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Health & Wellbeing

How to Do Abhyanga or Ayurvedic Self-Massage

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Ayurvedic massage, also known as Abhyanga, is simply an expression of love to the body through the use of warm oils and massage. Love brings the most special feeling to the body, and creates a sense of warmth, balance, and wholeness.

What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is derived from Sanskrit words, ‘Ayur’, which means life, and ‘Veda’, which means science or knowledge. It is considered one of the oldest healing therapies, and it originated in India over 5000 years ago. The practice emphasises the prevention of diseases and promotes balance through the mind, diet, lifestyle, and the use of herbs.

Ayurveda identifies the basic types of energy that are present in everyone and everything, known as doshas. There are three of these: Vata, the energy of movement; Pitta, the energy of digestion or metabolism; and Kapha, the energy of lubrication and structure. All people have some qualities of each dosha type, but one is most dominant.

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What is ayurvedic massage

An ayurvedic massage is an oil massage based in the practice of Ayurveda. The Sanskrit word for this kind of massage literally translates into “love”, which is one of the fundamental principles behind this type of massage. It is about self-care, and about expressing love to yourself and your body. An ayurvedic massage also balances the doshas.

FURTHER READING: How to Eat For Your Dosha

It is possible to get an ayurvedic massage from a practitioner, but an ayurvedic self-massage is the best way to get the most out of the practice. You can do this daily before your bath or shower, and it takes about 15- 20 minutes.

The benefits of ayurvedic massage

Aside from balancing your doshas, there are a number of other ayurvedic massage benefits. These include the following:

  • The warm oils used in ayurvedic massage bring nourishment to the skin, the tissues and the cells of the body.
  • The massage warms the joints, increasing flexibility and range of motion.
  • It increases blood flow and lymphatic circulation, which assists in bringing fresh oxygen to the cells as well as removing waste and toxins from the body.
  • The experience brings about a sense of relaxation, which calms the nervous system and helps you sleep better.

What do you need to perform an abhyanga or ayurvedic self-massage?

  1. A small amount of oil, ideally in a bottle which can easily be poured into the hands.
  2. A pot of hot water to immerse the massage oil bottle in, in order to heat the massage oil.
  3. A towel to sit on (note that this should be a towel that you don’t mind getting slightly oil stained).
  4. A warm, comfortable space.

Ayurvedic massage oils

Ayurvedic massage oil

The kind of oil used in ayurvedic massage is very important. You can create your own oil blends, and these should be based on your dosha type. The best base oil to use is Jojoba oil, which helps to balance all doshas.

Massage oils for the Vata dosha

If your dosha is Vata, you would also include sesame-based oils. Ashwagandha oil promotes muscle strength, while Mahanarayan oil warms the joints and increases mobility. Ghee, which is a very nourishing oil, is used on severely dry skin to assist in hydration.

Massage oils for the Pitta dosha

If your dosha is Pitta, include light, cooler oils. Bhringaraj oil, known in Ayurveda as the ruler of the hair, is used to relax the scalp. Neem oil is intensely cooling to the body

Massage oils for the Kapha dosha

If your dosha is a kapha, you should include heavy but smooth oils. Sesame, almond and corn oils are all-natural, nourishing oils with warming properties. 

Ayurvedic herbs

How to do an ayurvedic self-massage

  1. Pour your oil into a suitable container, such as a squeeze bottle, and place it into a pot of hot water to warm up. Place a small amount of oil into your hands and rub the hands together. Throughout the massage you may need to add additional oil, so keep it close by.
  2. Place your hands on the crown of your head, and work in circular motions to stimulate the scalp and awaken the senses. You can gently tug at the hair roots too. Your hair is going to get oily, but shampoo will wash the oil out.
  3. Next, move onto your face, using circular motions to cover the forehead, temples, cheeks, nose and chin area. Pay special attention to your ears, massaging in small circular motions around the outer ear. The inner ear can be gently massaged with a baby finger.
  4. Move down to the neck. Use long, sweeping strokes of the hand to cover your neck, upper shoulders, collar bones and chest, and then finally the upper back and the back of the neck.
  5. Next, move onto your arms, which you will massage one at a time. Start near your hand, working towards your body with long, firm strokes from the wrist to your elbow, and then from the elbow toward the shoulder. Make sure to massage around the joints in the wrist, elbow, and shoulders using small circular massage movements. Massage your palms using circular movements, and then massage each finger individually. Complete the entire arm and hand on one side before moving onto the other side.
  6. Next, you’ll focus on the underarm and chest area. Use circular, clockwise motions, working from the outer edges of the body toward the centre. If you have breasts, pay special attention to this area.
  7. Next, you will massage the abdomen. Follow the same direction as the large intestine, beginning your massage in the bottom right-hand corner of the abdomen, and working your way upwards, over and down toward the left corner. This aids in digestive balancing too and stimulates healthy bowel functioning.
  8. Massage the side of the body, and the back, using long stroking motions from the rib cage toward the hips.
  9. From there, move onto the hip area and buttocks. Use large circular motions, or shorter strokes to release any tension in the lower back.
  10. The final step is to massage the legs and feet, in a similar principle to massaging the arms. From ankle to knee, and from knee to pelvis, use long strokes. When massaging the joints, like the knees and the ankles, use circular motions. Special attention should be paid to the soles of the feet as well as the toes to bring balance and grounding to the body.

Once you have completed the massage, allow yourself some time to relax and let the oils soak into your skin. When you’re ready, take a warm bath or shower. You may need to shampoo twice to get the oil out of your hair, depending on your hair type.

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Kerry Van Schoor

Updated: May 18, 2021