The most important daily Ayurvedic practice is self-massage, otherwise known as Abyangha (ah-bee-YAWN-gah). I’m excited to introduce you to this, as the timing is perfect: performing a self-massage will help you manage the stress of the holidays, and "daily Abyangha" is a great thing to add to your list of New Year's Resolutions!
Hands-down, it’s my favorite daily practice and the one that makes them most difference in how I feel. It takes a little getting used to and can be daunting to try for the first time. All that oil. Sheesh. But ladies. If you’ve been needing an excuse to slather your entire body with warm oil infused with medicinal herbs on a daily basis, look no further.
Ayurvedically speaking, its mandatory. This practice can take you from crazy to calm in 15 minutes. And women the world over have been doing it for thousands of years. Once you try it, you’ll understand why...
The benefits of self-massage
There are a gazillion benefits to Abyangha. It nourishes and strengthens the body, creates soft, clear and radiant skin, decreases the effects of aging, tones and ﬁrms the tissues, strengthens immunity, stimulates circulation and improves organ health, stimulates and builds the nervous system, speeds lymphatic drainage and creates an additional barrier on the skin to protect against bacterial infections and pathogens. Most oils have a natural SPF of 15 - so it protects against harmful UV rays too. Did I mention that daily self-massage is important-amazing-wonderful? Yes? Good.
On a mental/emotional level, it builds a sense of self-care and establishes a stronger mind/body connection. The list of good stuff goes on and on - and so could I. So I’ll mention one more very important beneﬁt to self-massage as it relates to new mothers. In the Ayurvedic tradition, a new mother and baby each receive oil massage for 40 days after delivery. This is usually administered by an older woman in the community. It is her profession - and she makes house calls. After 40 days, it is the mother’s job to perform the massage on herself. By coating the skin with oil, it is believed that mother and child reconcile with the boundaries of their own bodies and heal from the trauma of the separation of birth more quickly. It assists in a mother’s return to pre-pregnancy shape and nourishes and nurtures her after the effort of pregnancy and delivery and strengthens her as she she begins the next cycle - producing milk.
I’ll cover mother/infant massage in my next blog. But for now, here’s what you need to know about how to perform one on yourself.
How to give yourself a massage, or -- in Ayurvedic terms -- perform Abyangha
Lovingly and mindfully set aside 15 minutes for yourself. Allow the massage to nourish your senses. This is an excellent opportunity to tap into your positive affirmations and release negativity.
- Place the oil in a jar or cup and allow it to set in a bowl with hot water to warm/ melt.
- Start on ONE side of your body at a time -- you'll work your way up the body, then back down the other side.
- Start on your first foot, using circular motions at joints and long sweeping strokes on limbs. Use enough oil so that your skin is really coated. Take time to get all the nooks, between toes and behind your knees. Movements should be ﬂuid and rhythmic but ﬁrm enough to stimulate the muscles.
- Work up the leg to your hips, buttocks, and massage in a clockwise direction over abdomen, up chest, over and around breasts, collarbone, down arm and hand. Be patient and take time to enjoy.
- Go back up to neck and face using delicate circles on the face, being gentle around your eye tissue.
- Apply oil to the crown of the head with circular, stimulating strokes.
- Repeat down the other side of the body. Oil should now be pretty well absorbed into the skin.
- Take a quick, hot shower. Refrain from soaping your body. Allow the warm water to rinse off the excess oil and pat yourself gently dry with a towel.
You should now feel relaxed and invigorated!
What type of oil should I use for self-massage?
There are all sorts of wonderful oils out there that you can purchase. If you know what your dosha (constitution) is, than you can make a really informed decision about something speciﬁc for yourself.
However, to make it simple, inexpensive and accessible for you to begin immediately, pick up some organic unreﬁned sesame oil from the market the next time you’re out, if you don’t already have some, and use that. Alternatives are organic olive, sunﬂower or coconut oils.