Updated: Apr 12, 2021
Giving myself an oil massage first thing in the morning may be one of my favorite Ayurvedic practices ever. Known in Sanskrit as abhyanga, oil massage is an amazing way to give yourself some nourishment and self-love before going on about the rest of your day. In fact, the word for oil in Sanskrit, sneha, also means love. So, by practicing abhyanga in the morning, I'm making sure that I am taken care of before going out to take care of others!
Abhyanga is known to have many benefits, including:
Nourishment of the skin and deeper layers of tissues
Increasing circulation and improving lymphatic flow
Calms the mind
and much more!
There are many instructional videos and articles explaining the technique of how to do abhyanga. Here's a comprehensive article on the different types of abhyanga oils and techniques for self-massage by Banyan Botanicals.
Rather than reinvent the wheel and explain how to do abhyanga, I would like to highlight some of the benefits I have personally experienced from practicing it daily, and also explain the different ways I have used abhyanga to support my well-being.
No more flaky, itchy skin
Living in Southern California means dry skin pretty much all year round, and lots of vata vitiation (remember, vata dosha is comprised of air and space - two very light and dry elements!). Not to mention, the sun is very strong here. This has made my skin very prone to itchiness and irritation. Doing abhyanga in the morning each day, followed by a warm shower, has reduced the amount of dryness and associated symptoms in my skin. No more sitting around looking at the insane cracks and scales forming on my legs. Huzzah!
I feel less antsy
My mind tends to race at times. It likes to jump ahead and worry about all of the things I want to or need to get done. This makes it difficult to fall asleep at night, and it also makes me antsy in the morning because I tend to be overwhelmed by all the tasks I want to get done. Doing the oil massage provides some much-needed quiet time for my mind, and gently massaging the oil into my skin helps me center and start my day off with more space and clarity. On the days where it is especially difficult to wind-down, I also do a foot and leg oil massage at night.
I have more Patience
During schooling at the California College of Ayurveda, I started off making my own quick-and-easy abhyanga oils from plain sunflower or coconut oil with a few drops of essential oil. Definitely nothing wrong with that - it can be a great way to nourish the skin and do aromatherapy in one go. But I have learned that doing things the slow way - cooking herbs in oil for hours - can be a beautiful and meditative process that is enjoyable rather than a hassle.
I prioritize Me!
This is a big one. I realized that treating myself well and taking care of my own body is not some kind of selfish act. Making sure that I am happy and healthy is necessary for me to continue to be able to give my energy and love to the rest of the world. If you find yourself exhausted because you're giving out more to others than you are to yourself, I really would love for you to stop and take some time to take care of you. And that can be as simple as putting some oil on your body in the morning.
Lastly, there are a few pointers that I think are especially important when it comes to abhyanga, if you want to make it a beneficial practice:
Use fresh, food-grade oils. Yes, use the ones you would eat! If it's not good enough for you to eat, it's not good enough for your skin. Our skin absorbs much of what we put onto it, so why slather it with a bunch of chemicals?
If the oil is rancid, throw it away. Oil does not last forever. If it smells off, that means it is no longer good. Rancid oils can produce toxins in the body and can damage your skin. Don't try to "save" it.
Use oil liberally, especially if you have dry skin (looking mostly at the Vata and Pitta types). A full body massage can use up as much as 2 oz. of oil in one sitting, and there's nothing wrong with that, especially if your skin is thirsty. For kaphas, use less oil since kapha skin already has a lot of moisture.
Lotion does not have the same effect. A lot of lotions have extra additives because it contains both water and oil, making it susceptible to rancidity without preservatives. Plus, lotions usually have synthetic fragrances and loads of other stuff you wouldn't necessarily want in your body. Personally, if you want something more creamy, an all-natural or homemade body butter could be an acceptable substitute.
Feel like giving Abhyanga a try? I'm giving away a 12 oz. bottle of Banyan Botanicals herbal massage oil to one lucky reader. Comment on this post with one reason you want to try oil self-massage to enter.* The winner will be announced April 9th :)
Thanks for reading. Now go enjoy your oil massage!
Update: Thanks to everyone who commented and congratulations to Ai for winning :)
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