SEP 04, 2019
Ayurvedic massage oils: An essential in any self-care regimen
"Learn to love your body and it will automatically take care of you". This is the train of thought you can find widely discussed in beauty forums, international ad campaigns, and conventions. Ayurveda has been speaking about this exact insight for thousands of years. Ayurvedic oils and their uses have been well recognized and received across the world.
The concept of self-care and listening to one's body is the very foundation of Ayurveda. It laid the ground rules for stress relief, ayurvedic aromatherapy, and holistic nourishment way before beauty products were even a thing. The concept of ayurvedic massage oils is grounded in nourishing both the external and internal systems of our body. From stress-relief to weight loss to joint pain, ayurvedic massage oils find practical uses for day to day discomforts.
Having pain and discomfort in the joints or muscles is a common occurrence that every individual will experience from time to time. It is a natural bodily reaction to stress, strain or excess load on the specific muscle. Of course, the natural course of action would be to rest the muscle, which provides the necessary relief. But in many cases, this could become a nagging issue with the aches and pains persisting. This could be indicative of a more serious issue that requires the utmost care if it is to be resolved completely and from the root cause of the issue. This is where Kerala Ayurveda helps, with a wide range of Ayurvedic massage oils that can be used regardless of whether it is for medical or therapeutic purposes. It is important to first know the Dosha of the body -- Vata, Pita, Kapha -- before finding the right Ayurvedic massage oil that can benefit the individual.
Ayurveda is known to provide holistic solutions for a range of deficiencies and issues. When it comes to problems pertaining to aches and pains of the muscles, joints, or bones, Ayurveda’s deep-rooted solution includes lifestyle changes, dietary changes, and supplements for long-term relief. Kerala Ayurveda has a wide range of Ayurvedic massage oils that are concoctions of multiple highly effective herbs that are really useful in treating any aches and pains, providing long-term relief. These oils can also be used for therapeutic purposes, helping calm the mind and body while improving blood circulation.
Abhyanga, also known as Abiyangam, is a form of Ayurvedic therapy that involves a holistic massage with Ayurvedic oils. Unlike conventional massage therapy, abhyanga is deemed as an expression of self-love and serves to boost an individual’s physical, mental, and psychological well being.
Over time, a regular abhyanga regimen improves the balance of ayurvedic doshas in the body and improves longevity. The practice of abhyanga is considered an expression of self-love and nourishes the body and mind in the same way as the feeling of being deeply loved.
This article will enlighten you about the benefits of abhyanga, how to choose the right Ayurvedic massage oils, and how to customize your own abhyanga regimen to balance your specific dosha.
Abhyanga- The Art Of Ayurvedic Self Massage
Ayurvedic oil massage and external oil-based Ayurvedic treatments are used to treat health problems. But Ayurvedic oil massage does not always mean a professional Ayurvedic oil massage. Abhyanga is the Ayurvedic term for self-massage with Ayurveda massage oil. It is a way in which one can spend a few minutes every day using oils to nourish and enhance one’s health.
It is said in Ayurveda that there is no better expression than one of self-love. Performing the Abhyanga by oneself massaging oil from the head to soles of the feet can be a really effective practice that helps keep the Doshas balanced and also improves general wellbeing and longevity.
The tradition of applying oil over one’s body and then massaging it in is a good way to show self-love. It makes one feel better both emotionally and physically. A simple massage can improve circulation and relieve toxic buildup. When time permits one can massage the entire body for 15 minutes. When time is short it can be confined to selected parts of the body.
The benefits of Abhyanga go beyond better skin or improved health. Taking the time to pamper oneself also helps to destress and relieve anxiety. When performed in the morning it enhances energy and mood. Performing Abhyanga at night helps to relieve the tensions of the day and ensures a sound peaceful sleep. It is important to take some time to sit and allow the oils to penetrate fully into the tissues of the body.
