Abhyanga

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What is Abhyanga?

Abhyanga is an ancient Ayurvedic massage treatment that may be carried out by an Ayurvedic practitioner, or can be performed on oneself on a regular basis. Abhyanga has many benefits. When carried out regularly it is considered to delay the ageing process and prevent illness, promoting vitality and a calm, balanced mind. More specifically, it helps alleviate stress, improve immune function, and revitalise and rejuvenate the body. It involves massaging the ‘marma points’, which in Ayurveda are the body’s vital energy points. Many of the marmas are located over the joints and lymph nodes, and include the 7 ‘chakras’, which are the ‘great marmas’ which centre on the major endocrine organs of the body.

Specific benefits include:

  • improved muscle tone and vitality of the body tissues
  • helps joint mobility
  • improves circulation and aids drainage in the lymphatic system
  • assists in elimination of impurities
  • stimulates the internal body organs
  • increases stamina
  • calms the nervous system
  • improves the quality of sleep
  • softens and smoothes the skin

In Ayurveda, carrying out abhyanga is considered an essential part of living a healthy, balanced life, and may be performed daily, but for maintenance once a week is considered sufficient to remain fit and balanced. It generally takes around 25-30 minutes to carry out the full procedure. From personal experience performing abhyanga revitalises and nourishes the skin, and gives a feeling of calmness and grounded, abundant energy throughout the day. It also helps you accept and value your body, and appreciate it for the miracle it is.

How to massage

Generally, the touch should be light but firm. An important part of the massage includes massaging marma points, which in Ayurveda are important in balancing the ‘doshas’, which in Ayurveda are the 3 main energies that make up the constitution and, when out of balance, cause disease. On the marma points, including over joints, massage is performed clockwise. On the long bones stroke up and down, and on hands and feet, stroke upwards only. On the neck and face stroke upwards or sidewards. Generally, 7 or 8 strokes per area is about right. Warm the oil gently by standing the bottle in warm water. Sit on a towel in a draught-free place and for extra ambience you may wish to play music or burn incense.

What to use for massage

Mokosh massage oils
Mokosh massage oils

For maximum benefit, it’s important to use massage oil that suits your dosha. If you’re not sure what your predominant dosha is, you can take a quiz here. For predominantly ‘pitta’ types the oil should be cooling, and based on coconut oil, for example Mokosh Coconut & Sandalwood Body Oil. For ‘vata’ types it should be based on sesame oil, which is warming, such as Mokosh Sesame & Frankincense Body Oil. ‘Kapha’ types should not use oil but should massage with a loofah or body brush. For the face, you should use a face oil rather than a body oil, for example Mokosh Natural Face Oil for your skin type. Whichever oil you use, make sure it’s certified organic so that you do not absorb toxins through your skin. Because most people have a combination of predominant doshas, and they tend to be aggravated, or imbalanced, at different times of year, you may need to alter the massage oil at different times. For example, a person who is vata-pitta combination may require a warming oil in winter and a cooling oil in summer – listen to your body and determine the most appropriate for you.

The best time for massage

The recommended time for massage is first thing in the morning before bathing, or at night before bed to promote a deep relaxing sleep. It is beneficial to allow the oil to sit on the skin for as long as possible after the massage, to allow it to penetrate the skin more fully. If time is short, a 3 minute scalp and foot massage is still beneficial (see steps 1 and 2 below). Many people avoid using oil on the scalp (see step 1) if they do not follow with a hair wash. Simply massage without the oil on the scalp on those days and save the oil massage for just before a hair wash, as the scalp and hair benefit considerably from massage with oil. You can also make the ‘Natural face lift’ massage part of your morning moisturising routine (read how to do this here).

When not to perform massage

Most Ayurvedic practitioners advise not to carry out abhyanga when menstruating, pregnant or if you have a medical condition, unless given specific advice byu an Ayurvedic practitioner.

How to perform Abhyanga massage (main marma points and chakras are numbered on the diagram)

Marma points diagram
Marma points diagram

1. Three marma points on the scalp are massaged clockwise with a dab of oil using the middle finger. After massaging, firmly pull the hair over the point to stimulate.

- the point in the middle of the scalp where the skull bones fuse during infancy (1),  7th chakra

- further back, the crown, directly above the ears (2)

- the deep indentation at the back of the skull where it meets the neck, generally just above the hairline (3)

2. Massage the right foot and leg in total as follows, then repeat on the left.

- using the thumb, massage the sole of the foot in the middle of the arch (4)

- using the thumb, massage the middle of the fleshy part of the underside of the big toe

- massage the underside of the first joint of each toe, then pull from base to tip of each toe

- massage the top of the foot in the groove between the big and second toes, using both thumbs, working from the base of the toes towards the ankle (5)

- using both hands, massage from toes to ankle, top and bottom of foot.

- using both hands massage the ankle joint clockwise, front and back.

- massage up and down from ankle to knee on both sides

- massage front and back of knee joint in clockwise direction

- massage up and down thighs on all sides

- with the middle finger, massage clockwise the point mid way between hip and groin in line with the hip crease (6)

3. Upper limbs – massage the right hand and arm completely, then repeat on the left.

- massage the point in the middle of the palm (7)

- massage the base of each finger, starting with the thumb, then pull each finger from the base to the tip

- massage the top of the hand from fingers to wrist

- massage the front and back of the wrist clockwise

- massage the forearm up and down on all sides

- massage the front and back of the elbow clockwise

- massage up and down the upper arm on all sides

- massage all around the shoulder joint clockwise

- raise the arm and using the middle finger massage the centre of the underarm (8)

4. Massage as much of the back as possible without straining

- massage the buttocks clockwise

- with the palms, massage up and down the lower back and up the back as far as possible. Then massage shoulders and upper back as far down as possible.

5. The abdomen should not be massaged if pregnant, or when there are heart or intestinal problems

- massage the navel area clockwise with the fingers (9), 2nd chakra, then using the palm make gradually larger circles until the whole abdomen is covered. Then reverse the direction, making gradually smaller circles towards the navel

- massage the solar plexus area in a clockwise direction (10), 3rd chakra

- massage over the heart – directly between the nipples slightly to left of centre, massage very gently using the palm in a clockwise direction (11), 4th chakra

- massage the right and left upper chest area below the collarbone, using one hand on each side

- using the middle finger, massage the notch just above the sterum (12) 5th chakra

6. The neck and face should be massaged with a lighter face oil, rather than a body massage oil. A detailed description of the face massage with additional face lift can be found here.

- with both palms gently massage the neck upwards from base of neck to chin

- place the index finger on the top of the chin (13) and the middle finger below the chin, massaging the jawline from the midline to the ear. Repeat on both sides

- using the index fingers, massage the laugh lines from the chin to the base of the nose in an upward direction, then using the palm from the base of the nose across the cheeks to the temples

- using the ringfinger, massage under the eyebrow from the centre outwards, then under the lower lid inwards, and back to the nose

- using the middle finger, massage upwards from the base of the nose to the point in the centre of the forehead (14), 6th chakra

- use all four fingers of right hand on the left temple, and stroke across the forehead from left to right, and do the reverse with the left hand. Repeat 5 or 6 times.