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The benefits of Ayurvedic Self-Massage (abhyanga)

Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine, has an emphasis on mental peace, spiritual well-being, respect for nature, and dietary and lifestyle interventions that vary with the seasons. It is a holistic medicine practice that values disease prevention through self-care. Massaging the body with oil (Abhyanga) is a central feature of daily Ayurvedic self-care. The Sanskrit term, Sneha, means both oil and love. The therapeutic practice of applying oil to the body is said to soften tissues and support the release of toxins and unresolved emotions from the body.


Using food grade oil is preferred over commercial lotions that are composed of a multitude of petroleum products and chemical fragrances. Keeping in mind that what we apply onto the skin may penetrate the skin and be absorbed into our blood stream. So, if you wouldn’t eat it, avoid rubbing it on your skin.


A variety of pure, organic food grade oils can be used for self-massage including:

1. Olive oil, as it is a neutral oil

2. Coconut oil, which is particularly good for warmer months and for those individuals who tend to run warmer, as this oil has cooling properties.

3. Sesame oil which is particularly good for the winter months and those individuals who tend to run cooler, as this oil has warming properties.


Tradition suggests starting your day with a morning massage. To perform abhyanga massage:

1. Use a small amount of warm oil to coat the skin

Start at the feet and legs, using circular motions with the palm of your hands, rub the oil into the skin, then progress to the arms and back (to the best of your ability) and then to the chest and abdomen. This brings lymphatic fluid back to the heart for elimination via the blood where toxins and wastes are cleared by the liver and kidneys.


2. After several minutes or after the oil has been absorbed by the skin, rinse off with warm water and towel dry. The warm water opens the pores in the skin allowing the oil to penetrate to deeper layers.

You may complete the massage by using a pleasant aromatic essential oil at pulse points such as rose, lavender, frankincense, jasmine or your favorite.


This post is part of the Radical Self Care series. To see more, click here.


Reference: Pole, S. (2006). Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice, Philadelphia, PA. Churchill Livingstone Elsevier