Abhyanga – Ayurvedic Oil Massage

Abhyanga – Ayurvedic Oil Massage


The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries, or strenuous work. By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age.

Charaka Samhita Vol. 1, V: 88-89

Abhyangais the anointing of the body with oil. Often medicated and usually warm, the oil is massaged into the entire body before bathing. For thousands of years people have used abhyanga to maintain health, benefit sleep patterns, increase longevity. It has also been used as a medicine for certain disorders. Abhyangacan be incorporated into a routine appropriate for almost anyone.

The Sanskrit word sneha can be translated as both “oil” and “love”. It is believed that the effects of abhyanga are similar to those received when one is saturated with love. Like the experience of being loved, abhyanga can give a deep feeling of stability and warmth. Sneha is subtle; this allows the oil/love to pass through minute channels in the body and penetrate deep layers of tissue.

In Ayurveda, it is believed that there are seven layers of tissue in the body (called dhatus). Each successive layer is more concentrated and life-giving. For sneha to reach the deepest layer, it is believed that it must be massaged into the body for 800 matras, roughly five minutes. To give this kind of attention to your entire body, you may need about fifteen-minutes. Considering the benefits that have been gained by people for thousands of years, fifteen-minutes per day is a minimal amount of time.

Benefits of Abhyanga (applying oil to the body)

(Outlined in: Charaka SamhitaSushruta Samhita and Ashtanga Hrdayam)

Benefits of applying oil to the body (Abhyanga):

  • Produces softness, strength and color to the body
  • Decreases the effects of aging
  • Bestows good vision
  • Nourishes the body
  • Increases longevity
  • Benefits sleep patterns
  • Benefits skin
  • Strengthens the body’s tolerance
  • Imparts a firmness to the limbs
  • Imparts tone and vigor to the dhatus (tissues) of the body
  • Stimulates the internal organs of the body, including circulation
  • Pacifies Vata and Pitta and Harmonizes Pitta

Benefits of applying oil to the scalp (Murdha taila):

  • Makes hair grow luxuriantly, thick, soft and glossy
  • Soothes and invigorates the sense organs
  • Removes facial wrinkles

Benefits of applying oil to the ears (Karna purna):

  • Benefits disorders in the ear which are due to increased Vata
  • Benefits stiff neck
  • Benefits stiffness in the jaw

Benefits of applying oil to the feet (Padaghata):

  • Coarseness, stiffness, roughness, fatigue and numbness of the feet are alleviated
  • Strength and firmness of the feet is attained
  • Vision is enhanced
  • Vata is pacified
  • Sciatica is benefited
  • Local veins and ligaments are benefited

Sneha (oil) affused [sic] on the human organism imparts a tone and vigor to its root-principles (Dhatus), in the same manner as water furnishes the roots of a tree or a plant with the necessary nutritive elements, and fosters its growth, when poured into the soil where it grows. The use of sneha at a bath causes the sneha to penetrate into the system through the mouths of the veins (siras) and the ducts (dhamanis) of the body, as also through the roots of the hair, and thus soothes and invigorates the body with its own essence.

Under the circumstances, affusions [sic] and anointments of the body with oil or clarified butter should be prescribed by an intelligent person with due regard to one’s habit, congeniality and temperament and to the climate and the season of the year as well as to the preponderance of the deranged Dosha or Doshas in one’s physical constitution.

Sushruta Samhita, Vol.2, ch24:21

These passages make it clear that we should consider our Prakriti (constitution), Vikriti (current condition) and our external environment in deciding which oils are best for us and how often we should perform abhyanga.

Ayurvedic literature states that it is beneficial to follow a Vata-pacifying abhyanga if your Vata is currently high or it is the dominant dosha in your Prakriti. The same holds true for Pitta and Kapha. (You can take the Prakritiand/or Vikrititests if you would like to determine these conditions).

If you have more than one dominant dosha in your Prakriti, you will want to pacify doshas according to season. If you are a Pitta-Kapha combination, pacify Pitta during the warm weather and Kapha during the cold weather. If you are a Pitta-Vata combination, pacify Pitta during the warm weather and Vata during the cold weather. If you are a Vata-Kapha combination, pacify Vata during cold or dry weather and during the change of seasons and pacify Kapha during cold or wet weather. More extensive guidelines for each dosha are outlined below.

Vata Pacifying Abhyanga

The primary
qualities of vata are dry, light, cool, rough, subtle and mobile. Most of these qualities are opposite to those of oil. This is why warm oil is especially good for pacifying vata.

If your vata is high, either in your Prakriti or Vikriti, doing abhyanga daily can be highly beneficial, even life-changing. Sushruta says, “The deranged vayu [vata] of the body is restored to its normal condition by the help of Udvartana (massage).” (Sushruta Vol.2, 24:28) Just be sure to do the abhyanga in a warm place and avoid getting chilled afterwards.

