Abhyanga in Ayurveda (Self-Massage)
Abhyanga is described in both the Caraka (CS Su V/80-92) and Sushruta Samhitas (SS Ci XXIV/22-35) as one of the 24 pravicarana (i.e. methods) of achieving the state of proper snehana (oiliness).
The word abhyanga is derived from the Sanskrit root ang meaning movement or motion and the prefix >I>abhi meaning different, against, or contrary. Thus abhyanga denotes a massage involving motions in different directions. Specifically, abhyanga includes strokes both in the same direction and in opposite direction to the direction of the body hairs.
The importance of daily abhyanga is illustrated metaphorically in the Caraka Samhita (CS Su V/89) the human body is compared to a piece of leather or a wooden wheel axis which becomes stronger and resistant to wear and tear by the application of oil.
How to Perform Abhyanga Self-Massage
Abhyanga Self-Massage is a type of Ayurvedic oil massage which balances all three doshas, helps regulate the appetite, strengthens the entire body, nourishes the musculature, improves flexibility, brings luster to the skin, stimulates circulation, and truly promotes well-being.
Use one of the oils suggested for your Ayurvedic Constitutional Type. Pour some of this oil into a four- or six-ounce plastic bottle with a flip top. Warm the oil by placing the plastic bottle in a pot or other vessel containing hot water, for three or four minutes.
Remove your clothes and sit on a small stool or on towel placed on the floor. Apply oil to the entire body (this is not the massage--only the application of the oil). Apply these initial approximate amounts of oil to each of the following areas:
head, scalp, and neck------------------------- two tsp.
hands, arms, shoulders----------------------- one tsp. each for left and right
front torso-------------------------------------- one tsp.
buttocks and back----------------------------- one tsp.
legs and feet------------------------------------ two tsp. each for left and right
Additional warm oil should be applied as needed as the massage proceeds.
The massage is performed with the ball and palm of the hand and not with the fingers. Wherever possible, use circular strokes over joints and up-and-down strokes over long bones. Use a moderate amount of pressure so that heat is generated from the strokes except over the heart and abdomen where gentler strokes are used. Start with the head and work systematically down the body.
Start by massaging the head, using vigorous and rapid front-to-back and up-and down strokes, as appropriate. Spend between 30 to 60 seconds on the head.
Next massage the face and ears, which are massaged by kneading between the thumb and forefinger. Remember to add small amounts of warm oil as needed as you massage each area.
Massage the neck and throat areas using up-and down strokes.
In a rhythmic, coordinated manner using alternating circular--joints-- and straight--long bones-- strokes, massage the shoulders, arms and hands on both sides of the body. Create your own rhythm. For example, try massaging with up-and-down strokes for 10 strokes and with circular strokes for 5 strokes. Or make both 7 strokes. See what rhythm feels right and stay with it throughout the massage of the arms and legs. Remember to massage both the front and back aspects of each arm and include the fingertips and fingernails (important!)
Next, massage the chest in a gentle, circular clockwise direction; use about 15-20 strokes. The abdomen in done in about the same manner, using gentle, circular clockwise strokes. Some people like to massage the abdomen with only one hand, others place one hand on top of the other and use two hands--see which techniques you prefer and stay with it.
Massage as much of the spine, back and ribs as you can reach.
The buttocks can be massaged using a combination of circular and straight strokes.
The legs are massaged in a similar manner to the arms, using a set pattern of circular (knees, ankles) and up-and-down (long bones) strokes. Use both hands to massage each leg and remember to do the front and back aspects. Add more oil if needed and massage vigorously.
Finally we arrive at the feet. The feet are one of the most important areas to massage and should be given a little more ti than the rest of the body. Using the ball of you hand, massage the bottom of the foot vigorously for 30 to 60 seconds. The do the same for the top of the foot too. Massage the toes, web spaces, and toenails.
The oil should remain on the body for a minimum of 1000 seconds (or about 16 minutes). This is almost exactly how long it takes to do the entire massage, so by applying the oil to the entire body before starting the actual massage, you will easily satisfy this time requirement.
Following the massage, take a shower or bath using a mild soap. You may wish to purchase a supply of fragrant herbal “utane powder” which efficiently removes the oil, leaves the skin glowing, and has no detergent content. It is used either in place of or along with your favorite soap.