If you are like me, this year brought me to tears, with feelings of anxiety and also anger. But it has also given me time to reflect and a chance to deal with some inner shadows that just don’t reveal their heads unless I slow down. I continue to try my best to stay grounded and believe in the inherent goodness of others.
The social isolation of the pandemic has left many people starved of touch, a human need. If you are alone, the following practice can be a boon to your physical and mental well being.
What I learned and embodied around 14 years ago has continued to help me.
That is Abhyanga.
I’ve been familiar with Ayurvedic practices for over 20 years, since my time in a Vaisnava ashrama. Those days were austere. I was young enough to handle the super early wake-up times and temple service and rituals that lasted until evening. To escape the pangs of the body, I would try to forget how I was feeling or justify the suffering. I thought I was living in my heart when most of the time I was intellectualizing in my mind.
It was only after having a pregnancy fraught with distress and becoming a mother that I began the slow process of taking care of myself.
So what is Abhyanga?
It is the Ayurvedic practice of self-massage with oil.
You basically cover your body with warm oil and rub it in with love.
Does it sound simple? IT IS!
Well, it can be hard if you don’t want to look at your body, don’t like to be touched, or spend a long time naked by yourself. Yes, these can be hang-ups. But with time, it will be something you need to do to have a heart-to-heart conversation with your body.
In Sanskrit and the languages of the Indian subcontinent, the word Sneha has several meanings. But two of the meanings are affection/love and oil.
So give yourself affection by lovingly massaging your body with oil.
How to Abhyanga
Choose an organic sesame oil. You can find it on specialty Ayurvedic websites or even in the cooking aisle. Just make sure it’s not toasted!
Get an older towel to sit or stand on. Also, you can dry brush beforehand. If you have a hot constitution (Pitta dosha) or it’s summer, you can use organic coconut oil.
I like to put my oil in a pump bottle for ease of use.
Prepare a clean, calm space.
This is most likely to be your bathroom. It could also be done in a private sunroom, patio, or outdoor space. Gather all the materials needed.
Use a space heater if it’s cold. You can also place your bottle of oil in a container of warm water.
Light some incense or a candle if you like. Put on calming music.
Once you have created your space, remove all your clothing.
Take a look at yourself with love and feel how you are feeling. Take deep breaths. If you have tension in certain places, note that so you can spend some extra time. You can have a 5 to 20-minute session depending on what you need and your schedule for the day. Dry brush first if you like.
Long strokes toward the heart to move lymph and circular motions on joints.
Massage time – from head to toe
Head and neck
Warm your hands together and add some oil.
If you will wash your hair or don’t mind oil there, massage oil into the crown of your head and your scalp using your fingertips. Your head is full of marma points (energy centers) Then massage your face in upward circular motions. You can put oil on your pinky and gently rub the inside of your nose. Massage your ears.
Use downward motions on the back of your neck. Many people hold tension here. Also, the muscle of the jaw. I tend to get lymph stagnation along my jaw bone, so I push from my chin outward and down to the area near the collarbone for lymph drainage. Keep adding oil so you can massage smoothly.
Rub your shoulders and pec muscles. Abhyanga is also a good time to do breast massage and checks. Massage your armpits to move lymph.
Add more oil and massage your hands, taking care to massage each joint of each finger and cuticle. Use circular movements on the joints and long movements on the bones, moving toward the heart. Massage your upper back and along your upper spine. Massage rib cage and lats.
Abdomen and Lower Back
Add more oil and place it in the belly button. Follow the journey of the digestive track when you massage. The small intestine is in the middle. The large intestine starts on the lower right and moves up to the rib cage, across and then down the left side. I push in with a rhythmic motion. Massage your lower back.
Add more oil and massage your hips, glutes, and thighs. If you have extra weight here don’t be afraid that oil with adding more fat there. This area needs circulation and love and permission to let go.
Add oil to knees and rub in a circular motion. Massage calves upward with long strokes.
Add more oil to feet. If you need help with balance, now might be a time to sit if you are not already. I put one foot on my bathroom counter.
Pay attention to toes, nails, in between the toes and the heel.
When you are done, you can take some time to sit, meditate, or read.
It also ok to hop in the shower if you have to. Just be careful as your feet are oily!
You can place a washcloth on the shower or tub floor to keep from slipping.
Take a nice warm shower! I haven’t used any kind of soap or foaming cleanser on my face in 3 years! By doing abhyanga and using an oil cleansing method and face masks, I don’t ever have a dry face.
Take care drying off and don’t rub off thin moisture layer, gently pat.
Enjoy your day now that you have taken care of yourself!
Here are some questions people/friends have asked?
When do you have time to do this?
Practicing abhyanga at least 3 times a week is great for me. I definitely pour on the oil the days that I wash my hair. If I start to feel a lot of stress, I do abhyanga more! Doing abhyanga on the mornings before client cook dates helped so much. Most of my sessions last about 10-15 minutes.
Won’t your hair get greasy?
I have very thick, waist-length hair that needs moisture and oil to tame it.
Other kinds of oil, like argan and almond, are used in my hair. I also don’t wash my hair more than twice a week and I don’t always add a lot of oil when I massage my scalp. If you think it will leave you with a bad hair look, don’t add oil but don’t skip the massage.
What’s the best time to do it?
Well, I do it in the morning soon after waking up if I’m not exercising that day. I scrape my tongue, go drink some water, eliminate. If I have an exercise session, I’ll do it after that. That really feels amazing! If you aren’t a morning person, you could do it in the evening and make it a longer experience. Some moms with young children choose to do it after putting their kids to bed.
Can you do it with a partner?
I personally feel that it’s best to do it alone because I use it to connect with my body. The energy is different with someone else but you can still enjoy that type of massage. Ayurveda centers offer massage with lots of oil and sometimes are done with 2 people in unison.
Isn’t this going to make my shower/bathtub gross?
Yes, you will need to clean your bathroom. If you are cleaning once a week, you shouldn’t see any long term buildup. It’s also a good time to invest in a hair trap if you don’t have one already.
Recommended Products & Websites
Banyan Botanicals Sesame Oil – Great everyday oil. Trusted source!
Whole Foods Organic Sesame Oil – Budget organic oil easily found.
Book of Indian Beauty – Beautiful vintage book
Anima Mundi – One of my favorite apothecaries
Posies and Co – Small batch oils with flowers in them
Warm Sneha Wishes,
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