Our last few posts on Abhyanga had had people asking us the all important question: “Exactly how should I do an abhyanga for good health?”.
Our post today focuses on this all important question. We write about the right abhyanga massage technique that should be followed, and what parts of the body must be focused on during the abhyanga massage. The abhyanga techniques we are writing about are applicable to teenagers, adult men and women for good health. We will have later posts dedicated to abhyanga especially for infants and babies, post partum women and the elderly.
The importance of the Abhyanga for good health:
We have shared many reasons why an abhyanga is considered an essential “Dinacharya” – a practice to be done every single day for god health. Most of us are not able to find the time to do an Abhyanga every day, so the scriptures have suggested a bi-weekly Abhyanga as well, on specific days for men and women.
Abhyangam aacharet nityam sa jaraa shramavaataha
Drushti prasaada pushti aayu susvapna twak daardhyakrut
Abhyanga should be done by everyone, everyday, especially old aged and tired people. It improves eye sight, nourishes muscles, and improves age (life expectancy) and skin complexion. – Ashtanga Samgraha Sutrasthana.
The Abhyanga is done by massaging your entire body, and if possible your head, with a good quality, well chosen herbal oil after you wake up. We recommend using separate oils for the head and body with different set of herbs for best effect. The massage is done in a brisk and energetic manner, with the objective being of waking up the body, stimulating heat and allowing the herbal oil to penetrate, and then after 15 minutes, washing of the oil with a suitable natural, grain and herb based ubtan.
(We will see the specific steps in a few paragraphs below.)
General Health benefits of doing an 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.
- Reduction in muscle fatigue, tiredness, and daily exhaustion
- Reduction in insomnia, inability to sleep
- Improvement in digestive ability – reduced wind, reduced feeling of constipation, reduced feeling of incomplete bowel movements
- Better mental sharpness and clarity – you can go on longer without feeling tired, fatigued or irritable
- 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)
The importance of choosing the right products for your Abhyanga:
Ayurveda tells us that when the abhyanga oil is prepared with the right herbs and applied warm with vigorous motion, the herbs in the oil, the temperature of the oil , and the heat generated by the massage help open up the minute pores / srotas in the skin. There is suction like effect as we continue to massage with the herbal oil. The texts tell us that the pitta in the skin helps absorb the properties of the oil, and vayu (air) transports these materials through the srotas into the seven layers of skin into the blood stream.
This absorption effect is applicable not just when we do an abhyanga. It is also seen when we put lepas on our skin like a herbal ubtan, bath powder or any other cream, ointment and lotion.
Ayurveda tells us that skin has 7 layers, so continued massage of the oil in our skin for atleast 5 minutes in each area, carries the medicated oil through the srotas upto the level of the blood in the body and gets absorbed in the blood stream. Once absorbed the medicated oil goes to work in the area where it has been applied, balancing the doshas and removing excess pitta/ vata / kapha dosha.
This is why it is so important to choose a completely natural set of products for use on the skin, as the property of the skin is to transport whatever is applied on it as nutrients into the bloodstream. Imagine the effect on our body of rubbing and applying synthetics like SLS, SLeS, Petroleum derivatives, and toxics like parabens, etc!
It is also important to note that choosing the right abhyanga oil, can improve the health benefits of your abhyanga manifold.
Step by step description of how to do the abhyanga:
- Put a ¼ cup of Abhyanga oil in a small wide mouthed cup / vessel. Place this cup on a hot pan or in a small pan of boiling water for 5 minutes, until the Abhyanga oil in your cup is warm. We do not heat Ayurvedic oils directly so that we can retain their nutrient properties
- The Abhyanga oil should be comfortably and pleasantly warm – not too hot, and definitely not cold or cool.
- Sit or stand on an old towel in a closed room for your abhyanga. Ensure the room is free from draughts, the air conditioner is switched off, and the fan is either switched off or at a very low speed.