The Ayurvedic body massage oil should be chosen based on the Dosha balance of the person. If a Dosha is found to be out of balance and causing health problems, the appropriate oil application will aid in balancing the Dosha. Even if the Doshas are in balance, each person has a dominant Dosha. The oil can be selected according to this Dosha. Sesame seed oil is one of the most highly rated Ayurvedic massage oils used in the Abhyanga process. Sesame oil is known to ease the rigidity of the muscles and joints as well as nourishing the deeper tissues in the body. Sesame can also be used with other herbs to make different concoctions that also have multiple benefits when used in the massaging process.
Let’s take a look at what type of oils work for which Dosha type. While Sesame oil is good overall, it is particularly useful to counter Vata properties. It helps in the flow of prana through the different channels of the body while also improving the Ojas levels. When it comes to helping Pitta-related issues, coconut oil is a useful supplement. Especially when used on the head, coconut oil can get rid of any excess Pitta in the body like overheating. Kapha is known to accumulate in the chest and lungs. To help rid the excess Kapha collected, Mustard oil is a great remedy. Ayurveda also suggests the frequency of Abhyanga in a week to counteract different Doshas. It is recommended that the Abhyanga is done four or five times a week to pacify Vata, thrice or four times a week to pacify Pitta imbalance, and once or twice a week to pacify Kapha imbalance.
Abhyanga should be done in a relaxed frame of mind. The temperature of the oil is best matched to the Dosha type. Vata Dosha people should prefer warm oil. Pitta Dosha people need the opposite and a very lightly heated oil is good. Since the Kapha Dosha is oily in nature, there should be a smaller quantity of a Kapha massage oil used and with less vigorous massage than the other Dosha types. Oil can be heated by placing the bottle in a mug of hot water for a while. The temperature of the room that is being used can also be adjusted to suit the Dosha type.
The treatment for a particular health problem is enhanced by the application of the appropriate Ayurveda massage oil. The daily application of Ayurvedic massage oil for varicose veins such as Santhwanam oil is very helpful. One can use Ayurvedic massage oil for weight loss as oil massage helps to burn fat in the body. Ayurvedic scalp massage with medicated oil is a tradition that is followed in many cultures. It improves circulation, aids hair growth, and prevents scalp problems.
Why is Abhyanga a potent stress reliever?
Massage alone is strongly recommended as a way of relaxing the bodily muscles and easing mental tension. In Ayurveda, it is believed that the beneficial effects of massage are enhanced by including an Ayurvedic massage oil. The sensations involved in Ayurvedic massage emulate the feeling of a warm embrace, easing anxiety and mental stress and infusing you with peace and contentment. The Sanskrit word “Sneha” translates to “love” as well “oil,” and Ayurveda emphasizes on this inherent link between the feeling of love and covering the body in oil. The sensation of “Sneha” – be it love or through oil – is a subtle one (sukshma), allowing it to enter through the smallest channels of the body through its seven tissue layers (dhatus). Massage also helps to improve blood circulation and thus ease up tension within the body, which further reduces stress levels.
The benefits of abhyanga, in fact, go beyond stress relief. Massage in Ayurveda is recommended as an excellent remedy that can enhance the working of the nervous system, repair sleep patterns, promote healthy hair and skin, strengthen the limbs, and improve overall longevity. Massage is also a good way to lose excess body weight, as the oils work as fat burners when massaged deeply into the skin. If you suffer from dry or lifeless skin, abhyanga will lead to a visible improvement in skin quality as the oils work to repair your tissues and reverse the effects of dehydration, aging, and wrinkles. In addition, the healing properties of abhyanga oils serve to flush out toxins from the body and enhance the overall health of the internal organs.
You don't need a spa, self-massage works wonders.
The word ‘massage’ instantly calls to mind an indulgent session at some exotic hotel or spa. However, not all of us can afford to get regular spa sessions. Fortunately, you do not need the services of a professional to benefit from the wonders of abhyanga. Ayurvedic home remedies are widely practiced and enjoyed by people all over the world. You too, can pick an oil based on your Ayurvedic dosha type and treat yourself to a relaxing self-massage right in the comforts of your home. As the name suggests, self-massage is the act of massaging your own body, all over or in parts. However, abhyanga goes far beyond merely applying some oil on yourself for a few minutes.
