• Holly Robison

Self Love Through Abhyanga

Allow this ancient Ayurvedic ritual of self massage to release stress and relax your muscles.

Give yourself a full body oil massage on a daily basis.  It is nourishing, pacifies the doshas, relieves fatigue, provides stamina, pleasure, and perfect sleep, enhances the complexion and the luster of the skin, promotes longevity, and nourishes all parts of the body. ~Ancient Ayurvedic text.

In our busy lives, taking time for ourselves can be quite challenging. I can definitely be known as the Queen of I'll-Do-It-Later.  There are a few rituals that I don't pass up, however, and abhyanga is one of them.

Abhyanga (ah-bee-yawn-gah) is a Sanskrit word that means oil massage.  It is a key component of the ancient healing tradition of Ayurveda, which predates Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Through abhyanga, we can bring our bodies back into balance -- all by applying warmed oil onto our skin and hair, if desired.  Besides feeling sooooooo good, there are numerous benefits to this practice:

  • Circulation increases, especially to the nerve endings

  • Boosts mental alertness 

  • Your skin is softer, smoother, more radiant

  • Increases your stamina throughout the day

  • Lubricates your joints

  • Helps you fall asleep easier and aids in a deeper sleep throughout the night

Feel like giving this a try?  It's really easy.  Grab some oil.  Because our skin is our largest organ of the body, organic oil is best.  

If you are naturally a dry type of person (dry skin/hair), maybe you often feel scattered or are easily distracted, or you feel spacey often, then a heavier oil is a good choice for you. Oils like avocado, sesame, or olive will be great to help you ground and regroup. 

Are you more of a firecracker?  Do things set you off easily?  Maybe you're intense or competitive.  If any of these describe you, then coconut oil, because of its cooling nature, would be a good choice.

Do you have a hard time getting motivated?  Are you sluggish?  Or maybe you're super grounded and need some lightness in your life.  If so, a lighter oil like apricot would be good for you.

If you're unsure or overwhelmed by these options, go for sesame.  Just be sure it's not toasted sesame, unless you like walking around smelling like a Chinese Chicken Salad.

Let The Stress Melt Away

Once you've decided what oil is best for you, it's time to start the self massaging!  Below is an excerpt from our 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training manual on Self Abhyanga.  Read on to learn the art of self massage...

Use comfortably warm massage oil that is approximately body temperature.  Store your massage oil in a plastic flip-top bottle.  Warm the oil by holding the container under running hot water for a few minutes, or by placing the bottle in a cup of hot water, making sure it is not boiling hot.  Dip your fingertips into the warm oil and apply it lightly to the entire body. Wait for 4 or 5 minutes to let some of the oil be absorbed by your skin, then massage the entire body, applying even pressure with the whole hand (palm and fingers).

  • Pour a tablespoon of warm oil onto your scalp and vigorously work in the oil.

  • Using your fingertips, vigorously massage your head and scalp with small circular strokes, as if you are shampooing. (These first two options are good on the days that you will be washing your hair.  If that's not part of your bathing practice that day, better to skip the scalp massage portion).

  • Move to your face and ears, massaging more gently.

  • Using an open hand to create friction, massage both the front and back of the neck.

  • Vigorously massage your arms, using a circular motion at the shoulders and elbows, and back-and- forth motions on the upper arms and forearms.

  • When massaging your chest and stomach, use a gentle circular motion and a straight up-and-down motion over the breastbone.

  • After applying a bit of oil to both hands, gently reach around to the back and spine and massage them as well as you can, without straining.

  • Vigorously massage your legs as you did your arms, using circular motions at the ankles and knees, back-and-forth motions on the long parts.

After you're done, relax for 10-15 minutes, letting the oil and the massage do their magic. The longer the oil is on, the deeper it penetrates.  During this time you can read something relaxing or uplifting, rest, or shave, meditate, or get ready for your day. Dab excess oil off with paper towels if you like, then follow with a relaxing warm bath or shower.  While in the shower, avoid using soap to wash off the parts of your body that you just oiled.  If your schedule doesn't allow for a daily massage, try to squeeze it in at least three or four times a week.

The practice of abhyanga is one of many ways to connect deeply to yourself.  Take this time to show yourself just how important you are.

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