyanga are similar to the effect of saturation with love. Both experiences can give a deep feeling of stability, warmth and comfort.
Ayurveda teaches that there are seven “dhatus”, or layers of tissue in the body. Each is successively more concentrated and life-giving. Traditionally in Ayurveda it s taught that for the effects of sneha to reach to the deepest layer, it should be massaged into the body for 800 matras, roughly five minutes. If we consider that the entire body needs this kind of attention, a 15-minute massage is a minimum amount of time.
The benefits of External Oleation are outlined as follows in in the ancient Ayurvedic text: Charaka Samhita, by Sushruta Samhita and Ashtanga Hrdayam “Benefits of applying oil to the body (Abhyanga)”:
- Produces softness, strength and color to the body and:
- Decreases the effects of aging
- Bestows good vision
- Nourishes the body
- Increases longevity
- Benefits sleep patterns
- Benefits skin
- Strengthens the body’s tolerance
- Imparts a firmness to the limbs
- Imparts tone and vigor to the dhatus (tissues) of the body
- Stimulates the internal organs of the body, including circulation
- Pacifies Vata and Pitta and Harmonizes Pitta
Sushruta says that massage “reduces the fat and the aggravated Kapha of the system, smoothes and cleanses the skin and imparts a firmness to the limbs.” (Sushruta Vol.2, 24:28)
He also says, “Anointing (Abhyanga) the body (with oil, etc.) imparts a glossy softness to the skin, guards against the aggravation of the Vayu [Vata] and the Kapha, improves the color and strength and gives a tone to the root-principles (Dhatus) [tissues] of the body.” (Sushruta Samhita, Vol.2, ch24:15-17)
“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 Vol. 1, V: 88-89
Directions for Abhyanga:
- Put about ½ cup oil in a squeeze bottle. Use either Organic Sesame Oil or a herbal Ayurvedic oil appropriate for you at that moment and season of the year.
- Place the bottle of oil in hot water in the sink until the oil is pleasantly warm.
- Sit or stand comfortably in a warm room, on a towel that you don’t mind ruining with oil accumulation. Make sure you’re protected from any wind.
- Apply the oil to your entire body
- Massage the oil into your entire body, beginning at the extremities and working toward the middle of the body. Use long strokes on the limbs and circular strokes on the joints. Massage the abdomen and chest in broad, clockwise, circular motions. On the abdomen, follow the path of the large intestine; moving up on the right side of the abdomen, then across, then down on the left side. Massage the body for 5-20 minutes, with love and patience.
- Give a little extra time and attention to massaging the oil into your scalp, ears and feet, at least once a week. Apply oil to the crown of your head (adhipati marma) and work slowly out from there in circular strokes. Oil applied to the head should be warm but not hot. Put a couple drops of warm oil on the tip of your little finger or on a cotton ball and apply to the opening of the ear canal. (If there is any current or chronic discomfort in the ears don’t do this without the recommendation of your health care practitioner). When you massage your feet, be sure to wash them first when you shower, so you don’t slip.
- Enjoy a warm bath or shower using mild natural body and hair cleansers.
- When you get out of the bath, towel dry.