Abhyanga requires you to devote at least fifteen minutes each day towards massaging yourself thoroughly so that the oil penetrates deep into your skin. By doing so, you are emulating the feeling of a loving embrace and giving yourself the self-care you deserve. While the idea of an oil massage may seem messy and difficult to do on your own, with some practice you can reap all the benefits of a massage in the comfort of your home and have a self-care routine you can enjoy each day.
How to pick the right massage oil
Ayurveda is all about achieving the right balance in the body. According to Ayurveda, opposites balance each other out and like enhances like. When picking a massage oil for yourself, it is thus essential to choose one that corrects imbalances in your body. For this, you need to take the three key Ayurvedic doshas into account – Vata, pitta, and Kapha – and how those doshas impact different aspects of your life. These aspects include
- Vikriti – This is your body’s current level of balance. If one of the doshas in your body is currently high, it is ideal to choose a massage oil that pacifies that particular dosha. For instance, if you tend to suffer from anxiety and your body temperature is cold, you are likely to have high levels of Vata dosha and should thus pick an oil that pacifies Vata
- Prakriti – This is your body’s overall Ayurvedic constitution. If the doshas in your body are more or less balanced, you can take into account the dominant dosha in your body constitution when picking a massage oil. For instance, if your dominant body dosha is pitta and the weather is tending towards hot and humid, your pitta could become aggravated, and you should thus choose an oil that pacifies pitta
- Seasons – There is a strong link between doshas and the seasons. The summertime is deemed as pitta season, fall to early winter is Vata season and late winter till spring is the Kapha season. There are several steps you can take to maintain your body balance through the different seasons, and choosing the right Ayurvedic massage oil is one of them
The ways in which each oil reacts uniquely with your mind, spirit, and body are complex. One option is to choose a simple carrier oil like castor, sesame, or coconut oil to enjoy a relaxing massage. Coconut oil has cooling properties and is ideal for use in the hotter months as well as by individuals with excess heat in their bodies. Sesame oil, on the other hand, has warming properties and is perfect for use during the cooler months as well as by individuals with excess coolness in their bodily systems. However, to experience the full benefits of the abhyanga, it is ideal to pick oils that have specific dosha-balancing properties for your self-massage.
Best oil for Vata body type
The properties of Vata dosha are primarily light, cool, dry, and subtle. These characteristics are essentially the opposite of the properties of an oil, so you have a number of options when it comes to picking a Vata balancing oil. One of the best options for Vata balancing oils is plain sesame oil from untoasted sesame seeds. Ayurveda, in fact, considers this to be the king of oils. You can use it on its own in a refined or unrefined version. Alternatively, you can use it as a base for other herbal oils. For instance, ashwagandha oil is known for its potent ability to strengthen muscles and is highly recommended to supplement an active lifestyle. You can mix this with sesame or olive oil to create a massage oil solution that will help build up muscle mass while also relaxing you.
Don't want to get your hands dirty? Pre-made Pavan Oil is an excellent choice to balance your Vata imbalance improving vigour and vitality while also helping you get rid of dry skin issues. Bala oil has similar muscle-enhancing properties and is also a good option. Another option is Mahanarayan oil, which contains twenty essential Ayurvedic herbs and can be mixed with warm sesame oil for an invigorating massage that helps to heal aching joints. After a massage with Mahanarayan oil, you can enhance its efficacy with a warm bath coupled with one-third cup each of ginger powder and baking soda. If you are looking to massage localized areas that need attention, ghee (clarified butter) is an excellent alternative to sesame oil, particularly if you have dry skin.
