At the college where I spent 2 years learning about Business, we had an interesting term called “the crasher”. This was a quick, useful and practical download given by your classmates who attended every single class during the term. The crasher was essential if you had a) not attended too many classes and b) wanted to know just the right stuff to help you pass. At this point I am not going to discuss whether I was giving or receiving the crashers and we will move on to the subject at hand: the Abhyanga. If you have been reading our posts, you would have seen the importance Ayurveda gives to this practice.
The Abhyanga is an Ayurvedic Dinacharya – a practice that should be done Dhina (daily) for good health. An Abhyanga is advocated for almost everyone in Ayurveda – infants, young children, men and women.
An abhyanga is prohibited for the following groups of people:
1. Pregnant women
2. If you are running a temperature, have a digestive disorder or are acutely ill
3. If you are extremely tired, have had high sun exposure or a very heavy and depleting exercise practice (for example: immediately after running a marathon)
4. Immediately after a meal
A daily abhyanga should not be started cold turkey and may not even be possible for most people. Krya recommends a weekly or a bi-weekly abhyanga for adults and children and a daily abhyanga for infants under a year of age. If a daily abhyanga can be given for children upto 2 years this will greatly aid their muscle development.
Ayurveda prescribes Tuesdays and Fridays for Abhyangas for Women and Wednesdays and Saturdays for Abhyangas for Men.
The Ayurvedic secret to youthfulness and health – the Abhyanga
Here are some of the health benefits of a weekly / bi-weekly regular Abhyanga which accrue because the practice helps control excess vata and pitta dosha. Please note the use of the word “Accrue” – just like one swallow does not make a summer, one single abhyanga will not give you transformative health (although you will feed mighty good after even a single abhyanga). For true lasting, benefits you need to practice the Abhyanga week after week for atleast 2 – 3 months.
1. Reduction in muscle fatigue, tiredness, and daily exhaustion
2. Reduction in insomnia, inability to sleep
3. Improvement in digestive ability – reduced wind, reduced feeling of constipation, reduced feeling of incomplete bowel movements
4. Better mental sharpness and clarity – you can go on longer without feeling tired, fatigued or irritable
5. Better skin and hair health due to reduction in excess vata dosha – skin health improves almost immediately; hair health improves after a month of regular abhyangas (depending on extent of vata imbalance)
What is the best oil for skin beauty and health? – Krya weighs in
Sesame oil is the base oil of choice for an Abhyanga. It can be used throughout the year and is beneficial for different dosha types in different ways. Because of its slightly warming nature, it helps bring down Vata dosha which is cold and rough. It is a very good “anupan” (medium) for many of the Vata reducing herbs Ayurveda recommends in an Abhyanga. It also helps liquefy Ama and dirt very easily from the body during the process of the Abhyanga – which ensures that these toxins leave your body quickly.
Coconut oil is not the best choice of oil for an Abhyanga. It is kapha promoting and if not prepared properly can lead to mucous accumulation in the body. Mustard is not suitable for use in summer or for people with sensitive skin. Castor oil is too thick and cooling for the purpose of the Abhyanga. Olive oil, Argan Oil and other foreign oils have not been studied and classified as well as native oils in our Ayurvedic texts. So it is best to use these oils very sparingly for the Abhyanga as we do not completely understand the effect their use can have on your doshas.
The Ayurvedic texts advise using oil which has been heated well and has naturally cooled to a warm temperature for an ideal Abhyanga. The warmth of the oil allows for better skin penetration and also helps in the trapping, liquefaction and expelling of toxins from the body.
It is best not to directly heat specially prepared Ayurvedic oils like the Krya Abhyanga Oil (as this could make these oils lose some of their nutritive properties). Instead, please heat plain sesame oil and add the specially prepared Ayurvedic oil to this hot oil. Apply the oil mixture when bearably warm on your body.
Ensure the Abhyanga is done as close as possible to Sunrise, ideally within the first hour of sunrise. This ensures that the body is given the whole day to release aggravated doshas, and that the temperature of the day does not make the process of abhyanga uncomfortable for you.
Keep vata dosha at a minimum during the Abhyanga:
As the very purpose of the Abhyanga is to reduce excess Vata dosha, keep the influence of Vata dosha to a minimum while doing your Abhyanga. So switch off your fan or your air conditioner, close the windows and do the Abhyanga in a closed room where there is no draught or cold seeping in.
Do not talk too much at this time, or use electronic equipment like your laptop, phone, e-reader as all of these aggravate Vata dosha.
A strong vigorous massage is the key to a good Abhyanga ,not a long soak
An Ayurvedic Abhyanga is not a gentle, relaxing massage. It is considered equivalent to physical exercise which is why you are not supposed to strain yourself after an Abhyanga with more exercise. The Ayurvedic abhyanga uses brisk, up-down movements to generate heat over the surface of the skin, relax the muscles and allow for deep and fast penetration of the Abhyanga oil.
