Feeling stressed out and anxious these days seems to be the norm. We are living in times unlike any other. 2020 has been a year of so much surprise, transition and transformation – all things that can easily send our mental and emotional state into a tailspin.
Luckily, there are natural ways to nourish your mind and body to support its stress response and maintain balance. One of the most recommended Ayurvedic practices to ease the nervous system is Abhyanga - self oil massage.
In India, oil massage starts as early as birth, helping to build strength and immunity for new babies. This practice can be continued throughout life to support health and longevity.
In addition, massage has been shown to increase oxytocin - the feel good hormone, making it an excellent practice to support emotional health.
There are many benefits of doing a regular Abhyanga practice including:
- Improved circulation and lymph drainage
- Lubrication of the joints
- Improving flexibility, and muscle strength and tone
- Reducing inflammation, stiffness and pain
- Improving focus and concentration
- Calming the nervous system
- Reducing skin aging and improving hydration and softness of skin
- Improving hair strength, shine and growth
- Promoting better sleep
- Reducing fatigue
Oils according to the doshas
Different oils are recommended to pacify the various doshas or to support specific doshas. For vata imbalance/vata dosha, untoasted sesame oil is the best. To increase strength and stamina, Ashwagandha/Bala oil may be used as well. For added joint support, Mahanarayan Oil is a great choice.
For pitta imbalance/pitta dosha, cococnut oil or sunflower oil are ideal. For hair and scalp support, Bhringaraj oil is excellent.
Sesame oil or almond oil can be used for kapha imbalance/kapha dosha, if ama is not present. Otherwise a massage with a silk glove, known as Garshana is recommended.
How to do Abhyanga
Abhyanga is traditionally practiced in the morning before a warm bath or shower. This is to support the body in releasing toxins from the day before.
Heat 1/4-1/2 cup oil in a jar (ideally glass). Heat some water in a pot, pour into a bowl and place jar into the bowl. You do not want to heat the oil directly in the pot!
Put a towel on the floor incase any oil spills. Pour a bit of oil into the palms of your hand and massage into the scalp. Continue to add more oil as needed as you move through the process. Next, move onto the face, gently massaging the forehead, cheeks, ears, nose and chin in circular motions.
Moving on, massage the front and back of the neck with long, firm strokes.
Next, massage the arms with long, firm strokes and then using circular motions massage the elbow joints, shoulders and wrists. Make sure to massage the hands and fingers as well. Massage armpits moving the strokes towards the center of the body.
Massage the chest and abdomen next with circular motions. For the abdomen, move the hands in a clockwise motion, which will support healthy bowel function. Then move onto the sides and back of the torso, massaging with long, firm strokes.
Next, move onto the hips and buttocks, using circular motions. Then, using long, firm strokes massage the legs from top to bottom and use circular motions around the knees and ankles.
Finish by massaging both feet.
Complete the massage by taking a warm bath or shower. This helps the oil absorb into the skin and remove toxins. It is recommended to not use too much soap as this can dry out the skin. In addition, to better remove the oil from the hair, apply shampoo to dry hair first and then rinse with water.