Abhyanga – The Art Of Touch And Healing!
The world around you is constantly changing. Science, technology, places, seasons, human emotions, relationships – everything seems to take a course of deviation with time, showing change is inevitable. But there is something that even the greatest and most sophisticated technology could not replace – the soothing power of human touch. A delicate touch carries quite an amount of warmth and emotions that can heal both the body and mind. Ayurveda is the first to acknowledge the amazing power of human touch in healing, thousands of years back and put into use in the finest manner. A subtle artful technique where you can appreciate every inch of your body for how it is, Abhyanga or oil massage in Ayurveda remains one of the most sought after techniques adopted by healers all over the world.
The history of massage technique must be as old as the human race. But its importance in healing and the science behind it is more skilfully explained and performed in Ayurvedic science than any other. That is why it is recommended to be done everyday as a part of your daily healthy routine in Ayurveda. Doing a self massage daily can invigorate your mind & body, enabling you to face the toughest of challenges life throws at you. But, it is also important to understand how to do it traditionally and scientifically as mentioned by the ancient sages, to gain the exact benefits.
Who can do Abhyanga?
Ayurveda considers upto 16 years as Baalya or paediatric age. They are considered as having less satwa bala due to their delicate growing age and thus many therapies are specifically contraindicated for them. But Abhyanga is an exception – it can be done right from birth and is considered ideal for the symmetrical physical development of the baby. Being the most dependent beings, babies and kids always need assistance while doing massage and it should be done in a gentle comfortable manner.
A healthy adult may do Abhyanga everyday before taking a bath. This self-massage is quite different from the kind of massage done by a masseur and has its own advantages. You know your body best and have full freedom to decide the kind of pressure and time you want to spend, pampering your body. You can be at the comfort of your home, at your convenience and look forward to a productive self love time, nurturing the best in you.
Students or adults – everyone’s work pattern has changed all over the world, especially since covid-19 set in. Exposure to digital gadgets is now unavoidable for a majority of the population. Sedentary lifestyle, stress and wrong postures can lead to stiffness of body parts especially the neck, hands and the back. Abhyanga is an easy way to tackle these ill effects in a simple manner. The results are long lasting and the healthy ritual will become a part of your day even without you knowing about it!
Apart from a daily ritual, Abhyanga is considered as one of the most recommended procedures for a variety of conditions. It is one of the best procedures to prepare your body before doing Panchakarma procedures. Thus, people who are eligible to undergo any Panchakarma therapy must prepare themselves by doing Abhyanga for appropriate days. Abhyanga with specific herb based oils are also good for people who have Vata, Pitta or Kapha vitiation in their body. Those who suffer from body aches, joint pains and other related disorders are fit for Abhyanga as per the advice of their healthcare professional.
Who cannot do Abhyanga?
Abhyanga is not just another simple massage. It has preventive, therapeutic and rehabilitative effects depending on the purpose and the type of oil used. Even when done as a part of the daily ritual, Acharyas give exceptions to individuals with specific conditions. When performed in such contraindicated conditions, the procedure can do more harm than benefits and one should always be aware of such situations.
Abhyanga is not recommended for those suffering from Kapha related disorders, indigestion, who are just subjected to shodhana procedures, has an aama condition in their body, fever of short duration, diseases caused by over nourishment, and those suffering from some type of impaired digestive activity. Abhyanga, although balances the Vata dosha in the body, simultaneously has a tendency to cause Kapha dosha aggravation due to the use of oil. All the above mentioned conditions are Kapha predominant which would further worsen when Abyanga is performed. Thus the Acharyas were very specific in avoiding Abhyanga in these situations.
The Role Of Skin
Human body is one of the most astonishing wonders ever created. Just like how your mind accepts various emotions in various intensities, the skin is equipped with millions of touch receptors to accept stimulations in various forms and intensities. Your skin can sense emotions through it – specialized receptors like meissner’s corpuscles, pacinian corpuscles etc. detect sensations of light touch, pressure, pain, heat and cold.
