Abhyanga: Oil Massage for Health

Ayurveda recommends several health practices that clean and nourish the physical body in order to maintain balance. Abhyanga, also called oiling, is self-massage with an oil chosen to support balance for an individual's constitution.

The practice of abhyanga is an anointing with oil; it's a sacred practice that's more like meditation than simply moisturizing your skin. In fact, the Sanskrit word for oil, sneha, is also the word for love. Oil massage is a practice of taking time to show your body love, appreciation and kindness.

Many benefits are given for the practice, including improved blood flow, reduced pain and inflammation, reduced stress and anxiety and feelings of having more energy or vitality.

The process is simple, and takes ten to fifteen minutes for a full massage. Using oil warmed for a moment in your hand, you begin at the crown of the head and work your way down to your feet. I recommend a weekly full-body massage, and perhaps a daily massage if you have "trouble areas," places that tend to hold tension or pain.

Choosing an Oil

Different oils are recommended for each constitution, and for each vikruti (the way in which you may be out of balance). The following oils are fairly easy to find in most supermarkets and may already be in your pantry. Look for organic, unrefined options if possible.

Sesame oil is preferred for vata constitution, as it has a warming quality that is very soothing and a light nutty scent that stabilizes the movement-oriented temperament of vata. Choose untoasted sesame oil, organic if possible.

Sesame oil is also preferred for kapha, for the same warming quality. However, it is recommended to use less oil for kapha, and to precede oiling with dry-brushing or gently rubbing skin with a washcloth to perk up slow-moving kapha.

For pitta, sunflower or coconut oil have a softening, cooling affect that can temper the fiery nature of pitta. For pitta types especially, it's important to take time to enjoy the process of abhyanga, and using oils naturally scented with herbs or essential oils can be helpful.

Some Tips for Successful Oiling:

Plan to use an older towel that you don't mind getting oil on. Oils can stain fabric, and over time, the oil residue in the fabric will likely become rancid and you may need to discard the towel or reduce it to "rag" status.

Also, if you shower or take a bath after applying the oils, your tub will be slippery. Be safe. Have something to hold on to if falling is a concern, and clean your tub shortly after your massage so you or other family members don't slip.

Before you begin oiling, choose a day and time of day when you will not feel rushed or be interrupted. Abhyanga is traditionally practiced as part of a morning routine, but many people enjoy it as an evening ritual to prepare for sleep. Choose a time that fits your personal schedule best. And make sure your space is clean and uncluttered, perhaps with music, candles or pleasant scents if that helps you feel relaxed.

When you're ready to begin, here's the sequence for abhyanga oil massage:

1. Pour a small amount of oil in your palm and allow it to warm. As it warms, you might focus on your breath or say a mantra or short word of gratitude.

2. Begin with the scalp.* Apply the oil to the crown of your head and use gentle circular motions to move the oil across your entire scalp. Then apply the oil to your temples, outer ears, and the base of your skull, working across and down the neck.

3. Apply a small amount of oil to your face, avoiding your eyes. Work in upward, outward moving circles across your forehead, cheeks, jaw, nose and chin.

4. Work the oil across your shoulders and chest in the same broad circles, then down your arms, to your wrists, hands and fingers, moving in long strokes down the arms and circular motions around each joint. Then work back up again the shoulders and chest.

5. Apply the oil to your abdomen and back, using large, gentle circular motions.

6. Then work down your hips and buttocks and down each leg all the way to your toes, the same way you did your arms, and work back up again to your hips.

7. At this point, you might like to sit on your towel and apply oil to the soles of your feet.

8. Take a warm bath or shower. Avoid using soap if possible, so your skin has more time to absorb the oil. Use a towel to dry off and remove excess oil. For your hair, you can choose to shampoo immediately after your oil treatment, or leave the oils on your scalp overnight (cover your pillow with an old towel if you do) and wash in the morning.

* If oiling your scalp is not for you, that's OK! The first several times I used oil, I skipped the scalp part, because I didn't want my hair to feel gross. Once I tried it, I loved how healthy my hair and scalp felt (after a thorough shampoo), and I look forward to my next "treatment." But it's not for everybody.

