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Abhyanga: Powerful Recharger and Rejuvenator of Mind and Body

Updated on February 22, 2016
Gina Welds-Hulse profile image

I'm a natural health coach, herbalist, and aromatherapy consultant using the power of essential oils to improve health and well-being.

Abhyanga: Daily Ayurvedic Oil Massage

Abhyanga is an ancient Indian Ayurvedic oil massage therapy for healing and detoxifying Body, Mind and Spirit. The purpose of Ayurvedic daily oil massage as part of the daily routine is to balance the nervous system, prevent physiological imbalances and to lubricate and promote flexibility of the muscles, tissues, and joints. Ayurveda texts state that daily massage promotes softness, youthfulness and luster of the skin. There are at least 1000 sensory neurons per every square centimeter of your skin, so if you were to massage your arm, you would be effectively soothing at least 1 million sensory neurons! That's powerful!

So, you may ask, how can a ritual so luxuriously relaxing, so blissfully comforting as a full-body warm oil massage, rev up your body and mind, gearing them up for peak performance? There is an explanation for the seeming contradiction. Accumulated stress and toxins in the mind and body dissolve during the daily massage. A daily full-body warm oil massage therefore acts as a powerful recharger and rejuvenator of mind and body. This is why I do it....in addition to the fact that I am a lupus warrior, and this oiling of my body helps in my journey to healing my body from autoimmune disease.

An Abhyanga massage includes -

  • scalp and head oil massage,
  • neck and shoulder oil massage,
  • feet and legs oil massage,
  • hands and palm oil massage,
  • back massage and
  • belly massage with oils.

The session typically ends with steam therapy, but if you are doing this at home chances are you will be taking a nice hot shower after....there's your steam therapy.

Anoint your body with oil!

Anoint your body with oil!

As mentioned before, Abhyanga is the art of anointing the body with oil. Many times the oil is infused with herbs and is usually applied warm. The oil is massaged into the entire body before bathing. It is very beneficial for maintaining health as well as considered therapeutic for those dealing with certain disorders. Abhyanga is so simple and easy to do that you can easily incorporate it into a routine that suits your day and needs. No one is too busy for an abhyanga massage!

Give yourself a full body oil massage on a daily basis. It is nourishing, relieves fatigue, provides stamina, pleasure and perfect sleep, enhances the complexion and the luster of the skin, promotes longevity and nourishes all parts of the body. It also helps in balancing the Doshas, which you will read about later on in.


All about Abhyanga!

Saturate your skin with love!

Saturate your skin with love!
Saturate your skin with love!

Saturate your skin with love!

The Sanskrit word sneha means both “oil” and “love,” and the effects of abhyanga are similar to being saturated with love. Both experiences can give a deep feeling of stability, warmth and comfort. Sneha – oil and love – is sukshma, or “subtle.” This allows it to pass through minute channels in the body and penetrate deep layers of tissue.

Ayurveda teaches that there are seven dhatus, or layers of tissue in the body. Each is successively more concentrated and life-giving. It is taught that for the effects of sneha to reach to the deepest layer, it should be massaged into the body for 800 matras, roughly five minutes. If we consider that the entire body needs this kind of attention, a 15-20 minute massage is the suggested minimum amount of time.

Benefits of applying oil to the body

So what kind of benefits can you expect from regular performance of this pleasant daily ritual called Abhyanga? Check them out:

  • Increased circulation, especially to nerve endings
  • Toning of the muscles and the whole physiology
  • Calming for the nerves
  • Lubrication of the joints
  • Increased mental alertness
  • Improved elimination of impurities from the body
  • Increased levels of stamina through the day
  • Better, deeper sleep at night
  • Nourishes mind and body
  • Rejuvenates the whole body
  • Increases longevity
  • Delays aging
  • Relives fatigue
  • Enhances complexion and luster of skin.
  • Cleans your body (detoxify)
  • Helps you avoid stress and enjoy a brightness of the senses, by balancing body, mind and soul.
  • Prevents stiffness of muscles
  • Corrects digestion and blood pressure
  • Mind (Avoid bad thoughts and feel happy)
  • Soul (Only a sound body can bear a good soul)
  • Imparts softness, strength and color to the body
  • Bestows good vision
  • Nourishes the body
  • Benefits skin
  • Strengthens the body’s tolerance
  • Imparts a firmness to the limbs
  • Imparts tone and vigor to the dhatus (tissues) of the body
  • Stimulates the internal organs of the body, increasing circulation
  • Pacifies vata and pitta

