Everyone wants beautiful skin. Everyone wants to sleep well. And everyone wants a strong immune system. Simply swapping your lotion for oil and giving your body a loving daily rubdown can move you towards all three, according to Ayurveda- ancient India’s timeless science of life.
Ayurveda indicates a specific morning routine that cleanses the body, sets it up for an efficient and productive day, and keeps all its parts in good working order. The practices encompass everything from cleaning the teeth, tongue, gums, eyes and nasal passages, to practicing yoga and meditation. Oil massage, called abhyanga in Sanskrit, is an important part of this daily routine, and you don’t need a professional masseuse to benefit.
The payoffs of abhyanga go beyond the obvious of moisturized skin. Here’s what oil massage does:
-Makes the skin glossy
-Slows down aging
-Gives sound sleep
-Stimulates the skin, muscles, veins, and arteries
-Improves the reproductive system
-Prevents premature hair loss and graying
-Promotes proper functioning of the internal body
-Regenerates the tissues and organs
-Helps the body flush out waste products more efficiently
-Promotes vitality, strength, stamina and flexibility
-Stimulates the nervous system
-Helps in chronic fatigue
Ayurveda explains when and how to give yourself an oil massage so that it’s maximally effective. The daily routine has a certain order, and massage comes in here: wake up, attend to natural urges, apply oil to the body, shower, exercise, and then have breakfast.
‘Apply oil before showering?’, you may be wondering. Yes. The reason is that Ayurveda advises using quite a liberal amount of oil. It needs to be washed off so that you you’re not a walking slip-and-slide, and because too much oil and a day’s worth of environmental pollutants can clog pores.
Be generous with your oil usage, allow it to penetrate the skin for 10-20 minutes, and then bathe. No need to wash it all off; a little residue will serve as a moisturizer. This is the most recommended method, but if you’re short on time you could limit the oil amount to a light smearing, practice yoga or morning exercise, and then shower.
Choosing the right oil is also important, since anything applied externally will eventually penetrate internally. This is another great benefit of using high quality oil over lotion. Many commercial lotions are made with harmful chemicals that leach into the skin and disrupt the body’s natural order (a search of your lotion on EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database may be frighteningly convincing). Ayurveda’s recommended oils are harmless and health promoting.
Organic coconut and sesame oils are generally good for every body type. Coconut oil is cooling and better suited for summer months, while sesame is warming and better for winter months.
Store the oil in a glass bottle. Warming it before using help the oil penetrate into the skin. You can do this either by running the bottle under a hot tap or setting it in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes.
Massage the whole body- feet and head included. The soles of the feet have many marma (vital energy) points and massaging them benefits the eyes and reproductive system. In fact, if you don’t have time for the whole body, at least massage the feet.
Once a week, massage the scalp and wait twenty minutes or so before washing it out. This relaxes both the brain and body, strengthens the sense organs, and prevents premature hair loss and graying.
If you really want to do your body good you can massage in the morning and again before dinner (never massage on a full stomach, as this redirects the blood needed for good digestion). Focusing on the head and feet ensures sound sleep and a peaceful night’s rest.
Ayurveda puts reason behind every action. Oil massage isn’t reserved for the odd splurge at the spa, but advocated on a daily basis to improve the body inside and out. Ditch your lotion and take a few extra minutes each day to incorporate abhyanga into your morning routine, and you’ll find that beautiful skin, good sleep, and strong immune system that we’re all after.
Svoboda, Dr. Robert E. Prakriti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press, 1998.
Tiwari, Maya. Ayurveda: Secrets of Healing. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2007.
(As published on Elephant Journal.)