Booking a massage to relieve tension or pain has gained so much popularity in recent years that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the demand for massage therapists to far exceed all other occupations through 2024. What many don’t know is that Ayurveda has been advocating the benefits of this form of therapy, referred to as abhyanga, for thousands of years. While Western massage often touts mostly physical benefits, abhyanga goes beyond, treating both the body and the mind, which makes it a comprehensive tool for improving overall health.
In Ayurveda, we have daily routines, including abhyanga and tongue scraping, that are designed to promote good health. These routines serve to systematically awaken your consciousness, sensory body, emotional body, and physical body. It’s a multi-level process meant to enable you to perform at your best and improve your day-to-day life.
While tongue scraping enhances your digestive and oral health, abhyanga, on the other hand, works with the skin—the largest organ in the body—and, as a result, affects the body as a whole. Modern science has proven that the skin is deeply connected to the nervous system and brain. So just as stress can impact your skin, what you do to your skin can influence your brain.
For example, abhyanga may increase cognitive function. People who have dementia, and similar medical conditions in their family, would benefit from this massage, which can impact the nervous system and improve memory function. Abhyanga also increases compactness of the body, keeping the skin elastic and joints flexible. Consider adding abhyanga to your daily routine for radiant skin and better sleep quality, too.
Abhyanga has also shown to prevent or slow down premature aging. The reason is obvious: Skin plays an important role in the aging process. Abhyanga also calms the nervous system, which can reduce fatigue. I work long hours and sometimes have physically strenuous days. However, I start and end each day with the same amount of energy. How? I completely attribute my sustained energy to my daily abhyanga practice. It’s wonderful how it takes care of any fatigue that may creep in.
All vata (wind energy) diseases can be addressed with abhyanga as well. For instance, this form of therapy can reduce anxiety, joint issues, and muscle aches. If somebody had Bell’s Palsy or a stroke, it could also help them recover more quickly. Also, in Ayurveda, we believe your feet have a direct channel to the eyes. Therefore, by massaging the feet, you can improve your vision and maintain good eye health.
How to Practice This Self-Massage at Home
Ideally, abhyanga is practiced daily on oneself. The fact that you can do this in the privacy of your own home for free and without any assistance is one of its many advantages.
The process is simple: All joints and body parts are massaged with oil in a circular motion in the direction of the hair, which mostly means going away from the heart (this is one of the key differences between regular massage and abhyanga). Massage your head in a downward motion so that you go from the crown toward the ears. For the ears, go from the top to the lobe. For the feet, rub from the heel to the toes.
Any part of your body that you are massaging should be rubbed until it becomes warm. To do your whole body should take a maximum of 10 minutes once you get accustomed to the practice. If you’re pressed for time, just do your head, ears, and feet, which should only take 2 to 3 minutes.
It is suggested that you perform abhyanga before taking a shower because generating body heat is a crucial component. According to the ancient sages, when you rub on oil and your body temperature changes, the pores of the skin open. As a result, the oil can get into the body. You don’t have to worry about the oil getting washed off because if you’re doing it on a daily basis, your body will gradually absorb the oil. When taking a shower, I recommend not using soap (except on sweaty parts) and just scrubbing with your hands, so that the film of oil stays on the skin and continues to diffuse into the body.
Generally, sesame oil is best. To prepare it, just add one or two drops of water, then heat it. Once it boils, turn off the heat and store it for later. There are also certain classical oils that can be used with the most famous being mahanarayana thailam. This oil has many ingredients, and greater health benefits compared to regular oil.
As you can see, the process of performing abhyanga is not difficult, especially once you get used to it. Its advantages are plenty, and you don’t have to go to a spa or massage therapist to get the benefits. If daily is too much of a commitment for you right now, try it once a week to help deepen your mind-body connection and improve your overall health.