Updated: Jan 11
Ayurveda offers wonderful daily practices for optimal health, and one of my favorites is self-administered Abhyanga (ah-bee-yahn-gah). Abhyanga, oil love, is the practice of applying warm herbal oil to the body. Self Abhyanga provides the opportunity of metaphorically and literally giving yourself a big hug. As I oil my body, I thank each part and send love to myself for working so hard and for the ability to experience this human form.
Rather than working and manipulating the muscles during a typical massage, the purpose of Abhyanga is to nourish and cleanse the skin and tissues with herbal oil. Ayurveda recommends that people do their own abhyanga daily. For extra body nourishment and care, getting a professional abhyanga is also an option. This includes a LOT of oil and is fairly vigorous to warm the body and drive the oil into the skin. Although I don’t currently offer traditional abhyanga in my practice, I do use warmed herbal oil, apply certain Ayurvedic massage strokes, and use Ayurvedic marma point therapy in my sessions.
If you remember from my last post, What is Ayurveda?, the foundations of Ayurvedic healing encourage balancing with opposites. Abhyanga balances excess Vata dosha (energy of air and ether). The warming, moistening, lubricating qualities of oil both nourishes and calms Vata’s tendencies which are drying, cold, nervous and anxious. This time of year, fall and early winter (Vata season), and especially during the Pandemic, people are experiencing excess Vata qualities, so it’s especially beneficial to do regular abhyanga.
The skin is considered an organ of digestion, so it’s best to use organic raw high quality oils, preferably infused with herbs. Similar to cooking with herbs and spices that help you digest food, oil infused with herbs helps the skin layers deeply digest the nutrients. My homemade body butter and muscle salve are great options for your abhyanga. Alternatively, learn how to make your own herbal oil with me.
Herbal oil not only nourishes skin, it helps to relax muscles, tension, and to flush toxins. It also helps create a barrier to pathogens and bacteria, as they can’t live on antioxidant rich oily skin (main reason why our skin creates its own oil, and why it’s so essential to replenish dry skin, or frequently washed hands, with oil or natural lotion).
For self-administered abhyanga, warm your herbal oil. Apply long strokes to your arms, legs, and the parts of your spine and neck that you can reach, and circular strokes around your joints, abdomen, and breasts (This can be a wonderful way to connect with a partner). I like to finish my abhyanga at my heart space with the intention to stay there for the rest of the day. After body oiling, take a hot bath or shower to really allow the oil to penetrate. No need to soap or wipe oil off; you can just pat dry and enjoy the luxurious softness of your pampered skin!