Special attention is to be paid to all the seats of vata like the ears, waist, hips, lower back, legs and all the joints like the wrists, ankles, shoulders, fingers etc. These points should be well oiled and rotated well to release any excess vata immediately.
Small bones and organ systems like the fingers and toes often store tremendous amounts of vata, especially for those of us who use laptops and smart phones. These systems should be massaged well to remove fatigue and release excess vata dosha.
The feet are also paid special attention in an Ayurvedic abhyanga. The feet store tremendous amounts of pain and excess vata dosha and are the key to managing insomnia and fatigue especially if you have been facing a lot of stress, poor eating and late nights. This is such an important part of the abhyanga that there is a special term for this: the pada abhyanga. For those with very high vata dosha, a daily pada abhyanga before sleeping every night can be extremely beneficial.
The end point of an abhyanga is that your body should begin generating Sweda / Sweat – this is a sign of toxin elimination and removal of excess ama from the body which has been liquefied by the oil, the herbs and the strong massage.
You can aid Sweda generation by doing extremely light work after the abhyanga – like sweeping a small portion of your house, or doing any physical chore to aid the generation of heat and toxin removal. Do not do this light work if you generally exercise very regularly, are extremely tired physically or have been under severe stress.
An ideal oil soaking time after an Abhyanga is 10 – 15 minutes, especially for Abhyanga beginners.
Snana and skin cleansing after an abhyanga to ensure toxin removal – and the myth of the Ayurvedic soap
To completely cleanse the toxins that are flowing out of the body after the Abhyanga, Ayurveda recommends a Snana with a specific set of herbs, grains and lentils. The lentils and grains chosen are chosen for their granular and dirt dislodging capacity, to help literally wedge out the dead cells, debris and toxins that have arisen from the body after the abhyanga. The herbs chosen differ as per the season and the body type. Pitta reducing herbs like Chandana, Usheera (Vetiver) etc, are usually used in summer for example. A soap is not prescribed in Ayurveda for any manner of skin care, including post abhyanga . For post Abhyanga only an Ayurvedic ubtan is ideal as it is able to physically dislodge dirt, debris, dead cells and toxins from the body.
Use the Ayurvedic ubtan by applying it in a circular cleansing motion on your body. The grains should not feel too gentle nor should they be too harsh or scratchy on skin. They should be able to remove excess oil from the abhyanga and the ama generated without making your skin too dry. Certain base grains are inappropriate in cold weather – for example besan and channa are not good cold weather grains and can make dry skin even drier if used inappropriately.
Ayurveda recommends using warm water for a Snana post an abhyanga for the portion of the body below the neck. For the head and hair, water should be at the same temperature as the rest of your body (so it should not feel either cool or warm on your head). This is extremely important to ensure there is no damage to the brain, eyes or the nerves from the use of water at an inappropriate temperature.
Post Abhyanga care
It is important to remember that the Abhyanga is a dosha balancing, health giving practice. If your vata dosha or pitta dosha is aggravated, the Abhyanga is going to physically bring down this dosha excess. So the abhyanga can cause some amount of temporary strain on the body during the process of restoring the body to its state of health.
So it is important not to strain your body further on the day of Abhyanga.
1. Do not go into the hot sun
2. Do not eat very spicy or very sour meals
3. Do not over eat
4. Do not eat difficult to digest food
5. Do not eat any large and heavy meal
6. Do not go for a long drive
7. Do not do any form of extreme exercise
8. Do not stay up late
9. Do not over use your gadgets
10. Do not eat sweet, mucous producing food
11. Do NOT take an afternoon nap on Abhyanga day
Do NOT take an afternoon nap on the day of the Abhyanga even if you are severely tempted – one of the organs of releasing excess Pitta dosha is the eyes. Through tears and vapour, the eyes will release excess Pitta dosha through the day – if you close them and go to sleep in the day, this excess Pitta will stay within your body and could damage your body.
The food on the day of the Abhyanga should be freshly cooked, light, warm and easy to digest. Most importantly it should be eaten on time so that there is no strain on the digestive system.
We hope this Abhyanga crasher has helped clear some basic doubts on the Abhyanga. As we have mentioned, the Abhyanga is a valuable tool to bring the body back to a state of balance and we have used it successfully as a tool in many seemingly unconnected disorders ranging from dry and flaky skin to post partum hair fall.
If you have any queries on how you can incorporate this Dinacharya into your life, please email us or call us on 075500-89090.
Krya products for Abhyanga:
a. Krya traditional baby massage oil with Bala & Ashwagandha
a. Krya traditional baby massage oil with Bala & Ashwagandha
b. Krya Kids Ubtan with Gotu Kola & Cassia flower