Abhyanga is the term for Ayurvedic massage. Abhyanga is oil, oil, oil! Abhyanga is massage where oil is respected not just as a lubricant for pleasantness, but as a vital, active component in rejuvenation. When oil is applied to the body it is actually absorbed and ingested by the skin. Because the oil can be applied and absorbed locally it makes for a very effective treatment for chronic conditions (like arthritis) or acute conditions (like injuries).
The Ashtanga Hridayam, an ancient Ayurvedic text recommends abhyanga daily to prevent and heal many illnesses. Some of the purported benefits stated in “The Ayurvedic Encyclopedia” of daily abhyanga are:
•Heals/Prevents Nervous System Issues
•Promotes Good Vision
•Creates Electro-chemical balance in the body
•Stimulates the immune system
Performing abhyanga the night before a strenuous day can be helpful, aiding in sound sleep and rest, giving stamina to muscles and bounce to the step. After a strenuous day abhyanga can help mitigate rebounding soreness, nourish joints, and diminish fatigue.
Because the oil is such a defining feature in Abhyanga high quality oils and selecting the appropriate kind are very important.
Vata individuals who tend toward dryness, coldness and stiffness do best with Sesame oil because it is warming and nourishing.
Pitta individuals who tend to be warm, determined and focused do best with Coconut or Sunflower oil because they are cooling and calming.
Kapha individuals who tend toward heaviness, coolness and congestion do best with sesame or mustard oil because they are warm and enlivening. Also, lightly brushing the body with a dry skin brush can give great rejuvenation to Kapha skin and stimulate the circulation.
Application of abhyanga is very healthful during the dry season, which is so long in California. During summer cool oils (Coconut and Sunflower) are recommend for most people. But with the drying effects of air conditioning/heating during autumn and winter warming oil (such as sesame) is equally important.
Applying abhyanga is best done when can allow the oil ample time on the body (20-30 min). It can be done following a shower, or bath, when the body is warm and pores are open. Try to remain warm after applying the oil so the pores do not close up. It is great to do abhyanga and take a sauna, if such is available.
One can towel off the excess oil thereafter or take a shower (if showering don’t use much soap—it is redundant to strip away that nourishing and protective layer of oil with soap immediately).
Oiling the feet is especially calming to Vata. This can help greatly with things like insomnia and anxiety. If Vata is an issue, make the oil even more effective by preheating it. Simply put the oil container/bottle in hot water, so the heat is transferred into the oil.
The strokes to apply abhyanga are generally circular with enough pressure to create friction. Like rubbing sticks together to make a fire, one is trying to create heat with the strokes to open the pores and foster the absorption of the oil into the body. Generally paint the body with oil, then come back and like waxing a car, part by part, rub the oil into the body. Just keep rubbing and kneading until the oil is well absorbed.
The body benefits from both external and internal oiling, next in the blog series we will dive into hydration and lubrication of the inner tissues that feed into healthy, vibrant supple skin.