“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, toned body, and becomes strong, charming, and least affected by old age.”
Charaka Samhita I:88-89.
Ayurveda, like Yoga, is a science of prevention and longevity. Ayurveda wisely presents tried and true daily practices that are intended to prevent imbalances from taking root. These practices also serve to help a person navigate the inevitable challenges a busy life can present. One of the most helpful self-care practices is the application of warm oil to the body on a regular basis. This may seem too simple, but of all the practices encouraged by the preventative wisdom of Ayurveda, warm oil massage takes the cake for being the most important and beneficial for these times. The experience of warm oil massage can create feelings of deep stability, grounding, warmth, and comfort. It is also thought to nourish the subtler, energetic channels of the body that have a profound effect on one's psychological and emotional well-being.
The skin is the largest organ of the body and is it's protective barrier. It regulates body temperature, synthesizes vitamin D, maintains the water–electrolyte balance, and is a storehouse for fat, water, salt and glucose. Massaging the skin with warm oil before a bath or shower, protects, nourishes, and supports this vital organ. The rhythmic dance between one's hands and the inner physiology invites the return of harmony and innate intelligence to the body, mind, and spirit. Research in India has shown that with regular practice, the effect of the oil reaches the neuropeptide level of the skin (the deepest layer), affecting the whole of the nervous system over time. Great news considering that chronic stress is linked to all of the top six diseases afflicting our world.
Self-massage is not merely a stress buster, but it's also a two thousand year old beauty secret! This practice can soften, tone, and help one's skin feel more nourished, producing a lustrous glow, and the appearance of youthful skin. As one Ayurvedic text says, “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, toned body, and becomes strong, charming, and least affected by old age.” Charaka Samhita I:88-89.
If this isn't convincing enough, read on...
The practice of regular warm oil massage, comes with innumerable benefits, such as:
- Enhances the health of the skin by making it stronger, softer, and more lustrous
- May reduce the effects of aging, by lubricating, firming and reviving the tone of the skin
- Soothes and calms the nervous system and sense organs
- Supports restful sleep
- Helps reduce pain
- Balances secretions of hormones and neurotransmitters
- Reduces stiffness and fatigue
- May strengthen one's immunity and overall vitality
- Can help balance digestion and elimination
- Nurtures and supports emotional process
- Practiced with awareness, it can increase self-love, gratitude and compassion
But the proof is in the pudding – you have to practice to really know the benefit for yourself, and certainly give it a few consistent tries. Watch how you feel, not just physically but also emotionally. As with most Ayurvedic practices, it is attempting to balance the imbalance–and from this view it is always multi-fold, held within body, mind, and spirit. You can experiment with different types of oil and decide what suits you best, some general recommendations are sesame, coconut, sunflower, almond, or grapeseed oil.
Technique is Key:
- Warm approximately ½ cup (4 ounces) of oil. You can use a squeeze bottle and warm the bottle in a cup or pan of warm water until the oil is pleasantly warm.
- Sit or stand comfortably in a warm room, on a towel in case the oil runs, make sure there is no breeze in the room.
- Slowly, thoughtfully, and lovingly apply the oil to your entire body, beginning at the head - massaging head, face, neck shoulders, then moving down your arms, torso/chest/abdomen, massage your back, pelvis, legs and finish with the feet. You can also massage from the extremities to the center of your body, rather then top to bottom, finishing at your heart or abdomen.
- Use long strokes on the limbs and circular strokes on the joints. Massage the abdomen and chest in broad clockwise circular motions.
- Let the oil penetrate for 20-30 minutes, you can wear old cotton clothes during the interim time.- Take a warm bath or shower to rinse the oil from the body, and open the pores of the skin for greater saturation. Be careful when entering the bath, to avoid slippage. Soap only where necessary.
Very Important: Clean-Up and Maintenance:
- It is recommended to use a special towel for drying off after bathing as it will accumulate oil. Best to designate towel especially for this purpose, replacing it with a new towel as needed.
- Oil may accumulate in your bathtub or shower drain over time. If you are practicing regularly, you can pour ¼ cup (2 ounces) of liquid dishwashing detergent into the drain, let it sit for 15 minutes, then run very hot water down the drain for 2-3 minutes. You can also use drain clearing enzymes, or any drain maintenance product of your choice.
- To clean the oily clothes or towels, you can wash with your chosen laundry detergent and add approximately one cup of rubbing alcohol or 1 tablespoon of dishwasher detergent with a full load of laundry. If possible, wash the clothes in hot water, and hang to dry. Do not put in the dryer – as this can be a fire hazard!
- Dry, rough, cracked skin
- Worry, anxiety and stress
- Restlessness and spacey mind
- Tenderness to the touch
- Cracking and popping of the joints
- Vata disorders
- Vata stage of life
- Muscle weakness, tremors, twitching
- Emaciation or debility
- Difficulty sleeping
- Fever, chills, common cold, diarrhea or flu
- Chronically high ama – tongue completely coated
- Acute indigestion
- Directly after emetics or purgatives
- A medical condition, without the knowledge of your healthcare practitioner
- Open wounds, swollen or painful areas
- Alcoholic state – hangover
- Extreme emotion
- During chemotherapy
- Directly after a meal
I truly hope you give this practice a try – at least once, then hopefully again and again. So that it becomes a regular lifelong practice of preventative healing given entirely by you!
*Guest blogger Melissa Spamer began the formal practice of Yoga twenty five years ago, and has been teaching Yoga professionally for twenty years. Her deep love of Yoga led her to study its sister science, Ayurveda. She began to incorporate the principals of Ayurveda into her daily life, and witnessed profound changes in her overall health and well-being. She entered a clinical practitioner program with the highly regarded Dr. Vasant Lad and spent two years studying intensively at the Ayurvedic Institute. During this time she also completed studies with Dr. Robert Svoboda, Swamini Mayatitananda, Dr. Claudia Welch, and Dr. David Frawley. During her years in clinical practice Melissa has worked with a wide variety of healthcare needs presented by her clients.
She has gone on to specialize in women’s heath, chronic pain and auto-immune disorders, as well as mental health and Ayurvedic nutrition. Melissa is also a licensed massage therapist, holds a graduate certificate in holistic healthcare, and has a master’s degree in Somatic Psychology.
In 2019, Melissa will be co-leading a Women’s Yoga & Ayurveda Retreat with Donna in Andalusia, Spain, where she will be teaching how Ayurveda can support women's health.