Best oil for Pitta body type
The main characteristics associated with pitta dosha are a sharp-minded nature, oily sensations, and a fleshy body odour. The best pitta massage oils are predominantly light oils such as coconut or sunflower oil that have a cooling effect. Moreover, since the pitta dosha shares a number of properties with oil, the addition of appropriate herbs to the massage oil can greatly enhance the efficacy of the abhyanga. For instance, oils that feature herbs like licorice, Shatavari, Brahmi, or Manjistha can have a cooling effect on the body, particularly in the summertime or if there is excess heat in your body system. Tejas Oil is a great way to improve resistance to heat which is a major pain point for people with Pitta imbalance. Brahmi, in particular, is an excellent choice when combined with coconut oil (for a cooling effect) or sesame oil (for a warming effect). Another option you can add to your base oil is neem oil, which has a strong cooling effect and is ideal if your body has an excess of pitta dosha. Other options you can consider are the Bhringraj oil for a relaxing scalp massage and the Brahmi oil for calming and nourishing your mind.
Best oil for Kapha body type
The main characteristics associated with Kapha dosha are cool, oily, smooth, and heavy. This is similar to the properties of most oils, so the application of unprescribed oils may end up enhancing the Kapha dosha rather than decreasing it. However, here comes the importance of adding the correct herbs to your base oil so as to enhance the invigorating and healing properties of the massage oil and counteract the Kapha dosha. Some of the best Kapha balancing oils include plain sesame, corn, or almond oil, which can help to warm your body when you massage yourself vigorously. Be sure to use an untoasted variety of sesame oil with a less pungent scent. Consider adding oils that contain herbs such as rosemary, calamus, and Chitrak, all of which serve to energize your body and stimulate lymphatic movement and circulation when you massage vigorously. Kapha tends to get elevated during the spring, so be sure to take extra care with your massage oil during this season.
In addition, you can also consider using massage oil with tridoshic properties, i.e., which are ideal for balancing all three doshas – Vata, pitta, and Kapha. Some of the herbs you are likely to see in such massage oils include Guduchi (soothing and rejuvenating qualities), Tulsi (invigoration), Bala (strengthening) and Brahmi and Bhringraj to strengthen the mind.
Dusting Powder – the perfect addition to your Abhyanga routine
While this is not a compulsory step in your massage regimen, the addition of dusting powder can have further beneficial effects on your body and mind. In particular, those with Vata and Kapha doshas can benefit from the application of dusting powder as long as it does not irritate your skin. The best way to benefit from this step is by mixing chickpea flour with water to make a paste and applying it gently to the body (as an alternative to soap) during your shower after the massage. Let the paste rinse off on its own. Alternatively, Kapha individuals can vigorously apply an appropriate dusting powder such as chickpea flour or organic calamus powder (Vacha) either before rubbing in the abhyanga oil or afterward while rinsing the oil off.
How to have the perfect Abhyanga regimen
While performing an ideal body massage on yourself may seem daunting, you can accomplish it easily with some practice. Be sure to set aside at least fifteen minutes for your massage so that the oil can penetrate all the seven tissue layers (Dhatus) of your body for maximum effect. If you are looking for the perfect massage routine to perform in the morning for an energetic day or before you sleep for a restful night, here is an excellent routine as recommended by Ayurveda practitioner Dr. Claudia Welch.
- It is important to be completely relaxed when performing your Ayurvedic massage, so choose a day when you have enough time on your hands.
- Choose a warm, comfortable room away from the wind where you can stand or sit comfortably as you perform the massage.
- Make sure your skin is clean and dry so that it can readily absorb the hydrating oil. You can prep your skin for the massage by brushing it with a dry brush to remove any dirt or dead skin cells.
- Warm-up around ½ cup of oil in a small squeeze bottle. There are a number of ways you can warm your oil. The simplest is to place the oil bottle in a mug filled with hot water and leave it there for five to ten minutes. Alternatively, you can use the double boiler method where you place a small glass or ceramic bowl with your oil inside another bowl of hot water and gently swirl the oil around until it becomes hot.
