The Benefits of Self Massage: Ayurvedic Abhyanga

Catestillman Tags: , , , , , , Blog, Body Wisdom 16 comments

Print this handout and post on your bathroom mirror until it becomes second nature.

Ayurveda self masage

Print this Cheat Sheet for your Bathroom

Time and again I hear from the Living Ayurveda Course students that self massage has changed their lives.

The practice of self massage is simple. In fact, here is a handout to print and post on your fridge until it becomes second nature. In Indian culture, where Ayurveda originates, it’s a daily practice that you would have first experienced in utero. Then, when you were born, you would have received “infant massage”. Infant massage leads to toddler massage. Toddler massage leads to small child massage. Etc. Etc. Etc. Soon you have cultivated an adult that know how to take care of themselves by simply taking their health into their own hands.

What are the benefits of self-massage (abhyanga)?

What I recommend is to give yourself a massage (instructions here or below) and then assess how you feel. Sure, you can read this commonly printed list of benefits. While some benefits come from claims from the ancient Ayurvedic texts, studies are actually being done to qualify or dismiss these claims. Here is a list of claims commonly found on websites, substantiated by MAPI.

  • Increased circulation, especially to nerve endings
  • Toning of the muscles and the whole physiology
  • Calming for the nerves
  • Lubrication of the joints
  • Increased mental alertness
  • Improved elimination of impurities from the body
  • Softer, smoother skin
  • Increased levels of stamina through the day
  • Better, deeper sleep at night
In many ways, this is amazing. I’ve also heard vaidya’s (Ayurvedic masters) claim that self massage improves all of the sense organs, and remarkably, improves eyesight. What I know from personal experience is that self massage is the best tool I have:
  • To boost my immune system
  • To make me feel whole again
  • To nourish my body and soul simultaneously

Benefits of Child Massage

 DO's + DON'Ts of Self Massage

Print this one too: the DO’s + DON’Ts of Self Massage

I also know that giving my daughter her massage creates these benefits:

  • Creates a grounding, relaxing mood.
  • Keeps her skin from drying out. (Dry skin indicates Vata is in the lymph system, which creates an easy target for bacteria or viruses to take root).
  • Teaches her how to take care of her sacred body.

How to give yourself a massage:

Set aside some quiet time for your massage. 5-15 minutes is enough time to massage the oil on your body (preferably before you shower)– though if you have no time, rub the oil on your skin (instead of soap) in the shower. Do this daily.

You will need:

  • Warm room: make this a comfortable and special time for yourself.
  • Oil: sesame oil Vatas, sunflower or coconut oil for Pittas and olive or mustard oils for Kaphas.
  • Squeeze bottle: for easy access throughout the massage fill a squeeze bottle with oil
  • Hot water in a bowl or in the sink: put the squeeze bottle in the warm water and allow the oil to warm to at least body temperature
  • Towel or mat: choose something that you don’t mind getting oily. You might want one to stand on and one to dry off with.

How to give yourself a Self-Massage (technique)

  • Undress completely and stand on your towel or mat.
  • Starting with a small amount of oil in your hands begin to gently rub the oil into your scalp. Massage the oil into your scalp and hair with your fingertips. If you would prefer to keep the oil out of your hair simply omit the use of oil for this part of the massage.
  • Vigorously work down your body until the oil has been massaged into every part of your body. Use long strokes on your limbs and circular strokes over all your joints, chest and abdomen. Cover every inch of skin, attuning to your bodily tissues with your hands.  Spend extra time on areas that are less integrated (for some this is thighs, buttocks, breasts).
  • Take ample time to massage the soles of your feet as this can have a particularly relaxing and soothing affect.

Rinse off the oil in the shower. Take time in the shower to allow the oil on your hands to mix with the water from the shower to massage your face and ears. Use gentle circular strokes to massage your cheeks and forehead, move out towards the ears in stroking motions around the eyes and lips. Soap is drying to the skin, including to the anus; try switching to oil instead.

Print this handout and post on your bathroom mirror until it becomes second nature.

About Cate Stillman

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Mags - January 13, 2013

Are there different benefits to normal coconut oil vs. fractionated coconut oil? Which should I use in self massage?

Cate Stillman - January 13, 2013

I prefer a raw coconut oil, it’s not fractionated – and I only use it when the outside temperature is above 70′ so that it’s naturally melted. I get mine by the gallon from the Raw Food World. It’s excellent stuff. In colder temperatures I use an organic cold-pressed sesame or sunflower oil.

Mags - January 14, 2013

Thanks, Cate. Your response is exactly what my “gut” or intuition said. I was in a situation where some essential oil peeps were pushing fractionated coconut oil and I didn’t have a great response on why I didn’t feel comfortable with it, so this helps a lot!

cate - yogahealer - January 14, 2013

yes – the doTerra people are really pushing it. i don’t buy it.

eJ - February 5, 2013

Self massage can help save the world. it gives clarity and peace to all who practice it. if you are relaxed calm and balanced all those around you will be the same

practice self care to improve the lives of everyone you interact with

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Erik Jacobson - May 10, 2013

Self massage gives you a better sense and feel for your body. Giving you a higher attunement to your body is great for all areas of life.

Jim Thorpe Yoga - August 20, 2013

I am trying this tomorrow morning. After being massaged with gobs of coconut oil, by body is craving it… Does anyone else do this? Let me know what effects you've noticed or if you're interested in trying it.

Maya Kowalcyk - August 22, 2013

after 2 times doing Abhyanga this week, my skin is thanking me! We really do need to touch/massage our own bodies more. This rivals coffee as a way to help you wake up!

Paul W. - December 3, 2013

I just bought my cold-pressed, organic sesame oil today and hope to do an abhyanga tomorrow, after my run and before my shower. I have a question, though, if you don’t mind: Is it ok to be doing the abhyanga while detoxing? I just started taking MSM a month ago, and am taking milk thistle and dandelion extract, too, as well as taking detox (clay and herb) baths.
When I come back from my run, I have some perspiration on my skin, and I am thinking that I should rinse or wash this off, rather than allow my skin to dry and then massage the oil in. I’m not sure how to handle this.

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