Ayurveda abhyanga massage therapy is NOT only a muscle work. It also works at a CELLULAR level. Warm oils deeply penetrate cells and release physical, mental and spiritual toxins, hence it is detoxifying as well as healing CELLULAR therapy. Hence the stress is removed from the root place thus it promotes self healing of cells.

When not to perform Abhyanga....

When NOT to Do Abhyanga

  • During the menstrual cycle
    Massage with deep pressure during the menstrual cycle is not advised in Ayurveda, as it can initiate a release of ama (toxins) from deep tissues at a time when the body is already a bit taxed. Some women don’t like to stop abhyanga during their cycle because they have very dry skin. If you choose to do it during your cycle, it is best to apply the oil gently and for only about 5 minutes.

  • During pregnancy
    The reasoning is similar here. It is not a good idea to stimulate any sort of detox process during pregnancy. This precaution protects the growing embryo and fetus against any unnecessary exposure to ama.

  • Over swollen, painful areas or masses on the body
    (Or do so only with the knowledge and consent of your health-care practitioner).

  • Over infected or broken skin

  • When there is high ama or great physical discomfort
    A thick, white coating on the tongue often indicates high levels of ama.

  • During any sort of acute illness such as fever, chills, flu, or acute indigestion

  • Directly after taking emetics or purgatives

  • When you have a medical condition
    (Unless your health-care practitioner says it is okay to do abhyanga).

    You should not experience any uncomfortable effects with or from abhyanga. In the unlikely case that you do experience some, if you are not sure whether you should be doing abhyanga, or if you don’t know which oil to use, it is important to consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner.

The three Doshas

What is your dosha type?

So, I've mentioned a lot about Dosha types throughout the article and you're probably wondering what those are, and how you could find out what your type is so you could go on and do this wonderful massage using the right oil.

Here is a simple breakdown of each Dosha:


  • Vata is the winter principle. Generally, vata types tend to be thin, hypermetabolic, and they think and move quickly. Vata types typically have dry skin and cold hands and feet. They do not like cold weather because they already have many of these winter or vata qualities inherent in their nature.
  • Pitta is the summer principle. Much like summer, Pitta types are hot, fiery and competitive, with a medium frame. Pitta types prefer cool weather. When out of balance, they may get heartburn, skin rashes, inflammatory diseases, or just burn out.
  • Kapha is the spring principle. Kapha types are easygoing and have a slow metabolism. Kapha types will hold on to more weight and water and tend to develop allergies and congestion. Kapha types have more spring-like qualities in the same way that vata and pitta types carry more winter and summer qualities.

My Dosha type is Vata with a little Pitta.

Find out what your Dosha type is here: https://store.chopra.com/dosha-quiz


I know my Dosha type. Now what?

Now that you have determined your Dosha type, it is very easy to choose the oil that is right for you.

What kinds of oil should you use?

Herbal oils specific to your constitution or current condition are especially good choices for full body massage. Specific oil recommendations for each dosha are made in the dosha-specific abhyanga sections below.

Provided you do not have any of the above contraindications for abhyanga, it is time to learn which oils would be best for you. Ayurveda teaches us that like increases like and that opposites balance, so this decision should take into account the qualities influencing your constitution, your current condition, and the season.

Unless specific oil has been recommended for you, use sesame oil. If you find sesame oil unsuitable in some way, you may also try olive oil or coconut oil. Ayurvedic oils are unique as they have certain herbs cooked into them, allowing the oil and the herbs to better penetrate the skin and deliver a more therapeutic massage.

Because Ayurveda is predicated on the notion that “like increases like,” it’s important to choose an oil that counterbalances your natural state.

