Abhyanga is one of the most transformational and powerful self-care practices I’ve ever incorporated into my routine. This practice of self massage with oil is a practice that I suggest to so many of my clients, friends, and family. It was the practice that made me begin to fall in love with Ayurveda because I felt its benefits almost immediately and it was incredibly easy to work into my routine. It’s also been one of the most healing practices that I’ve found through this beautiful sister science of yoga.
My first experience with abhyanga was when I was in India. I received a series of massages with a medicated oil that was infused with herbs specific to the imbalances I was experiencing. At the time, I’d been suffering from Osteoarthritis as well as ongoing issues with my skin. I really thought these issues were something I’d have to deal with for the rest of my life until I dove into this powerful practice of oil massage. When I got home, I began to practice abhyanga regularly. Since then, I haven’t had any big issues with Osteoarthritis and my skin problems eventually cleared up. I hadn’t done much to change up my diet and lifestyle since I was already pretty balanced, so I do believe I have abhyanga to thank!
Abhyanga is usually practiced with about ½ cup of warmed oil. If you need to feel more grounded, begin with your head. If you need to feel more energized, begin with your feet. Use generous amounts of oil all over your body as you massage. Make circles on the joints and long strokes on the long bones. I love to leave the oil on for about 15-20 minutes if possible, so it can work its magic. When it’s time to shower, simply rinse the oil off with warm water, using soap only on the areas that have hair. If you’ve massaged oil into your hair, make sure you use shampoo first and then add the water. Once you’re through showering, pat dry your skin and be mindful that the shower floor will be oily! Be sure to either clean it or inform anyone in your home that the floor is slippery.
Here are 10 Facts I’ve Learned About Abhyanga:
- It literally immerses you in love. In Sanskrit, the word “senha” means both “oil” and “love,” so when we practice Abhyanga, we create an experience for ourselves that creates a feeling of being saturated in love. When we’re loved, we are filled with feelings of stability, warmth, and ease, so this beautiful practice helps us cultivate such a powerful sense of wellbeing. When we love ourselves, we’re able to share more love with the world and do our work in this world from a more sincere place.
- Abhyanga is usually done with sesame oil because it’s the only oil (apart from ghee) that’s able to penetrate all the seven dhatus of the body. The seven dhatus are the seven tissues of the body: plasma (rasa), blood (rakta), muscle (mamsa), fat (medas), bone marrow (majja), nerve tissue (asthi), and reproductive tissue (shukra). This oil has the ability to move through all of these tissues all the way to our bones.
- Abhyanga oil can be a blend of oils that work for you! I love to mix sesame oil with sunflower oil, almond oil, or castor oil. Coconut oil is usually used during the warmer months and for times when you may feel too hot.
- You may infuse your abhyanga oil with essential oils. I love working with essential oils and mixing them into my massage oil is one of my favorite ways to experience their endless benefits.
- You can enjoy many of the benefits of abhyanga by massaging your feet! If you don’t have the time for a full body massage, or if you’re not quite ready for it yet, you can begin by giving yourself a foot massage. There are many points on the feet that connect with different parts of the body, so massaging the feet is a great way to experience self love.
- It’s an empowering way to begin or end your day. Abhyanga increases so many positive emotions in our being, and when we begin our day on a positive note, the rest of the day usually ends up being great. When we end our day in a loving way, we set ourselves up for better rest. It’s said that abhyanga should be avoided after eating, if feeling very heavy or stuck, or if there is a fever. Apart from these times, it’s usually okay to practice whenever you’re inspired to.
- You will love your skin. Abhyanga increases feelings of self love and self worth, which may naturally cause our skin to glow, but the oil itself will leave your skin feeling smooth, soft, and taken care of.
- Your creaky joints may finally find ease. Because abhyanga (specifically with sesame oil) has a way of penetrating all our seven dhatus, it can be incredibly nourishing to joints that need a bit more lubrication.
- You’ll sleep better. Whether you practice abhyanga in the morning or evening, the practice will send signals to your nervous system telling it to chill out. This feeling of calm will stay with you throughout the day and well into the evening. The more consistent you are with the practice, the more you’ll see the benefits.
- You show up for everything you do in a loving way. It’s often said that the way we do one thing is the way we do most things. When we practice acts that encourage feelings of love, those feelings move into everything we say and do. By showing up for ourselves in a loving way, we can show up for our family, friends, clients, and co-workers the same. This creates a ripple effect in the world, encouraging other people to act the same.
Abhyanga is one of my favorite ayurvedic practices and it’s definitely something I can’t imagine living without. It’s allowed me to love myself more and to also show up for the work I love in a much more centered and stable place.
I believe this ancient practice is still around today because it works and because it’s helped so many people cultivate self love and live in balance.
– written by Lisa Bermudez