The entire process takes me about fifteen minutes, and I like to soak in the tub for about fifteen minutes afterward as well. Oil massage has become part of a weekly ritual for Sunday evenings, and sends me into deeply restorative sleep that night (which helps get the week off to a smooth, easy start).

May this be a fruitful practice for you as well!

New to Massage? Here are some tips for your first session

Before I had my first my massage, I had a lot of questions. Like, 'Do I take off my bra?' and 'Do they massage everything? What if I don't want them to?'
I really didn't know what to expect, and not knowing made me uncomfortable. If you've never received a professional massage before, you may have some questions, too. Hopefully these tips will answer some of them and put you at ease.
Of course, different massage settings may have slightly different practices for draping (covering the body) and other steps of the massage process. This is how we do it at Bliss Yoga, and it seems to be standard protocol for most therapeutic massage settings. I understand from experience that the prospect of undressing and letting somebody else work on you is daunting. Know that our primary concern is your comfort, before, during and after the session.
~ Zoe, Owner & Certified Massage Therapist

When you call to schedule your massage:

Let the therapist know how long a session you would like (we offer 30 to 90-minute sessions) and what type of massage you are interested in.

Feel free to ask questions about the therapist's style of massage, cancellation policy or other concerns you may have.

Before you arrive:

Avoid eating a heavy meal right before your massage, and drink some water to be sure you are well hydrated.

Arrive at least 10 minutes early so you have time to complete any intake paperwork, discuss your needs or concerns with the therapist, and settle in before your massage. Our New Client Intake Form is available if you'd like to fill it out in advance. Then you can just relax and enjoy the peaceful space when you arrive.

When you arrive:

You will be asked to fill out an intake form that will ask about medical conditions and medications so the therapist can better know your needs.

Tell your therapist about any concerns or issues you may have. Be specific. If you have a "bad back," does that mean you want extra time spent on a sore area or that you've had a spinal fusion and you are not to be bent or twisted near the fusion?

What are your goals for the session? Feeling tired and stressed and need to rejuvenate? Looking for pain relief for your aching neck and shoulders after working on the computer all day? There are many reasons people seek the benefits of massage therapy, and sharing your specific goals with your therapist will allow her to customize your session to your needs.

A typical full body massage will include work on the head, neck, shoulders, arms, back, legs and feet. Hip, gluteal, abdominal and even face massage may also be included, depending on your needs and preferences. If there is an area you do not want massaged, let your therapist know and she will avoid it.

It's a good idea to use the restroom before your massage.

During your massage:

After you discuss your intake form and goals for the session, your therapist will leave the room so you can undress to your level of comfort and get settled under the sheet/blankets on the massage table. It is entirely up to you whether you undress completely. Many people are more comfortable leaving underwear on.

Your therapist will return a few minutes later and enter the room after checking to see you are under the massage sheet.

Usually, your therapist won't talk much except to check on your comfort. This is to allow you to become deeply relaxed.

During the massage, you will be kept draped except for the area being worked on. If your therapist is working on your leg, for example, that leg will be uncovered by the sheet, but the rest of your body will be covered.

As the massage progresses, let your therapist know if you become too warm or cold or you want more or less pressure. Each person perceives pressure and temperature differently, and your therapist can adapt to your needs.

After your massage:

Take your time getting up. You may feel slightly groggy or disoriented if you were deeply relaxed. Don't be afraid to ask for help getting up if you need it.

Drink plenty of water afterwards. Massage moves a lot of blood and lymph around in your systems and can free up toxins and cellular waste products that need to be excreted in the urine.

You may feel a little sore for a day or two afterwards if you had a lot of deep tissue work done.

If possible, plan to take it easy for a few hours after your massage to enjoy the maximum benefit of the massage. A relaxing massage in the evening, followed by a hot bath can help you fall asleep if you have insomnia.

People often ask about tipping. It is customary to tip massage therapists 15-20%.

Hopefully these tips answer your questions and give you a sense of comfort. If you have any other questions about massage, the techniques we use, what would be most effective for your situation, etc, please give us a call at (812) 250-9642, or Contact Us via this site or email.

When you're ready, take a look at our online calendar and book your appointment.

You're just a step away from a relaxing, renewing massage.