Abhyanga: Ayurvedic Oil Massage

Ayurvedic bodywork therapies, are therapies of touch that are focused on restoring the memory of pure consciousness into every cell of the body. Positive change in the mind and body is possible because ayurvedic bodywork creates balance on the physical as well as subtler levels of being. During treatment, a deeper state of silence is achieved and a sense of heightened internal awareness is experienced. It is from this place of awareness that healing on a cellular level may occur.

“Give yourself a full body oil massage on a daily basis. It is nourishing; pacifies the doshas; relieves fatigue; provides stamina, pleasure, and perfect sleep; enhances the complexion and the luster of the skin; promotes longevity; and nourishes all parts of the body.”
~ Charaka Samhita

In ancient India, herbalized ayurvedic oils were a significant part of treatment for disease as well as maintenance of good health. More than just a moisturizer, ayurvedic oils are food for the body and soul. Being the largest organ system of the body, your integumentary system, a.k.a. your skin, absorbs and digests anything applied to it. In other words: If you can’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin!

Ayurveda recommends the use of oil internally and externally as a means of keeping not only the body nourished, rejuvenated, toned, and supple, but the mind as well. As the skin absorbs this food, the oil eventually feeds all of the tissues of your body. The proper use of oils opens the “nadis”, or energy channels, allowing all of your body’s energies to flow in their proper directions.

The most powerful ayurvedic oils are prepared according to a long and rigorous process as described in ancient ayurvedic texts. This process involves heating the oil over a slow fire in brass vessels while infusing it with the finest herbs and then allowing it to mature over time. The result is a rich, fragrant, and enticing herbalized oil that is custom blended with aromatic herbs and natural resins appropriate for use in the treatment of vata, pitta, and kapha conditions; “panchakarma” [ayurvedic cleansing protocol comprised of five specific actions]; and other bodywork treatments.

The following is taken from Dr. Claudia Welch’s article, “Abhyanga: Ayurvedic Oil Massage”.

The Sanskrit word sneha can be translated as both “oil” and “love”. It is believed that the effects of abhyanga are similar to those received when one is saturated with love. Like the experience of being loved, abhyanga can give a deep feeling of stability and warmth. Sneha is subtle; this allows the oil/love to pass through minute channels in the body and penetrate deep layers of tissue.

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.

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 Applying Oil to the Body
~ 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 tissues of the body
~ Stimulates the internal organs of the body, increasing circulation
~ Pacifies Vata and Pitta and Harmonizes Pitta

Benefits of Applying Oil to the Scalp
~ Makes hair grow luxuriantly, thick, soft and glossy
~ Soothes and invigorates the sense organs
~ Removes facial wrinkles

Benefits of Applying Oil to the Ears
~ Benefits disorders in the ear which are due to increased Vata
~ Benefits stiff neck
~ Benefits stiffness in the jaw

Benefits of Applying Oil to the Feet
~ Coarseness, stiffness, roughness, fatigue and numbness of the feet are alleviated
~ Strength and firmness of the feet is attained
~ Vision is enhanced
~ Vata is pacified
~ Sciatica is benefited
~ Local veins and ligaments are benefited

Massaging oil into the human organism imparts a tone and vigor to its root principles, the tissues, in the same manner as water furnishes the roots of a tree or a plant with the necessary nutritive elements, and fosters its growth, when poured into the soil where it grows. The use of oil at a bath causes the oil to penetrate into the system through the mouths of the veins and the ducts of the body, as also through the roots of the hair, and thus soothes and invigorates the body with its own essence.

The Ayurvedic massage is traditionally performed in the morning, before your bath or shower, to facilitate the release of toxins that may have accumulated during the previous night. Sesame oil (unrefined, organic is important) is the traditional choice, although other oils may be recommended based on imbalance and body type.

How to Perform the Self-Massage
Use comfortably warmer-than-skin temperature oil. Put your massage oil in a plastic flip-top and place it in the sink or container with very hot tap water to warm the oil (exchanging hot water with new hot water 2-3 times). Squirt the warm oil into the hand and apply to the entire body, starting with the crown of your head and scalp (not hair) first (skip the hair if you do not wash it every day). Do not forget the ears or the feet. Also, at this time, if you are using pure unscented or non-herbalized oil, you may place 1-2 tablespoons of oil in your mouth and hold it there, swishing it between the teeth occasionally, as you do the rest of the massage. (This practice, called ‘oil pulling’ or Gandusha, prevents and heals gum disease.)

After you have placed a liberal amount of oil on the skin of the entire body, massage the body gently, applying even pressure with the whole hand. Apply lighter pressure on sensitive areas such as the abdomen or the heart. Use more oil and spend more time where nerve endings are concentrated, such as the soles of the feet, palms of the hands and along the base of the fingernails. Use circular motions over rounded areas such as your head or joints, and straight strokes on straight areas such as your arms and legs, work best. The massage is not a muscle or deep tissue massage, it is to calm the nervous system through the skin and to help move prana/energy.

After you’re done, allow the oil to soak in for 5 to 20 minutes. Do some other part of your daily hygiene routine at this time (shave or do nails or some gentle yoga postures or just relax). Follow the massage with a warm bath or shower.  The oil loosens and sticks to toxins, and the hot water allows the pores to open and washes them away.

(Note: To get the oil out of the hair, place shampoo on the head before you put any water on. It will lather up a bit and save on the amount of shampoo you need to use. Also, it is not necessary to remove all the oil in the bath or shower- use a gentle soap such as glycerine, or castille, sparingly, which will allow some oil to stay on your skin.)

To keep your pipes from clogging: Once a week put 1/4 cup of vinegar down the drain followed by 2 quarts of boiling hot water.


About Ali Grabel

Ali Grabel is an Experienced, Compassionate Presence Specializing in Transformation. ~ Advanced Rolf Practitioner ~ She studied for 6 + years on Kauai, Hawaii with Emmett Hutchinson, one of Ida Rolf’s first anointed teachers.


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