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The Practice of Ayurvedic Self Oil Massage (Abhyanga)

The Practice of Ayurvedic Self Oil Massage (Abhyanga)

Abhyanga is the soothing and healing practice of Ayurvedic self-oil massage that is an important part of an Ayurvedic daily routine. It is a deeply nourishing practice that holds countless benefits for the body, mind, and spirit. Abhyanga grounds us into the body, calms our nervous system and is particularly helpful in pacifying vata dosha.

Not to mention – it is the most beautiful act of self-love. We all know the healing power of touch and creating this ritual for yourself can be the a beautiful practice of self-care.

Benefits of Ayurvedic Self Oil Massage 

  • Calms, supports, and strengthens the nervous system

  • Reduces anxiety, stress and can improve our sleep. 

  • Enhances circulation and moves lymph in the body

  • Supports to the removal of toxins and can improve digestion & elimination.

  • Lubricates the skin and creates overall lustre, strength, and softness.

  • Slows the ageing process and increases longevity. 

  • Strengthens and tones our muscles and tissues 

  • Creates resilience in the body and boosts our ‘Ojas’ or immunity 

Abhyanga is recommended daily or at least 2-3 times a week. It is traditionally practiced in the morning as a part of an Ayurvedic daily routine, after a meditation and yoga practice and before breakfast. However, it can also be done in the evenings to wind down & support your sleep or generally any time except right after eating.

The practice can be as short as 5 minutes or as long as 20-30 minutes depending on the time you have available. The most important thing to do is be slow, mindful, and present with the practice. 

How to Practice Ayurvedic Self Oil Massage

Find a private space that is warm and inviting where you are free from distraction. Lay down a towel on the floor beneath you that you have designated to be your ‘oil towel’ – it will get oily!

Using an oil of your preference, warm about ¼- ½ cup of oil (or maybe even more) either over the stove or by placing a cup of oil in a body of boiling water. Ayurvedic massage really is all about the oil and more than just simply moisturising so be liberal!

Using the palms of your hands, apply and massage the oil into your body starting from the top of your head down to the soles of your feet. Begin in this order:

  1. First start with the crown of your head and give yourself a good scalp massage. If you don’t want to get your head oily (a lot of people don’t) then just apply a drop of oil to the crown of your head and massage with your fingertips. It can be beneficial to do a full head massage once a week. 
  2. Then start to move down your body and massage your face, ears, neck, and throat. Special attention can be paid to massaging your third eye centre. 
  3. Use circular motions massaging your upper chest area and then continuing down to your whole abdomen starting from your navel and spiralling out. Massage in a clockwise direction to support digestion. 
  4. Move on to your back and massage as much as your flexibility will allow. Use up and down motions on the spine and circular motions on the lower back around to the hips. 
  5. Then moving to the shoulders and arms, with long strokes along the muscles and circular motions on the joints. 
  6. Move down to your lower limbs, massaging in the same way all the way down to finish at your feet. Finish with a nice minute or two of grounding foot massage.
  7. When you are finished, you can cover yourself with your ‘oil towel’ or some clothes or kimono you have designated for abhyanga. Leave oil on for a minimum of 10 to maximum of 40 minutes to let the oil absorb into the skin. Whilst you are waiting you could enjoy a cup of tea or start getting your breakfast ready. 
  8. When you are ready, shower off the oil gently without using soap. The thin layer of oil that will remain on the skin after bathing keeps the skin moisturised and protected to move into the rest of your day. 

Which Oils To Use:

Cold pressed black sesame oil is Ayurveda’s favourite oil and used for most Ayurvedic treatments. This is a wonderful oil to begin with.

Although, the type and amount of oil you use can also vary depending on your Ayurvedic constitution, the season, or the environment you are practicing in. Here are some variations you can try:

Pitta Dosha / Summer – coconut oil for its cooling and hydrating quality. 

Vata Dosha / Autumn to Winter – cold pressed black sesame oil for its heavy and grounding quality. 

Kapha Dosha / Late winter – Spring – sweet almond oil for its light and warming quality. 

Special thanks to our Ayurvedic Health writer, Emily for this article @emilycartonwellness.