Types of Oil That Are Best for Vata:

Sesameis considered to be the “king of oils;” it is the preferred choice of oil for vata because it is inherently warming. If possible, use an untoasted, organic sesame oil. Almond oiland mustard oil are also good choices because they too are warming. You may also consider using Vata Massage Oil, especially if vata is high in your Vikriti. The herbs that have been chosen for this formula enhance the vata-pacifying qualities of sesame oil. Vata massage oil can be used alone or added to sesame, almond or mustard oils.

For increasing strength and stamina Ashwagandha Oil or Ashwagandha/Bala Oilsmay be the best for you.

Mahanarayan Oilis made from over 30 Ayurvedic herbs and is traditionally used for joint pain or weakness. If you warm it, massage it into the affected joints or muscles and proceed with your regular abhyanga, it can be fabulously beneficial. Following this with a warm bath of 1/3 c baking soda and 1/3 cup ginger powder can further enhance the effects.

Pitta Pacifying Abhyanga

The primary qualities of Pitta are: oily, sharp, hot, light, fleshy-smelling, spreading and liquid. Since Pitta and oil share a number of qualities it is ideal to use medicated oil when you are trying to reduce Pitta symptoms (such as: skin irritations, rashes, itchiness). The addition of herbs enhances the Pitta pacifying properties of the oil.

Types of Oil That Are Best for Pitta:

Applying Bhringaraj Oilor Brahmi Oilto the scalp and soles of feet at bedtime may reduce pitta and encourage sound sleep. If you don’t have medicated oils, use sunfloweror coconut oilfor your abhyanga. If you spend a lot of time in the sun, you may wish to add some Neem Oilto whatever your basic abhyanga oil is, because it is said to reduce pitta in the skin. Pitta Massage Oilmay also may be a great choice.

It’s simple to do abhyanga, just gently heat the oil for your body and make sure that the oil you apply to your head is cooler, especially in the summer.

Kapha Pacifying Abhyanga

Sushruta says that massage “reduces the fat and the aggravated Kapha of the system, smoothes and cleanses the skin and imparts a firmness to the limbs.” (Sushruta Vol.2, 24:28) “Anointing the body (with oil) imparts a glossy softness to the skin, guards against the aggravation of the Vata and the Kapha, improves the color and strength and gives a tone to the root-principles (tissues) of the body.” (Sushruta Samhita, Vol.2, ch24:15-17)

The main qualities of Kapha are unctuous, cool, heavy, slow, smooth, soft and static. Kapha and oil share most qualities. Because like increases like, using oil, especially cool oil, may increase Kapha rather than decrease it. However, because oil has the ability to absorb the qualities of substances it is prepared with, appropriate herbal oils can decrease Kapha.

Types of Oil That Are Best for Kapha:

Abhyangawith warm oil is best for kapha. While sesame, corn and mustard oils are all helpful because they are warming, herbal oils are an even better choice for Kapha, as they add more Kapha pacifying properties to the oil. Kapha Massage Oilis a good choice for general use. (If you are using sesame oil, opt for untoasted sesame oil; toasted is more expensive and has a very strong natural scent).

Abhyanga Routine

By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasanttouch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming andleast affected by old age. Charaka Samhita Vol. 1, V: 88-89

  • Put about cup oil in an 8 oz. squeeze bottle. Make sure the oil is not rancid.
  • Place the bottle of oil in a pan of hot water until the oil is pleasantly warm
  • Sit or stand comfortably in a warm room, on a towel that you don’t mind ruining with oil accumulation. Make sure you’re protected from any wind.
  • Apply the oil to your entire body.
  • Massage the oil into your entire body, beginning at the extremities and working toward the middle of the body. Use long strokes on the limbs and circular strokes on the joints. Massage the abdomen and chest in broad, clockwise, circular motions. On the abdomen, follow the path of the large intestine; moving up on the right side of the abdomen, then across, then down on the left side. Massage the body for 5-20 minutes, with love and patience.
  • Give a little extra time and attention to massaging the oil into your scalp, ears and feet, at least once a week. Apply oil to the crown of your head (adhipati marma) and work slowly out from there in circular strokes. Oil applied to the head should be warm
    but not hot. Put a couple drops of warm oil on the tip of your little finger or on a cotton ball and apply to the opening of the ear canal. (If there is any current or chronic discomfort in the ears don’t do this without the recommendation of your health care practitioner). When you massage your feet, be sure to wash them first when you shower, so you don’t slip.
  • Enjoy a warm bath or shower. You can use a mild soap on the “strategic” areas.
  • When you get out of the bath, towel dry. Keep a special towel for drying off after your Abhyanga because it can eventually get ruined, due to the accumulation of oil.
  • Put on a pair of cotton socks (organic, if you can find them) to protect your environment from the residual oil on your feet.
  • Apply a dosha-appropriate essential oil to your wrists and neck.
  • Enjoy.

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