- Massage oil generously and attentively on your body. We advise that the oil quantity should be such that your hands glide smoothly without any drag on your body.
- Each area should be massaged well for atleast 5 minutes using easy, smooth and firm movements. This way a full body abhyanga should take you atleast 20 minutes.
- Start with the extremeties: you can start with your head, neck, shoulders and arms, or your toes, ankles, calves and feet. Finish the extremities and move into the centre of your body for your chest, back and stomach.
- Ensure you massage your head, hair and scalp with a suitable herb hair oil. This oil too is best warmed gently in a water bath as described for the body abhyanga oil, and then applied.
- The general rule of thumb in an abhyanga is to use long up-down strokes on the limbs and circular strokes on the joints. A continuous pulling stroke is used for fingers and toes. Circular strokes are usually done only clock-wise.
Special abhyanga techniques for certain body parts:
- Pay special attention to the feet in the Abhyanga.
- Use a generous quantity of oil and massage the soles of the feet and work on the toes and small bones.
- Use open and upward strokes for the chest area
- Ensure abdomen is relaxed before massaging it.
- Pay special attention to the nabhi (navel) as it is capable of sending nourishment to the veins and arteries in the body (which originate from here)
- Use firm downward strokes of the front and back area of the lower abdomen to stimulate proper movement of Apana vayu
- Pay special attention to the head of the shoulder and use circular clockwise movements in the abhyanga. Then focus on the front and back of the shoulder blades.
- Interlock the fingers; work on the palm and all the fingers, especially if you use smart phones and computers frequently.
- Pay special attention to the wrist and forearm as well, as they often carry vata from repetitive movements like typing, etc.
- Deeply knead the palm and fingers to release excess vata
Massage for the ears:
- Apply a drop of oil on your ring or little finger and gently massage the oil into the outer ear canal using clockwise circular strokes
- Massage using circular strokes behind the ear and allow the ear to remove any stiffness and vata accumulation
When NOT to do an abhyanga: some pointers
An abhyanga should not be done by the following groups of people or at the following times:
- Pregnant women (An abhyanga tends to release ama from the body, so this is not recommended during pregnancy so as to ensure the growing foetus is not unnecessarily exposed to Ama )
- Menstruating women (An abhyanga tends to release ama from the body, so this is not recommended when the body is already tired with the menstrual process)
- If you are running a temperature, have a digestive disorder or are acutely ill
- 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)
- Immediately after a meal
- Do not do an abhyanga over broken skin,
- Do not do an abhyanga over swollen painful areas or masses in the body
- Do not do an abhyanga if you have acute physical discomfort
- Do not do an abhyanga is you have been fasting or except to do some mentally or physically draining activity after the abhyanga
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.
Ensure you do NOT do the following:
- 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.
Here is what you should DO on abhyanga day:
- Drink adequate amount of water as and when you get thirsty
- Use the toilet as often as the need strikes you – do not suppress your toxin release. All teh ama and excess doshas in your body will be flushed out through sweda (sweat), mutra (urine) and mala (faeces).
- Eat on time and eat easy to digest freshly cooked food
- Remain calm and seek tranquillity and harmony today
- Lead a day of moderation and balance
We hope this Abhyanga guide has armed with you with information to successfully incorporate the abhyanga into your life. 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 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.
Krya products recommended for you and your family’s abhyanga:
- Krya Women’s Abhyanga systemwhich consists of
Krya Men’s Abhyanga system which consists of
For Babies (age: 0 – 1 years):
- Krya Baby girl Abhyanga system which consists of
- Krya baby boy Abhyanga system which consists of
For Kids & Toddlers (age – 1 +):
- Krya traditional baby massage oil with Bala & Ashwagandha
- Krya Fragrant Kids Ubtan with Gotu Kola & Cassia Flower
Please note: If you , your family members or your child has skin prone to eczema, dermatitis or psoriasis, please write to us for other product options.