If you’re a warmer-bodied pitta, coconut oil is recommended for its cooling properties.

However, if you’re a vata, like me, heavier oils like almond and sesame are where it’s at.

Kaphas should choose one of the vata or pitta oils (depending on which Dosha is more dominant for them) and then add a bit of orange essential oil to it—this is very good for invigorating kaphas.

Consider the season too. Example: Cooling coconut can be good for all the doshas in the heat of summer, and so on.


Mahanarayan Oil is made from over 20 Ayurvedic herbs and is traditionally used to support comfortable movement in the joints. If you warm it, massage it into t

What is your current condition?

First it is good to consider your vikriti – or current condition. If you currently have a dosha that is high, it is beneficial to follow a dosha-pacifying abhyanga for that dosha. For example, if you are nervous, anxious, and you feel cold and dry, vata is likely to be high in your vikriti and using a vata pacifying oil for your abhyanga would be most beneficial. If you are not sure of your current condition, you can take the vikriti test.

If none of your doshas are currently out of balance, it is good to consider the dominant doshas in your prakriti – or personal constitution – and your environment, including the current season and weather. For example, if you are feeling healthy and pitta is your dominant dosha, and if the weather is hot and humid (which tends to aggravate pitta) it would generally be best to choose a pitta pacifying oil. If you don’t know your Ayurvedic constitution, you can take the prakriti test.

If you have more than one dominant dosha in your prakriti, you will want to pacify doshas according to season. For example, if you have a pitta-kapha combination, it is generally best to pacify pitta during warm weather and kapha during cooler weather. If you are a pitta-vata combination, pacify pitta during warm weather, and vata in cooler weather, and during the change of seasons. If you are a vata-kapha combination, pacify vata during cold and dry weather and during the change of seasons, and pacify kapha during cold and wet weather. More extensive guidelines for each dosha are outlined below.


Tone and Invigorate

Massaging oil into the human organism imparts a tone and vigor to its tissues in the same manner as water furnishes the roots of a tree or a plant with the necessary nutritive elements, and fosters its growth, when poured into the soil where it grows. The use of oil at a bath causes the oil to penetrate into the system… and thus soothes and invigorates the body with its own essence.

Under the circumstances, massages and anointments of the body with oil or clarified butter should be prescribed by an intelligent person with due regard to one’s habit, congeniality and temperament and to the climate and the season of the year as well as to the preponderance of the deranged dosha or doshas in one’s physical constitution. — Sushruta Samhita, Chikitsa Sthanam: XXIV: 29-32

Choose your oil.
Choose your oil.
Warm your oil.
Warm your oil.
Create a calm and relaxing environment.
Create a calm and relaxing environment.

Simple Instructions for Abhyanga

Choose Your Oil

Unless specific oil has been recommended for you, use sesame oil, or learn more about LifeSpa’s herbalized massage oils. If you find sesame oil unsuitable in some way, you may also try olive oil or coconut oil. Ayurvedic oils are unique as they have certain herbs cooked into them, allowing the oil and the herbs to better penetrate the skin and deliver a more therapeutic massage.

Warm your oil in a pot of almost-boiling water, and then use that water to shave if you want.

I usually pour some oil in a measuring cup, or metal cup with a handle (careful though, the heat transmits quickly with those), and set it in a pot of super-hot, almost boiling water to let it warm. Then I take both the cup of oil and the pot of water to the bath.

Where to do your abhyanga

Do it in the bath if you have one. Just a bit of practical advice, really, because people get concerned about the mess of oil and such. The bath works great: I just lay a towel down (no water of course) and get to work. I use a lot of oil, but not so much that the towel ends up covered or anything. Still, don’t use the towel your mom got you for Christmas. Sometimes I lock myself in my bedroom, spread a large towel on the floor, put on some music and begin your massage.

Create a Calm Environment

Before you start your Abhyanga massage, take a moment to quiet your mind. Start the massage with awareness, giving your full attention to each stroke. The more attention, love and awareness you deliver with each stroke, the more powerful the results.