- Apply the warm oil to your entire body and start massaging it in gently. Work upwards from your extremities, using long strokes on your arms and legs, and massage your chest and abdomen in broad, circular movements. Use clockwise motions on your abdomen, going up on the right side and down again on the left side. Take time to massage yourself slowly and enjoy the sensations.
- Be sure to pay extra attention to your feet and scalp when you massage. The soles of your feet have all your nerve endings and the important marma joints, which are conjunctions of your life force energy (prana). Massaging your feet (known as Padaghata) can help soothe aches or soreness and also strengthen your tissues and ligaments, and is best combined with a scalp massage before going to bed at night. Bhringraj and Brahmi oil are both excellent options for a foot massage.
- Focus on a scalp massage (Murdha Taila) at least once a week, applying oil to the crown of your head and massaging it outwards in circular motions. This relaxes your head, soothes the sensory organs and also stimulates hair growth, and the stimulation can help to reduce facial ageing and wrinkles naturally. For best results, use Brahmi or Bhringraj oil for your scalp massage.
- Another important step is to massage your ear canal. This helps soothe any discomfort due to Vata dosha imbalance, caused often by the constant intake of noises. It also helps to relax stiff jaws and soothe muscle pains in the neck. To do this, place a few drops of massage oil (sesame oil is a good option) on the tip of your little finger or on a clean cotton bud and gently insert it into the opening of your ear. If you have any inflammation or discomfort in your ear canal, avoid doing this until you have consulted a doctor.
- For best results, massage yourself in a manner best suited to your particular dosha. For Vata dosha, regular massage can have significant positive effects and is best carried out in a warm environment with warm (not hot) oil. For pitta dosha, it is important to maintain coolness, so be sure to use gently heated oil for your body and cool oil for your head in the summer. For Kapha dosha, be sure to use a smaller quantity of oil than would be needed for Vata or pitta dosha massages, and apply the oil in a more vigorous manner.
- The most crucial step in abhyanga is to let the oil sit for five to ten minutes so that it gets absorbed into the deeper layers of the body. During this time, you can relax and practice some deep breathing or make yourself a cup of tea.
- After your massage, take a warm, relaxing shower or bath. This helps remove any excess oil so that the pores of your skin are not clogged. Be sure to towel-dry yourself thoroughly afterward and wear cotton socks to protect your floor from any residual oil on the soles of your feet. You should also ensure that your bath/shower water is not too hot. Ideally, keep a separate towel for use after your massage, as the towel will eventually become soiled through the accumulation of excess oil.
- To further improve your Ayurvedic balance, you can apply some essential oils on your neck and wrists after your bath. Choose mitti or rose oils for Vata dosha, khus or rose for pitta dosha and myrrh or Hina for Kapha dosha.
Taking care of oil stains after abhyanga
One side effect of Ayurvedic oil massage is that your sheets and towels can get stained with oil over time. To ensure that there is minimal damage to your linen, be sure to keep a separate towel to sit on during your massage and another one to dry yourself with after your shower. In addition, if you are performing abhyanga at night, have a separate set of cotton nightclothes to wear after your shower for at least an hour before sleeping to absorb any excess oil. You can also spread a towel over your pillow before you sleep so that any residual oil in your hair gets absorbed.
Another useful way to protect your clothes is by adding a diluted mixture of vinegar and baking soda to your washing machine at the start of the cycle. While corrosive in large quantities, this is excellent for removing oil stains when combined with hot water. You can also use a natural, environment-friendly detergent to wash your clothes. It is essential to remember that oil is highly flammable, so be careful when drying oily towels and clothes. Ideally, you should let them dry naturally – if using a clothes dryer, use a low-heat setting so that they do not risk catching fire. You should also be careful not to leave oil-stained clothes or towels in a car.
