The Benefits & How-To of Abhyanga: Ayurvedic Self Massage
The skin is the body’s largest organ and one that we often neglect. Though the health of our skin is often impacted by what we put into our bodies, it’s also influenced by what it comes into contact with on the outside. In Ayurveda, abhyanga is one of the best ways to nourish your skin and body with love and good health.
What is Abhyanga?
Abhyanga is the Ayurvedic practice of massaging your body head to toe with healing oils, which are sometimes heated and infused with Ayurvedic herbs. Also referred to as self-massage, abhyanga is considered an important practice in Ayurveda for maintaining overall health. Enveloping the skin with oil provides stability, warmth, and comfort to the body. It also nourishes the organs and rejuvenates both mind and body.
A daily or even weekly abhyanga practice can have a wonderful impact on the nervous system, especially for vata-types who tend to feel less grounded. Consistent self massage also boosts lymphatic detoxification, improves circulation, and supports overall mind-body balance.
The Sanskrit word for oil is “Sneha,” which translates as love. Ayurveda recognizes oil as love because the essence of each plant is its oil. It’s like the spirit of the plant. Like ourselves, the core of everything is love. That’s why when you massage your body with pure oil, you’re coating your physical body with a layer of affection.
“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.” – excerpt from traditional Ayurvedic texts
One of the most beneficial times to practice abhyanga is in the early and quiet hours of the morning before you’re pulled into the responsibilities and momentum of the day. What better way to start the day than by offering gratitude and nourishment to your entire body with warm oil? Ultimately, choosing when to practice self-massage is a personal decision depending on your needs and day-to-day schedule. The practice itself is what’s most beneficial.
At least 5 minutes is needed, but it’s best to spend 15-20 minutes massaging your skin for the oil to penetrate the seven dhatus (tissue layers in the body).
Use ¼-½ cup oil of your choice (see suggestions below).
Warm the oil before using it, especially for vata constitutions. This isn’t a must, but warm oil provides a more nourishing and relaxing experience.
Lay out a towel (one that you don’t mind getting ruined overtime by the oil), and sit or stand over it nude.
Use a generous amount of oil and begin at your extremities, working toward the center of your body.
Massage the face in circular, upward motion.
Use long strokes on your limbs and circular strokes on joints. For the abdomen and chest, move your hand in clockwise motion. Pay extra attention to the ears, scalp, and feet. These places are the home of nerve endings and marma points.
To access specific muscles or joints in particular, salves like zMAGIC are great to use. zMAGIC soothes acute inflammation while guiding Pitta dosha back to its natural state of balance.
It’s best to take a bath or shower after oiling. If you do, be mindful of the impact the oil could potentially have on the drains. This article will give you more information on mindful practices to incorporate before and after practicing abhyanga, including ways to care for your drains.
Using Abhyanga for a Breast Massage & Exam
Your abhyanga practice provides an easy and loving way to perform a breast self-exam and detect breast cancer early on. Breast massages can be beneficial for women at any stage in life, and they’re particularly supportive for lactating women and those with a family history of breast cancer.
Massaging your breast tissue can help release toxins from the lymphatic system, reduce stress levels, and ease sore muscles. It also improves your relationship with your body. By touching and caring for different parts of your body, especially your breasts, you can change the way you perceive yourself and treat your body.
Breasts massages also help you become more familiar with the feel of your breasts, giving you an opportunity to notice any odd bumps. This is especially important when it comes to detecting breast cancer early on. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that 71% of breast cancer cases in women under 50 are found by self-detection.
What Oil Is Best For Your Dosha?
Self-massage is beneficial for all doshas, but vata and pitta doshas stand to benefit the most. If you don’t yet know your constitution, take our quiz to find out. It’s important to note that self massage is not recommended for anyone who’s pregnant, in the midst of their menstrual cycle, or for anyone experiencing intense physical discomfort or an acute illness.
Self Massage for Vata Dosha
Use sesame oil.
Vata doshas benefit from self-massage more than the other two doshas because their light and effervescent characteristics are balanced by the heavy and grounding qualities of oil.
Vata’s primary qualities are light, cool, dry, and coarse. Therefore, plain and untoasted sesame oil (which has heavy qualities) is best for people with a vata imbalance, a vata constitution, or during the fall and winter months when vata’s qualities are more present.
zBLISS herbal massage oil can provide even more support with vata-pacifying herbs. zBLISS is made specifically to nourish and protect dry skin while bringing Vata dosha back into its natural state of balance.
Self Massage for Pitta Dosha
Use sunflower or coconut oils.
Pitta constitutions and/or people with a pitta imbalance can also benefit from self-massage, but they’ll find the most value in it by using different oil and techniques depending on the season. Since pitta constitutions naturally have warmer qualities, it’s best to use oil in the winter that is room temperature and warm oil only during the summer months.
Pitta is hot, oily, and sharp and benefits most from oils with light and cooling qualities, like sunflower oil and coconut oil.
The cooling herbs in zCHILL herbal body oil is an especially good choice for pitta constitutions and pitta imbalances and is made to nourish and soothe sensitive skin.
Self Massage for Kapha Dosha
Use sunflower or coconut oils.
Kapha types and those with a kapha imbalance can benefit most from abhyanga by using less oil and incorporating it as a bi-weekly or monthly habit versus a weekly or daily habit.
Although kapha constitutions can still find value in self-massage, dry brushing is more supportive because it balances the oily and heavy qualities already inherent in kapha.
With oily and dense qualities, Kapha constitutions are advised to avoid heavier oils like sesame oil in favor of lighter ones like sunflower or coconut oils.
With a sunflower base, zLIFT herbal massage oil is a combination of warming, cleansing herbs and oils formulated to restore balance to Kapha constitutions.
If you’d like to try all three oils or have all three on hand for different times of the year, try our Dosha Body Oil Set that includes all three of our herbal oils.
Ayurveda’s ancient and beautiful teachings wouldn’t be quite complete without the practice of abhyanga.
The benefits of abhyanga are beyond skin-deep. It’ll make you feel more appreciation and love for your body and have a positive impact on blood circulation, the joints, the internal organs, and especially the lymphatic system, which supports the body in processing and eliminating toxins and waste.
Sitting down to nourish your body with oil even twice a month will greatly improve your physical and mental health. With abhyanga, you can revitalize and heal your body with your own two hands.
Samantha Case is a writer, yoga teacher, and student of Ayurveda. She guides women toward conscious living by helping them cultivate self-awareness through meditation, yoga, mindfulness, introspection, and connection to nature Explore her offerings at www.samanthacase.com.