Many people ask me, what is the difference between Abhyaṅga Warm Oil Massage and other techniques such as Swedish or Sports Massage? Western techniques tend to have a sole focus on treating the physical body, using a variety of effective techniques on the myofascial system. Here a lotion or ointment is used simply with the intent of lubrication for soft tissue manipulation; and potentially for relief of pain or inflammation, if the ointment is also infused with herbs.
Ayurveda teaches that a human being is not a solid, stable material structure but an ever changing dynamic collection of energy and intelligence in the larger field of energy and intelligence that is the universe. Abhyaṅga is the anointing of the body with oil. Often medicated with anywhere from 1 to 30+ herbs and usually warm, the oil is massaged into the entire body before bathing, with the intention to saturate the largest organ of the body (skin) with this relaxing external application of herbal medicine. There are numerous traditional formulations of medicated oils that can be beneficial for maintaining health and serve as important medicine for certain disorders.
In an Abhyaṅga massage, the focus of treatment is broadened to a complete holistic view of the unique individual; with the goal to import balance not only to the physical body, but also to the subtle energetic, mind and bliss bodies. This is done by first analysing one’s state of health using a traditional 8 limb assessment, including pulse and tongue diagnosis; followed by saturating the entire body with specialized oil(s) while using specific soothing strokes and marma points to promote balance.
Marma (plu- Marmani) are vital energy points located at the surface of the body infused with prana life force, and permeated with consciousness; which expresses itself in lively, concentrated form at these points. Thus, they serve as a bridge or doorway between the body, mind and soul. They function diagnostically and therapeutically-to balance the mind, relieve pain, for preventative care and rejuvenation.
Abhyaṅga is encouraged as a life enhancing self massage technique incorporated into a daily or weekly routine appropriate for almost everyone. Additionally, Abhyaṅga is received as a sacred and relaxing healing treatment; from one or two therapists (yes, 4 hands at once!) as often as weekly, monthly or quarterly depending on one’s needs and resources. When receiving an Abhyaṅga, be open to being completely nude (don’t worry, you’ll be kept respectfully draped, of course!) and experiencing the abdominal organ, lymph and breast massage aspects, since this is one of the most unique and healing moments of the Abhyanga. Plus when do the breasts ever move, let alone get massaged? It’s vital to get the inherent stagnation of the breast tissue moving, especially if you have fibrocystic changes in the breast, you’ll notice how great this feels to have the vital life force cursing through your chest and it’s not as strange or invasive as it sounds, I promise!
The Sanskrit word sneha means both “oil” and “love,” and the effects of abhyaṅga are similar to the effect of being enveloped with love. Both experiences can give a deep feeling of safety, stability, warmth and comfort. Sneha–oil and love–is sukshma, or “subtle.” This allows sneha to pass through minute channels in the body and penetrate into deeper layers of tissue. These subtle but profound qualities are a major reason why this ancient treatment can be so incredibly transformational.
Ayurveda teaches that there are seven dhātus, or layers of tissue in the body. Each is successively more concentrated with life-giving ojas or immunity. It is emphasized that for the effects of sneha to reach to the deepest layer, it should be massaged into the body for 800 matras, roughly 5 minutes. If we consider that the entire body needs this kind of attention, a 15 minute massage is a minimum amount of time, but ideally the oil should remain on the skin to soak for at least one muhurta, roughly 45 minutes.
Now, what’s special about receiving Abhyaṅga with me is that I not only love what I do (and each one of you!) and continue to study with Ayurveda physicians in Canada, US and India, to integrate true authenticity with Western standards to create a customized treatment; but as an RMT and Yoga teacher I provide a unique transformational Abhyanga as I integrate Yoga Therapy, Turiya Therapy and clinical Remedial Massage techniques. You can read more about Turiya Therapy here, but in brief Turiya translates to transcendance and while in this Turiya state, we’re able to witness and release impressions in our conscious and subconscious mind, which denotes the transformation of our psycho-emotional causes of disease into spiritual wisdom, while relaxing the body and nervous system.
The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries, 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 Vol. 1, V: 88-89.
(Outlined in: Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and Ashtanga Hridayam)
BENEFITS OF APPLYING OIL TO THE BODY (ABHYANGA)
- Produces softness, strength and color in the body
- Decreases the effects of aging by regenerating tissue
- Increases longevity and energy
- Bestows good vision and clarity of mind
- Helps balance Nervous system and ease stress
- Eliminates toxins
- Nourishes the body and mind
- Benefits sleep patterns and quality of sleep
- Benefits and tones skin
- Strengthens the body’s tolerance and immunity
- Imparts a firmness to the limbs
- Imparts tone and vigor to the dhātus (tissues) of the body
- Stimulates the internal organs of the body, increasing circulation
- Pacifies Vāta and Pitta and Harmonizes Pitta
- Enhances fertility
- A wonderful way to heal after birth and helps to increase the mother’s milk supply and connection to baby
BENEFITS OF APPLYING OIL TO THE SCALP (MURDHA TAILA):
- Makes hair grow luxuriantly, thick, soft and glossy
- Soothes and invigorates the sense organs
- Removes facial wrinkles
WHEN OR HOW NOT TO DO ABHYAṄGA
- Within an hour of eating
- Over swollen, painful areas or masses on the body, without the knowledge and consent of your health-care practitioner
- Over infected or broken skin
- When there is high ama (toxicity, often indicated by a thick, white coating on the tongue), great physical discomfort, or acute illness. It is best to check with your Ayurvedic practitioner to see if you have any contraindications, before practicing abhyanga.
- When you have acute fever, chills, or flu
- When you have acute indigestion, or directly after taking emetics or purgatives
- When you have a medical condition, unless your health-care practitioner says it is okay to do abhyaṅga.
- During the menstrual cycle.
- During pregnancy
Massaging sneha (oil) into the human organism imparts a tone and vigor to its root- principles (dhātus), 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 sneha at a bath causes the sneha to penetrate into the system through the mouths of the veins (siras) and the ducts (dhamanis) of the body, as also through the roots of the hair, 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 doṣa or doṣas in one’s physical constitution. Sushruta Samhita, Chikitsa Sthanam: XXIV:29-32
These sutras or passages make it clear that we should consider our prakṛti (mind body constitution), vikṛti (current condition) and our external environment in deciding which oils are best for us and how often we should perform or receive abhyaṅga. If you’re not sure what your vikṛti or prakṛti is, you can see an Ayurvedic practitioner, such as myself for a comprehensive consultation. If that is not an available option for you, you can take the prakṛti or vikṛti tests on www.banyanbotanicals.com for help in evaluating your doṣas’ conditions.