The emotional connection to sensory stimulation has long been understood. Acharya Vagbhata warns, the sense organs should neither be strained much nor should they be fondled more. Acharya Charaka reinforces this by saying too much indulgence in very hot and very cold objects and in bath, massage, anointing, etc. is excessive use of tactile objects; total abstinence from them is negative use. The application of tactile objects such as hot and cold etc. without the usual order; and the touch of uneven surfaces, injury, dirty objects, organisms, etc. is perverted use of tactile objects. He also declares that contacting the organ of touch with mind gives rise to pleasure and pain experiences.
When medicated oil is used, it remains in the skin for 300 matras (seconds) and then consecutively reaches all the 7 dhatus in the body. It is proposed that the qualitative effects of the oil takes about 100 matras (seconds) each to permeate through the 7 dhatu elements.
Modern physiological studies also give an interesting view on the power of touch in bringing pleasure through direct stimulation. Massage has a soothing effect on two most important systems – the nervous system and the endocrine system. A very intricate communication happens in the body which is mediated through the limbic system and it causes the secretion of various hormones responsible for health and happiness.
How To Do Self Abhyanga?
Self Abhyanga is highly beneficial in this urbanised 21st century. One of the easiest ways to nurture and pamper yourself on a daily basis, it is also essential to practice it in the correct manner for unhindered benefits. Let us have a look at some very easy yet essential rules to be followed when doing self Abhyanga:
- Early morning hours are ideal for Abhyanga. You should be on an empty stomach and the food consumed in the previous day should be digested properly.
- Abhyanga should be done in a downward linear direction, unless otherwise advised by your healthcare practitioner.
- Circular movement is preferred near the joints and stomach. This promotes the circulatory functions of lymph nodes and co-lateral venous networks around the areas.
- The oil should be chosen according to your Prakrithi if you are a healthy person.
- If any disease condition prevails, the oil should be appropriate to the vitiated dosha condition in the body.
- Always warm the oil slightly, irrespective of the prakriti/dosha/season. This will further enhance the Vata balancing quality of the oil and helps improve circulation as well.
- It is best to warm the oil by double boiling method rather than putting it to heat directly. This ensures all the active principles remain intact during the application of oil on the body.
- Always be in a comfortable sitting posture on a not so smooth surface for performing Abhyanga. Sitting upright with the knees extended is the best to adopt when doing self Abhyanga.
- Start the procedure by applying little oil to the palms, soles and pinna of the ear.
- Gently apply oil all over the body once and then each part of the body may be massaged one after the other.
- Massaging can be done for a duration of 20 to 30 minutes. If feasible, allow some more time for the oil to get absorbed in the body before taking a hot water bath.
- Use a gentle herbal body wash or herbal soap to retain the moisture and plumpiness of the skin throughout the day.
The Benefits Of Abhyanga
Abhyanga is an easy and practical way to expel the accumulated toxins from the tissues. It promotes the smooth functioning of the musculoskeletal system, relieves stiffness, pain, and heaviness of the body, and contributes to a feeling of lightness. The soothing touch stimulates the 107 marmas in the body thereby promoting longevity and sound sleep. It helps prevent diseases, and enhances appetite & digestion by boosting the digestive fire.
Abhyanga when done daily is also an excellent way to smoothen the skin and maintain its natural complexion. Brajaka Pitta which is responsible for the color and lustre is located in the skin. Being a form of Pitta which shares the qualities of Agni, anything that is applied to the skin will be digested and absorbed first by Brajaka Pitta. Thus, it can also be assumed that the herbal qualities contained in the oil gets metabolized by Brajaka pitta, which inturn helps in promoting the natural glow and complexion.
The friction that happens between the body and the palm when combined with the warmth of the oil generates a slight heating effect. This helps balance the Vata dosha and also provides the momentum for moving the accumulated toxins to the channels of elimination. The regular toning up of muscles and nerve endings through Abhyanga helps you to counteract fatigue and daily stress. It also improves the arterial blood flow to the muscles and skin and facilitates the removal of dead cells from the skin.
Abhyanga is not just a soothing procedure for the body. It is a highly influential therapy for the mind and a nourishing food for the soul as well. It promotes calmness which is the ultimate weapon against your daily challenges. It is not selfish to love yourself a little more, pamper yourself everyday and make your happiness a priority by indulging in the goodness of Ayurveda. Make Abhyanga a part of your daily routine and experience how your skin breathes comfortably and happiness lingers in your body and mind.
“The preservation of health is easier than the cure of the disease”
– B. J. Palmer