One of the most important and beneficial elements of the ayurvedic daily routine is self-massage or abhyanga. (Abhyanga is a Sankrit word pronounced “ubb-YUN-ga.”) Daily application of oil—scalp to soles––is a way to restore balance, calm the nervous system, increase circulation, moisturize the skin and tonify the tissues of the body.
The traditional way to do abhyanga is to oil yourself (in the morning, before your yoga/pranayama/meditation practices) and then take a shower or bath. It may sound strange at first to jump in the shower coated from head to toe in oil! People are surprised to find that their skin magically absorbs the oil, leaving them feeling hydrated and comfortably relaxed.
If you don’t have time in the morning, it’s better to do abhyanga at night, on the weekend or another time when you have 5-15 minutes to devote to yourself and this practice. Doing abhyanga at regular intervals, even if just once a week, is more beneficial than doing it several times a week in a haphazard or hurried fashion.
Your nervous system is calmed by routine so the routine itself is more important than the frequency of the action. Doing self-massage while rushing through it defeats the purpose.
Even if you don’t have time to treat yourself to a full self-massage session, you can use your oil as a “body lotion” after bathing. Getting oil on your skin daily is beneficial. Using natural oil that doesn’t contain preservatives, synthetic fragrance and other chemicals is far preferable to using a commercial lotion.
Sneha, the Sanskrit word for both “oil” and “love,” describes the heavy, comforting and warm feelings the practice of daily self-massage can impart. Using mantra, prayer or your highest intention and/or listening to devotional music while doing your self massage is thoroughly encouraged!
If you start doing self-massage regularly, you will come to crave the feeling.
• Gently warm 1/4 to 1/2 cup oil on the stove or in a sink filled with warm water.
• Sit or stand comfortably in a warm room on an old or unfancy towel that you don’t mind getting ruined over time due to oil buildup.
• Massage the warm oil into your entire body, using long strokes on your limbs and circular strokes on your joints. I like to start with my scalp and move down the body, spending extra time on my feet for the feeling of groundedness. Massage your abdomen and chest in broad, clockwise, circular motions. On the abdomen, follow the path of the large intestine: moving up the right side of the abdomen, then across, then down the left side.
Massage yourself for 5 to 15 minutes with love and kindness
• Pay attention not to slip if you have oil on your feet. Also, if you’ve oiled your scalp and you have long hair, apply your shampoo before adding water to your hair. Since water and oil don’t mix, it can be difficult to get the oil out of your hair if you neglect this step!
• Enjoy a warm bath or shower. You can use a mild soap on the “strategic” areas of your body. There’s no need to wash the oil off with soap.. You’ll be surprised how pleasantly hydrated your skin feels after bathing/showering.
• When you get out of the bath, towel dry. You may choose to keep a special towel to use for abhyanga days because there will likely be some traces of oil left on your body as you dry off.
Additonal tip: keep a bottle of dishwashing liquid in or near your shower or tub. As you exit, squirt some soap onto the floor of the shower or into your tub and rinse. This way, the oil residue gets cleaned off and also is less likely to clog your plumbing.