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Abhyanga: Ayurvedic Oil Massage - By Dr. Claudia Welch

“Abhyanga is the anointing of the body with oil. Often medicated and usually warm.

The oil is massaged into the entire body before bathing. 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. Sneha--oil and love--is sukshma, or “subtle.” This allows sneha to pass through minute channels in the body and penetrate deep layers of tissue.

Ayurveda teaches that there are seven dhatus, or layers of tissue in the body. Each is successively more concentrated and life-giving. It is 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.

Benefits of External Oleation. Outlined in: Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and Ashtanga Hrdayam Benefits of applying oil to the body (Abhyanga): Produces softness, strength and color to the body

  • 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 an 8 oz. squeeze bottle. Make sure the oil is not rancid. Use either Kama’s  Sesame, Swagandhadi or Jwalini oil
  • Place the bottle of oil in hot water 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. A dusting powder like Kama s UBTAN - can help rinse off the oil without drying out the skin. You can use a mild soap like Kama s NIMBA or AROGYA on the “strategic” areas.
  • When you get out of the bath, towel dry. Keep a special towel for drying off after your Abhyanga because it can eventually get ruined, due to the accumulation of oil.
  • Put on a pair of cotton socks (organic, if you can find them) to protect your environment    from the residual oil on your feet.
  • Apply a dosha-appropriate essential oil to your wrists and neck.
  • Enjoy.

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