Self-Massage in the Ayurvedic Tradition
Ayurvedic self-massage (abhyaṅga) is an integral and important part of the traditional Ayurvedic self-care routine (dinacarya). According to the ancient Ayurvedic text aṣṭāṅga hṛdayam (The Essence of the Eight Limbs of Ayurveda, in its chapter devoted to the daily self-care routine), self-massage with oil should be practiced every day and has the following benefits:
- It delays aging and promotes longevity
- It relieves fatigue and aches and pains due to vāta
- It improves the eyesight
- It gives restful sleep
- It improves the skin’s complexion and makes the muscles toned
The text further recommends that self-massage should be done especially on the head, ears and feet* and should be avoided when there is an increase of kapha in the body or when you are experiencing indigestion or undergoing therapeutic purification (saṃ-śuddhi).
*Massage of the head, ears and feet is considered to be extra beneficial due to the presence of many sensitive marma, or nerve points, in those areas which regulate the flow of prāṇa throughout the whole body.
abhyaṅgaṃ ācaret nityaṃ sa jarā śramavātahā |From the aṣṭāṅga hṛdayam, sūtrasthāna, dinacarya adhyāya
dṛṣṭi prasāda puṣṭi āyuḥ susvapna sutvak dārḍhyakṛt ||
śiraḥ śravaṇapādeṣu taṃ viśeṣeṇa śīlayet |
varjyo’bhyaṅgaḥ kaphagrasthakṛta saṃśuddhi ajīrṇibhiḥ ||
(Chapter on Daily Self-care Routine)
Additional benefits of self-massage mentioned in classical Ayurvedic texts like the caraka saṃhitā (Collected Writings of Charaka, the Wandering Physician) are:
- Deep relaxation leading to release of nervous tension and relief from stress and tension headaches
- Restored harmony and balance of the body’s three doshas
- Improved concentration and clear functioning of the senses
Daily Routine for Self-Massage
- Ayurvedic tradition recommends that self-massage should be done daily. Though daily self-massage will definitely give the most benefit, this may not always be possible with modern hectic lifestyles. In such cases, it is ok to have a routine schedule of 2-3x times per week, or minimum 1x a week.
- Self-massage should be done either early in the morning, or in the evening before bed.
- By definition, Ayurvedic self-massage is always done with massage oil. The oil should first be warmed to a comfortable and relaxing temperature before being applied. This can easily be done by using an electric coffee mug warmer or by placing the oil in a separate container and putting it briefly in hot water.
- Ayurvedic self-massage usually begins with the head, forehead, temples and ears and proceeds downwards to the neck, arms, torso, legs and ending with the feet. As mentioned above, special attention may be given to the head, ears and feet due to the many sensitive marma points there which regulate the flow of prāṇa throughout the whole body. Conscious and gentle attention may also be given to any areas of pain or discomfort, like tight muscles or sore joints.
- It is recommended to spend a minimum of 15 minutes for self-massage.
- After massage, some time may be spent lying down in śavāsana, or “corpse pose”, allowing further absorption of the oil and deepening the relaxation.
- And finally, one should shower and remove the excess oil either with a gentle cleanser or mild soap, or by blotting with a dry towel.
Choosing the right oil for self-massage depends upon one’s natural constitution (prakṛti) and other factors such as the season (ṛtu).
Being light and moisturizing, Coconut oil is the premier Ayurvedic cooling oil and is best for the warm seasons, and for balancing excess pitta and to a lesser extent, vāta.
Warm and nourishing, Sesame oil is considered to be king among oils in Ayurveda, being the most-cited general purpose oil. It is excellent for people with vāta constitutions and is recommended also in the cooler months due to its warming properties. Castor oil is also a suitable oil in these instances.
For persons with excess of kapha, it is recommended to use a lesser quantity of oil (Mustard oil is a good choice) or to do self-massage with oil less frequently.
While self-massage with simple oils like Coconut, Sesame, Castor or Mustard is very beneficial, the healing properties of Ayurvedic self-massage can be much enhanced by using specially formulated oil blends with Ayurvedic herbs and herbal extracts.
Auromere Ayurvedic Massage Oil is one such blend, having cold-pressed Sesame oil as a base and infused with 25 different Ayurvedic herbs, botanical extracts, oils and minerals, including Castor oil. While being excellent for daily self-massage, it is also recommended for therapeutic and sports massage.
For additional reading on the detailed Ayurvedic properties of different oils, or on the specific benefits of Ayurvedic head massage (śiro-abhyaṅga), please refer to the following articles:
- The Properties of Sesame Oil in Ayurvedic Body Care | Auromere
- Coconut Oil in Ayurvedic Body Care | Auromere
- Ayurvedic Properties of Castor Oil | Auromere
- Benefits of Ayurvedic Head Massage | Auromere