Abhyanga: Ayurvedic Oil Massage

Abhyanga as an Act of Self-Love

Today while doing Abhyanga (self-massage with oil), I realized what a beautiful act of self-love this self-care practice is. We often say we love ourselves; or that we’d like to learn how to. Do we actively love ourselves or is “loving myself” just an abstract idea? More on that later…

abhyangaIn the west we usually do Abhyanga as self-massage because there are few places we can go to receive it. It’s done as a preparation for purification processes (called Panchakarma) as well as being recommended as an everyday practice that is incredibly life-enhancing for body, mind and heart.

Ayurveda suggests that a body that is too dry from having lost its vital fluids (including bodily oils) is more susceptible to illness. This dryness is due to aging as well as lifestyle and dietary habits. As we get older, the skin becomes drier. We consume things like coffee, alcohol and processed, old and dry foods and these further rob our bodies of essential fluids. Abhyanga is the use of external oleation to put this oil back into our bodies; to replenish what’s been lost.

Abhyanga should always be performed with warm oil because our skin (which is our biggest organ) needs to digest the oil. Traditionally, we have a warm shower after doing Abhyanga. We massage warm oil into the skin and the warmth of the shower helps us further absorb it. We only soap the parts we really need to so that we don’t unnecessarily lose more oil. Abhyanga should be done a little differently from person to person, depending on Ayurvedic Constitution (Dosha) and whether or not there are toxins (ama) present in the body.

Back to my point regarding self-love…
Abhyanga is a form of Snehana (oleation therapy). Interestingly, it wasn’t until after I’d written this article (while doing a little research) that I learned that sneha (the root of the word Snehana) actually translates as both oil and love. How do you actively love yourself?

Maybe we love ourselves with nutritious meals, time for yoga, reading in a candlelit bath or a well-deserved day off. Perhaps we take ourselves out on dates to dinner, the cinema, or a walk in nature. Abhyanga is one more way that you can show yourself how much you love you.

Are you ready for more self-love with Abhyanga?

by Angela Inglis, ERYT500, Yogacara Teacher Trainer