Abhyanga: The Art of Ayurvedic Self-Massage

Well, the holiday season is in full-swing. This week, I thought I would talk a little about yet another Ayurvedic concept I’ve been experimenting with in my own life: abhyanga. Abhyanga is a specific form of self-massage that promotes better health through improved circulation and relaxation. Who couldn’t use more of that during this stressful time of year? Read on below for the details on how to integrate the practice of abhyanga into your own life!

Preparing for Abhyanga

The first thing you’ll need to start integrating abhyanga into your own routines is a massage oil. Abhyanga works best if you choose an oil that is appropriate for your specific dosha. If you don’t know your dosha, Banyan Botanicals has a great self-assessment that can get your started in the right direction. They also have oils for each specific dosha, including a tri-doshic oil. If you aren’t sure about investing in a dosha-specific oil, jojoba oil or sesame oil are good choices that will support all three doshas.

Once you’ve chosen an oil, you need to prepare your space. Abhyanga is done with warm oil in order to help it penetrate the skin better. Start by placing your bottle of oil in a hot water bath for 5-10 minutes in order to gently heat the oil. You’ll also probably want a towel to sit on to catch oil drips. The room in which you choose to do your abhyanga should also be pleasantly warm.

Abhyanga set-up
My prep station for my abhyanga session.

The Art of Ayurvedic Self-Massage

The massage itself is fairly simple. You will be literally massaging yourself from head to toe. Start by taking a little of your oil and massaging it into your scalp. If you’re like me, you might already be hesitating. I don’t have particularly oily hair, but just the thought of slathering oils into my hair had me thinking about skipping this step. Let me assure you, it will be fine. In fact, I find my hair to be softer, more manageable, and require less frequent washing if I’m doing abhyanga a few times a week.

From the scalp, move down to the face and massage in circular motions across the forehead, chin, cheeks, and nose. Move back to the ears and massage the outside of the ear and the area around the ears. You can massage the inner ear as well, but take care here. Getting oil inside of the ear canal can be damaging, so don’t use very much and don’t put it inside the ear canal.

From there, move down to the front and back of the neck and across the shoulders. Massage each arm and hand, one at a time, paying special attention to the joints, palms, and fingers. As you massage, make sure you are moving from the outside of the body towards the center. After the arms and hands, move to the chest and then down the abdomen. Move in a clockwise-circular motion at the abdomen to move with your digestion. Massage around to the low back and hips, and then massage the legs and feet. Make sure to massage the bottoms of the feet and each of the toes.

That’s pretty much all there is to it! Again, Banyan Botanicals has a great video on abhyanga if you’re more of a visual learner.

After Abhyanga

It may seem counter-intuituve, but you will bathe or shower after your abhyanga massage. The thought is that the warm water will help the oils to penetrate more deeply into the skin and deeper tissues. Any excess oil will also rinse off at this time.

A tip for shampooing post-abhyanga: apply your shampoo before you wet your hair. This helps to start breaking up the excess oil. If you try to wet your hair first, the excess oil will keep the water from penetrating into the hair. I like to massage my shampoo in, then wet my hands and add water little by little until I’ve got a good lather, then rinse.

Adding essential oils to abhyanga oil
Banyan’s dosha oils contain base oils and herbs suited to that dosha. Some people may not care for the earthy, herbaceous smell. Adding essential oils can make it more pleasant. As a bonus, bi-doshic people can add essential oils that suit their other dosha. This is a Vata oil with a Pitta pacifying essential oil blend of Serenity, Wild Orange, and Vetiver. Oil blend idea by Molly Culleton of Turiya Holistic Health.

Safety Precautions and Tips

Take caution when walking around and/or showering post-abhyanga. Remember that you will have oil on the bottoms of your feet, so walking on tile or linoleum will be tricky. Also be aware that the oil will mix with the water in the shower and become even more slippery. I like to take my dish soap into the shower with me and squirt some onto the bottom of the tub. I then swish it around with my feet. This helps break up the excess oil that is washing off of my body and keeps the tub from becoming too slippery.

Also be aware that the oil can stain towels and clothing. You may want to keep a few towels reserved for use only when doing abhyanga: one for sitting on during the massage, and another for drying off post-shower. These towels will eventually stain and may even develop an unpleasant smell as the oil collects in the fabric over time and eventually spoils. You can spot treat towels with dish soap to help break up the oil and keep the towels lasting longer.

Also remember to treat your drains regularly. Oil can build up in the plumbing. Using the dish soap post-shower will help, but it’s still a good idea to treat the drains once a month or so to keep the oil build-up to a minimum. Rinsing the tub with cold water post-shower can also help the oil bead up and wash down the drains, since hot water can thin the oil and cause it to stick to the pipes.

Relaxation and Self-Care

That’s the broad over view of how to integrate abhyanga into your own life and routines. Ideally, you would do this every morning before you shower. Like anything else, though, you can take what you like and make it work for you. I take my showers at night, for instance, so I’ve been doing my abhyanga in the evenings. I’ve also only been doing it a few days a week to start out and get the feel for how it’s working for me. I’m really enjoying it so far!

I hope you’ll give abhyanga a try! I’d love to hear about your personal experience if you do! Be sure to comment or drop me an email about your personal experience with abhyanga. Have a great week!