Conclusion: Abhyanga can improve your life in many ways
Abhyanga is more than just a body massage – it is a way for you to express self-love. By giving yourself a soothing oil massage, you are embracing yourself and thanking yourself for being who you are. The benefits of abhyanga are physical, emotional, and mental and can benefit people of all ages and from all walks of life. As long as you choose the correct massage oil for yourself and take care of your towels and clothes, a daily massage can be a simple yet extremely special part of your routine. Allow yourself that healing “me time” and set aside time each day for an Ayurvedic oil massage – you will undoubtedly feel long-term benefits and a heightened sense of wellbeing and happiness amidst the cares of daily life.
1. Which Ayurvedic oil is good for body massage?
Ayurveda stresses the emotional as well as physical health of a person. Ayurveda believes in a healthy lifestyle and thus recommends following a daily routine or Dinacharya. In which Abhangyam is said to done every day by applying suitable oil. The very act of Abhyanga or self-massage is good for health. It helps nourish the skin and relaxes a person. However, since the massage oils have different Dosha characteristics it is better to choose an Ayurvedic body massage oil that will benefit you. Each person has their own individual Dosha levels that are unique to them. It is good to choose an oil that is appropriate for the Dosha levels of the person. Sesame oil is good for all the Dosha types. For a Vata Dosha dominant person, warm the oil before application. Heat the oil minimally for Pitta Dosha and use as little oil as possible for Kapha Dosha people.
2. What is the best oil to use for a body massage?
Sesame oil is good for all Dosha types. It is also good to choose an Ayurvedic body massage oil as per the dominant Dosha. Pavan oil is good for Vata Dosha dominant people. Pitta dominant people need cooling oils that preferably have licorice, Shatavari, neem oil, Brahmi, or Manjistha. Tejas Oil is a good oil for Pitta dominant people. Kapha is already an oily Dosha type and needs minimal oil for massage. Oils with rosemary, calamus, and Chitrak, Guduchi, Tulsi, Bala, Brahmi and Bhringraj are good for Kapha types. There is classical preparation of oils which are used accordingly looking at one’s constitution. Examples include Mahanaryana Thailam, Dhanwantra Thailam, Murrivenna Oil, and many more.
3. What is Ayurvedic oil massage?
Ayurvedic oil massage or Abhyanga is the process of applying an Ayurvedic body massage oil to the body with a simple self-massage before bath. It is good for the skin and health. The act of massage also helps destress, relax and improves the emotional and mental state. The oil itself helps nourish the skin and the body. It takes about fifteen minutes to apply and massage the oil into all parts of the body before a bath.
4. Is massage oil or lotion better?
Traditional Ayurvedic body massage oil is herbal and made from natural ingredients with no chemical additives. Lotions, on the other hand, have components that are said to be beneficial for the skin but they are carried in a chemical base that can be harmful for some time of skin.
5. How do I choose a massage oil?
Ayurvedic body massage oil should be chosen based on these parameters:
- Vikriti or the body’s Dosha levels. The oil should help pacify any aggravated Dosha and help maintain the body’s ideal Dosha levels.
- Prakriti or the general constitution of the body. Every person has one or more dominant Doshas as their natural balance. Choose an oil that is suitable for this Dosha.
- Seasons have their own dominant Dosha and the oil that is chosen should be in tune with the environment. Summer is Pitta dominant, fall to early winter is Vata dominant and late winter till spring is the Kapha dominant season. The chosen oil should be opposite to the seasonal Dosha so that the environmental Dosha is not aggravated in the body.
About Dr. G R Chandran
One of the leading practitioners of Ayurveda medicine in India, Dr. G R Chandran is a reputed doctor and an important member of the Ayurveda Medical Association of India. Specializing in the delicate treatment of Abhyanga, Dr. Chandran has an expansive knowledge of and extensive experience using various healing oils, herbs and spices to provide immediate detoxification and pain relief for the patient. Practicing out of Indiranagar, Bengaluru from the Kerala Ayurveda Ltd. Clinic, Dr. Chandran has successfully treated over one lakh patients in his 29 years long career. His primary treatment areas include rheumatoid arthritis, spondylitis, obesity, PCOD, dermatological problems and infertility.