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Abhyanga - self massage

Updated: Jul 31, 2022

In this post

  • What is Abhyanga

  • Health-Benefits

  • How and when to do Abhyanga

  • Oils for Abhyanga

  • Contraindications

Abhyanga: self-massage

One of my favourite ayurvedic practices, Abhyanga (abhya - “to oil” and anga -“limb” ) is the self-application of oil to the body. A daily practice of Abhyanga helps balance the doshas, rejuvenates body and mind, enhancing well-being and longevity . The effects felt on doing Abhyanga can be compared to those received when one is saturated with love. Which is why the sanskrit term "Snehana" for oleation therapy is so appropriate! It is derived from the word "Sneha" which means oil and also love. Practice at least 3-4 times a week to enjoy the warmth, stability and grounding that Abhyanga provides.


Abhyanga has numerous health benefits, some of which are listed below.

- Calms the nerves and the mind balancing emotions such as anger, anxiety, fear, worry, depression, etc.

- Aids in better and deeper sleep, especially when done before bed

- Lubricates the joints and reduces stiffness in the muscles

- Gives elasticity to the muscles and ligaments, strengthens the bones and is highly beneficial for arthritic conditions

- Increases circulation and moves the lymph, aiding in detoxification

- Strengthens and nourishes all seven tissues of the body providing stamina

- Great way to provide nourishment to the body/put on weight when the digestive fire is impaired and nourishment through digestion of food is not functioning optimally

- Softens and smoothens skin, reducing wrinkles and slowing the aging process

- Nourishes and heals dry skin thereby improving the absorption of Prana (life-force) through the skin

- One of the best methods to calm Vata dosha which in excess causes constipation, bloating, dryness, insomnia, anxiety, etc. thereby improving digestion, mental stability and subsequently improving stamina and vitality (Ojas)

- Aids in daily elimination

How and when to do Abhyanga:

Generally done before taking a shower, Abhyanga can be practiced during any time of the day. There should however be a gap of at least 2 hours between meals and Abhyanga. I prefer a gap of at least 3 hours after a main meal. You could incorporate it into your morning routine or perform it right before dinner or before going to bed (some ayurvedic practitioners recommend performing it only during the day but a massage before bed can be especially helpful for better sleep). In order to receive the benefits from the practice, it is essential to leave the oil on for at least 10-15min (30 min would be even better if time permits!) so that it can be absorbed thoroughly. Follow with a warm bath or shower (Note: let the warm water run over the body for a good few minutes before washing the oil off). Do not use (excess) soap or wash vigourously, you do not want to strip the oil you have so generously provided your body with. The shower area might be slippery with oil so it's best to be careful.

The specific instructions for applying the oil are as follows (Note: this method helps to balance the flow of the five sub-doshas of Vata ensuring the flow of energy in the right direction)

1. Warm around 30-40 ml oil to about 45 degrees. You could use a tea warmer and warm the oil over the candlelight or simply put the oil container in a bowl of hot water.

2. Lay a towel on the floor beneath you - you could set aside a towel especially for this purpose as it might get oily.

3. Using slow up and down movements, apply the oil first to the front side of the pelvic area including the low belly and pubic bone. Move around to the sides of the hips (left hip first), then the sacrum and buttocks in the back. Use a circular motion on the hip joints (all joints should be massaged in a circular motion)

4. Next, work down your left leg and foot with long strokes on the muscles and circular movements on the knees. Repeat on your right leg and foot.

5. Now move to the stomach area, applying oil in a circular motion starting from the naval spiraling out. Finish down the left side of the belly.

6, Then work in vertical movements around the left side of your chest, including the breast area, and along the side of the torso. Do the same for the right side.

7. Using up and down movements, apply oil to as much of your back as you can reach, starting from the waist to the upper back, working on the spine as much as possible. You could also get some assistance for applying oil to the back if possible.

8. Move up to your left shoulder and work down your left arm and hand using long strokes on the muscles and circular motion on the joints. Repeat on the right side.

9. Finally, apply oil to your neck, face and scalp using smooth, even strokes. Oiling the scalp revives its strength and vitality and makes the hair thick, soft and glossy. (I prefer to oil my scalp 2-3 times a week before washing my hair and not during every Abhyanga session)

10. When you are done, you can relax and let the oil absorb for 15 to 20 minutes followed by a warm bath or shower. Note: as long as the room is warm, you can remain without your clothes. In winter, I prefer to use a bathrobe or clothes designated especially for this purpose.

Oils for Abhyanga

Medicated oils prescribed by an ayurvedic doctor are ideal for Abhyanga since they take into account your current doshic imbalance. But in general, the following oils would be good for the different constitutions/seasons (use only organic, raw and unrefined oil) .

- Sesame oil is a great choice for autumn/winter when it is colder or to calm excess Vata.

- Coconut and sunflower oil are good during summer or to pacify Pitta dosha.

- Mustard oil is a good option for spring or to reduce excess Kapha.

- If you are unsure about your current doshic (im)balance or feel like more than one dosha could be out of balance, use neutral oils like olive or jojoba.

- Ghee is also wonderful but quite expensive and hence not very practical.

When is Abhyanga contraindicated?

Since Abyhanga has a detoxifying effect on the body, it should not be performed during colds, fevers, severe indigestion and menstruation.

If you think you have a severe Kapha imbalance (obesity, congestion, water-retention, etc) please get in touch for a consultation before starting Abyhanga.


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