"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: Sutrasthana: V: 88-89
"Abhyanga should be resorted to daily. It wards off old age, exertion and aggravation of vata."— Ashtanga Hrdayam: Sutrasthana: II: 8-9
Abhyanga is the anointing of the body with oil. Often infused with herbs and usually warm, the oil is massaged into the entire body before bathing. It can be beneficial for maintaining health and is used therapeutically for certain disorders. Abhyanga can be incorporated into a routine appropriate for almost everyone.
The Sanskrit word sneha means both “oil” and “love,” and the effects of abhyanga are similar to being saturated with love. Both experiences can give a deep feeling of stability, warmth and comfort. Sneha—oil and love—is sukshma, or “subtle.” This allows it to pass through minute channels in the body and penetrate deep layers of tissue.
Ayurveda teaches that there are seven dhatus, or layers of tissue in the body. Each is successively more concentrated and life-giving. It is taught that for the effects of sneha to reach to the deepest layer, it should be massaged into the body for 800 matras, roughly five minutes. If we consider that the entire body needs this kind of attention, a 15-minute massage is the suggested minimum amount of time.
Benefits of applying oil to the body (abhyanga):
- Imparts softness, strength and color to the body
- Decreases the effects of aging
- Bestows good vision
- Nourishes the body
- Increases longevity
- Benefits sleep patterns
- Benefits skin
- Strengthens the body’s tolerance
- Imparts a firmness to the limbs
- Imparts tone and vigor to the dhatus (tissues) of the body
- Stimulates the internal organs of the body, increasing circulation
- Pacifies vata and pitta
Herbal oils specific to your constitution or current condition are especially good choices for full body massage. Specific oil recommendations for each dosha are listed in the dosha-specific abhyanga sections below. If you don't know your prakriti or vikriti, take the Ayurvedic Profile™ quiz.
Benefits of applying oil to the scalp (murdha taila):
- Makes hair grow luxurious, thick, soft and glossy
- Soothes and invigorates the sense organs
- Helps reduce facial wrinkles
Sometimes your brain needs a massage, too!
Benefits of applying oil to the ears (karna puran):
- Benefits disorders in and of the ear that are due to increased vata
- Benefits stiff neck
- Benefits stiffness in the jaw
Benefits of applying oil to the feet (padaghata):
- Alleviates coarseness, stiffness, roughness, fatigue and numbness of the feet
- Feet become strong and firm
- Enhances vision
- Pacifies vata
- Benefits local tissues, veins and ligaments
Massaging one's feet with oil is a simple, do-it-yourself treatment that helps ground energy and supports sound, restful sleep.
Massaging oil into the human organism imparts a tone and vigor to its tissues 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 oil at a bath causes the oil to penetrate into the system… and thus soothes and invigorates the body with its own essence.
When NOT to Do Abhyanga
- During the menstrual cycle
Massage with deep pressure during the menstrual cycle is not advised in Ayurveda, as it can initiate a release of ama (toxins) from deep tissues at a time when the body is already a bit taxed. Some women don’t like to stop abhyanga during their cycle because they have very dry skin. If you choose to do it during your cycle, it is best to apply the oil gently and for only about five minutes.
- During pregnancy
The reasoning is similar here. It is not a good idea to stimulate any sort of detox process during pregnancy. This precaution protects the growing embryo and fetus against any unnecessary exposure to ama.
- Over swollen, painful areas or masses on the body
(Or do so only with the knowledge and consent of your health-care practitioner).
- Over infected or broken skin