Give yourself a little love and get a lot of bliss.

What order should you massage in?

Head, ears and neck massage
Head, ears and neck massage
Hands, palms and fingers
Hands, palms and fingers
General body including spine, butocks, back
General body including spine, butocks, back
Abdominals
Abdominals
Calves
Calves
Feet
Feet

Abhyanga massage according to body parts

Head Massage: Heat ¼ cup of cured oil to slightly above body temperature. Start by massaging the head. Place a small amount of oil on the fingertips and palms and begin to massage the scalp vigorously. The massage for the head and for the entire body should be with the open part of the hand rather than with the fingertips. Since the head is said to be one of the most important areas to be focus on during Ayurvedic Daily Massage, spend proportionately more time on the head than you do on other parts of the body.

Face and Ears: Next, gently apply oil with the open part of the hand to your face and outer part of your ears. You do not need to massage these areas vigorously.

Neck: Massage both the front and back of the neck, and the upper part of the spine. Continue to use your open hand to rub the neck.

Body Application: You may want to now apply a small amount of oil to your entire body and then proceed with the massage to each area of the body. This will allow the oil to have maximum amount of time in contact with the body.

Arms, Hands and Fingers: Next massage your arms. The proper motion is back and forth over your long bones, and a circular motion over your joints. Massage both arms, including the hands and fingers.

Chest and Abdomen: Now apply oil to the chest and abdomen. A very gentle circular motion should be used over your heart. Over the abdomen, a gently circular motion should be used, following the bowel pattern from the right lower part of the abdomen, moving clockwise up, over, and down towards the left lower part of the abdomen. Follow your colon when you massage your stomach. That means up the right side, across and down the left in a counterclockwise direction. Ayurveda is very big on elimination. Enough said.

Back and Spine: Massage the back and spine. There might be some areas which you may have difficulty reaching.

Legs: Massage the legs. Like the arms, use a back and forth motion over the long bones and a circular motion over the joints.

Feet: Lastly, massage the bottoms of the feet. The feet are considered especially important, and proportionately more time should be spent here than on the other parts of the body. Use the open part of your hand and massage vigorously back and forth over the soles of the feet.

20 minutes is all you need! Make the time!

You deserve to treat yourself for 20 minutes a day.  Don't you think so?
You deserve to treat yourself for 20 minutes a day. Don't you think so?

20 Minutes Is All You Need!

After you're done, relax for 10-15 minutes, letting the oil and the massage do their magic. The longer the oil is on, the deeper it penetrates. During this time you can read something relaxing or uplifting and rest; or shave, cut nails, and get ready for the day. Dab excess oil off with paper towels if you like, then follow with a relaxing warm bath or shower. If your schedule doesn't allow for a daily massage, try to squeeze it in at least three or four times a week. You'll find it's worth it!

I'm a Goddess! I deserve this!

Make Abhyanga a ritual!

When I do my Abhyanga, I like to I light a few candles, burn a little sage and try to create an "I'm a Goddess. I deserve this!" kind of atmosphere!

I deal with a lot of health issues resulting from lupus, and I find that this simple ritual is a time to reconnect to that female energy and be nice to my body instead of telling it crappy things about how it looks and feels, especially if I am not feeling that great on that particular day.


How can Abhyanga help you?

Abhyanga has traditionally been used to treat the following ailments:

  • Lupus
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Arthritis including Rheumatism
  • Minor pain associated with the joints
  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Poor circulation
  • Insomnia
  • Stress
  • Nervousness or Anxiety
  • Parkinson’s Disease

Powerful massage with health-restoring benefits but....

Abhyanga is a powerful massage with health-restoring benefits. However, before you undergo any new treatment or incorporate new regiment into your daily protocol, please consult with your physician. you want your Abhyanga experience to be an enjoyable one!

Have you tried Abhyanga?

Do you practice Abhyanga?

See results

Take time for you! You deserve it!

Coming soon....

Watch out for my article on essential oils that you can incorporate into your Abhyanga massage ritual.

© 2016 Gina Welds Hulse

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