The abhyanga is a central tenet of the Dinacharya prescribed in Ayurveda for the maintenance of good health. Apart from maintenance of good health, an abhyanga has also been used very successfully in the recuperation process of several wasting diseases like tuberculosis successfully in Ayurveda.
Vayu / Air is predominantly governs the sense of touch which has its seat in skin. Therefore a regular abhyanga is the most beneficial Dinacharya for skin. Apart from keeping the skin in good health, Acharya Charaka, Acharya Sushruta and Acharya Vagbhatta are unanimous in their praise of the abhyanga for maintaining good health.
“Na Chabidhatabihatam gaathrambhyadgasevinaha Vikaaram bhajatheythyayartham balakarmani va kvachitha
Suspashorpachithadagascha balavaan priyadarshanam Bhavathya bhayadga nithya twanrogalapajara eva cha”
“The body of one who does a regular abhyanga does not get affected by accidents or strenuous physical work. A daily abhyanga endows one with good skin, good physique and the body becomes strong, pleasant to look at, has good lustre and is not affected by old age”.
For most modern Indians, Diwali is the time they encounter the abhyanga / oil bath – tradition demands waking up at Brahma Muhurtham, and having an abhyanga with sesame oil followed by a grain based ubtan to cleanse skin. As we move towards Diwali, we thought it would be a perfect time to write more about the abhyanga and inspire you to make it much more frequent than once a year.
So here is the start of the Krya Abhyanga series. With this series, which we will write upto Diwali, we will cover different aspects of the Abhyanga, how it is useful to skin and body health and also cover some of the practical aspects of how you can tailor an abhyanga to your body type.
As the cold weather has begun setting in here at Delhi, I am finding that my skin is feeling slightly dry, even when I bathe with a Krya body wash / ubtan. Do you think I should apply a cold pressed vegetable oil like coconut oil post bath? I really want to avoid using a synthetic moisturizer” –DP, Delhi
The Skin – a revered organ in Ayurveda
The Skin is treated with a great deal of respect and sensitivity in Ayurveda. The state of your complexion, moisture in your skin, its appearance and the kind of sensitivities it exhibits are all of great interest to a Vaidya. This is because the skin is the seat of 2 doshas – Pitta and Vata and their proper functioning gives the skin good health and vitality. This is also because along with “mutra” (urine and faeces, the skin is the 3rd largest excretory system in the body, producing “sveda” or sweat which is extremely important in removing toxins from the body and in regulating the body’s temperature and maintaining thermal equilibrium.
The Srota system in Ayurveda
The body also comprises of several srotas / channels according to Lord Atreya. These srotas help transport nourishing materials, or wastes all over the body. The srotas transport “prana” or breath, “udaka” water, “anna” or food, “rasa” (fluids), “rakta” (blood), “mamsa” (flesh, medas , asthi (bones), majja (marrow), sukra (semen), urine, faeces or sweat. Along with these dhatus, the srotas also transport vata, kapha and pitta dosha across the body. The srotas also carry the impulses of the sense organs to the brain and back to the sense organs, so the body responds with consciousness and intelligence to the external environment.
The skin is the seat of the Swedavaha srotas and these channels have their root in medas (fat) and Keshya (hair follicles). When these srotas are blocked they lose their functionality leading rise to several symptoms like a loss of perspiration, excessive sweating, coarseness of skin, excessive smoothness, burning sensation over the body, etc.
Keeping the Srotas clean – purpose of Abhyanga and Snana
One of the primary purpose of the daily abhyanga and bath is to keep the skin clean and ensure the minute srotas in the skin are clear, free from ama / toxins and can function properly.
Therefore as a general rule, Ayurveda advises oil application / abhyanga before the bath. The abhyanga is done using warm oil and oil is applied vigorously and copiously all over the body, paying special attention to the seats of vayu which is the whole skin, joints, limbs, ears and soles of the feet.
A short bout of exercise is advised after the abhyanga – this could be a bout of yoga, a brisk walk or any form of exercise that is brisk, wakes up the body and helps production of sweat. As the sweat rises out of the skin, the pre-application of warm oil along with the heat generated by the exercise liquefies toxins and excess kapha and helps their passage out of the body through the sweat. The exercise is to be done only until ArdhaBala / half capacity – we stop when we reach about half our capacity to exercise, so that the body still has gas left in the tank for the rest of the day and does not go into a state of exhaustion.
After this exercise, the bath is a last step in cleaning the skin.
Cleaning the skin – the Ayurvedic snana
A grain based ubtan / body wash is suggested – the combination of fine grain and lentil power with the right set of herbs helps in micro exfoliation – this removes the excess oil from the skin and also helps the minute srotas open up so that the ama can be cleansed roughly form skin. The difference in this Ayurvedic bath is that we are treating the entire skin as a living organ and through our activities (abhyanga, exercise and bathing with a grain and herb based product) we are literally coaxing the toxins out of the skin and actively encouraging good elimination so the body is in a state of well being.
In this scenario, where we are working to clean the srotas and leave them active and unblocked, the application of an external moisturiser post a bath goes against the very principle behind how Ayurveda recommends we care and look after our skin. Unless there are specific cases of infection of skin disease where there is s longer application of herbs required, Ayurveda does not advocate a post bath moisturiser.
In conclusion – to moisture or not to moisturise?
The pre-bath abhyanga is more than sufficient to ensure skin moisturisation. In fact skin moisturisation is one of the smallest benefits of an abhyanga. The improvement in vitality, improved digestion, clarity and focus that a good abhyanga gives you is so much more than just plain skin moisturisation.
So to conclude today’s post, if the onset of Winter is leaving your skin feeling dry, instead of reaching out for a chemical laden petrochemical moisturiser that will just block your srotas, try out an abhyanga instead. Even just 2 – 3 abhyangas a week can keep your skin extremely well moisturised and ready to take on the dry and cold weather. In addition, the abhyanga will ensure your digestion does not go sluggish and leave you feeling active and focused through the day.
Krya Products suggested for an abhyanga and a traditional snana:
- Skin Oils
- Krya Classic skin oil with carrot & Winter Cherry – a skin nourishing oil that can be used if your skin doesn’t go too dry and you would like to maintain its health –
- Krya Traditional baby massage oil with Bala & Ashwagandha – (my personal favourite) – a traditional abhyanga oil that should be used if your skin tends to go extremely dry and the cold weather gives you aches and pains in your lower back, neck and joints . This is a very good vata reducing oil
- Post abhyanga snana (wash-off) products – (range of grain and herb based ubtans for different skin needs) –
- Abhyanga systems – a combination pack of our classic skin oil and an ubtan