I committed to 30 days of abhyanga self-massage and here’s what happened.
“The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to injury or strenuous work. By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age.” ~ Charaka Samhita
I used to be amused that the word “charming” was in the above quote. I thought it was a ‘lost in translation’ thing like they really didn’t mean charming.
Now I understand, they meant exactly that. Abhyanga actually makes you more charming.
As someone who has studied Ayurveda, taught it and practiced the art for almost ten years, I have touted the benefits of abhyanga hundreds of times and although I have done it semi-regularly, I was unable up to this point to truly commit to a daily practice.
Getting Into Self-Abhyanga
Abhyanga is an Ayurvedic massage. It uses oil that is usually sesame based and often herbalized. The oil that is chosen is used medicinally to bring more balance to both body and mind.
The word for oil in Sanskrit, sneha, is the same word for a mother’s love. A mother’s love is deeply nourishing. Massaging this love into your skin deeply nourishes the whole being.
The massage can be administered by a therapist or it can be done for yourself. Even those that get regular massages will benefit from a daily self-massage. The benefits of abhyanga are many, cumulative and compounded by each other.
Creating an intimate relationship with your body is not something that we are often encouraged to do in our society, but it is exactly what happens when we connect to ourselves on a daily basis.
Parts of my body that I found fault with started to seem beautiful to me.
Within days, I started appreciating everything from my pinky toes to the stretch marks on my hips and belly. I became aware of subtle changes in my perspective which led to less critical thoughts about my body.
When I caught glimpses of myself in a mirror, I would be amazed how the first thought was of gratitude. This result was promised in ancient texts and I have known about it for many years, but it still came as a surprise to me.
The oil in a daily abhyanga can also be used as a prophylactic against excess stimulus as we move about the world. We are constantly being bombarded with information, advertising, images, noises, and opinions.
For anyone dealing with some anxiety (and who isn’t?), abhyanga can be a game changer. It’s like putting myself in a physical and energetic protective bubble. I can actually feel my nervous system settling down and making me less susceptible to the whims of the day.
I am more secure with my boundaries and decisions.
Why Abhyanga Works
The anti-aging effects are undeniable. As we age, our skin naturally gets dry. This dryness leaves us vulnerable to many issues from thinning, cracking skin. Abhyanga is an easy way to maintain or restore suppleness to the skin.
The mechanical effects of massaging the body increase circulation and lymphatic movement which stimulates the natural detoxification systems internally. The body begins to have a healthy, youthful glow.
Abhyanga is more than skin deep though. According to Ayurveda, the oil is very subtle so it can move through the fine channels of the body into the deeper tissues.
This helps to lubricate joints, support the internal organs and aid in better sleep patterns.
As I age, I’ve noticed that it takes me longer to recover from minor injuries. Committing to this daily practice has helped me to feel better quicker after minor strains. My digestion is improved, and I am sleeping like a baby. All of this supports better health overall.
Part of my hesitation in incorporating a daily practice was the issue of time. Who has an extra 15-30 minutes a day on top of all the other things that need to be done?
When I let go of my perfection about it and realized that doing it imperfectly was better than not doing it, I’ve been able to maintain the practice. I even look forward to it.
My Personal Self-Abhyanga Routine
Traditionally, abhyanga is done before bathing with warm oil. Over the years, practicing this and then getting into the shower has been problematic for my plumbing.
I also tend to run hot and live in Florida, so a warm oil isn’t super appealing.
So, again, I do it imperfectly. I apply the room temperature oil when I get out of the shower. Everything below my ears gets done.
I touch and appreciate every part of my body and use long strokes on the long bones, circular around the joints, and following the flow of digestion (clockwise motions) on the abdomen.
Also, I use a fraction of the oil that I use for my massage clients.
I don’t want to be sliding all over the place and staining my clothes and furniture. The process takes less than 5 minutes. Then I wait about ten minutes before putting any clothes on to allow it to be absorbed somewhat.
In that time I make my bed or do my hair or whatever else needs to get done. My advice is to not give yourself any excuses to not try it.
You don’t have to have a lot of time or perfect oil. Even plain sesame oil is fine. Just try to keep it natural with limited additives.
Although my commitment was for 30 days, I’m not stopping. I feel like this simple daily practice has added so much to my wellbeing. I recently encouraged my college-age daughter to try abhyanga regularly.
She had similar results and is also going to continue. She feels that every young woman should be including abhyanga for more positive body image.
Maybe this ancient practice can be a remedy for some of our 21st-century challenges.
See Also –
There are many contraindications for abhyanga (including self-massage) like dry skin, skin infection, diabetes and more. Consult a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner for a proper assessment.