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Abhyanga: The Ayurvedic Oil Massage

Writtern by Dr. Akhil B.A.M.S

Abhyanga - Ayurveda Massage

Abhyanga may be performed as ‘Sarvanga’ (whole body) or ‘Ekanga’ (locally). Various massage forms being practiced these days are mostly modified versions of the classic Abhyanga itself. Traditional massaging techniques were often derived from special martial arts forms known as ‘Kalari Payattu’ as well as the well-known art form ‘Kathakali’. Specific strokes and techniques have been developed after being inspired by such traditional delights as a part of innovating this wonderful healing method. Currently, the massage form is also being undertaken as a relaxing and de-stressing therapy.

Ayurveda advises all to practice abhyanga on a daily basis. This has to be performed as a self-massage wherein the oil has to be applied over body parts with minimal pressure. The head, ears, and feet are specially mentioned as areas where oil application has to be done daily. Such practice of daily oil massage prevents undue aging, tiredness, and ailments due to imbalanced Vata. It improves vision, physical endurance, skin quality and moreover, blesses one with sound sleep and a long life. Well, this can be intimidating for at least a few. But think again, regarding the above-mentioned advantages. The oil being applied on the body act as a lubricant, moisturizing the subtle tissues and enhances their routine functioning. This again improves proper channeling of nutrients and effective expulsion of wastes which in turn minimalizes toxic leftovers and free radical deposition. Blood circulation is also improved as a result of this daily massage. Apart from these benefits, abhyanga is highly rejuvenating, strengthening and relaxing. It helps in pacifying the nervous system, relieving fatigue and stress of the body and mind. It is also beneficial in strengthening the immune system.

Abhyanga shall not be taken by individuals suffering from digestive disorders, Kapha imbalance, etc. One who has just underwent purification therapies are also not supposed to take up abhyanga. Abhyanga, as a therapeutic procedure, has to be carried out after proper diagnosis of the condition and the involvement of different doshas (body humours). Since the procedure as such, is a type of snehana (oleation), it is specially indicated in Vata imbalances. Specific medicated oils have to be considered for various pathological conditions as prescribed by a qualified ayurvedic physician.

Abhyanga – The Technique

Even though there are no specific references regarding the techniques of Abhyanga, the ancient massage practice has evolved quite much through more than 5000 years to emerge as one of the most scientific healing techniques. Abhyanga can be performed as a whole body procedure (Sarvanga) or as a local massage therapy (Ekanga) done on a specific body part.

The procedure of abhyanga begins with an application of the oil over the head (anterior fontanel), ears, palms and plantar aspect of the feet. Therapists take care in making sure that the massage reaches each and every body part except the genitals. Different positions are maintained throughout the procedure for this purpose. In fact, seven different positions have been mentioned in the classical textbooks which ensure proper application of the massage strokes all over the body. Abhyanga is usually practiced on a typical wooden table known as the Dhroni. This was traditionally constructed with medicinal woods such as Neem, tamarind, etc. with therapeutic benefits. The oil used for massaging is usually one or a combination of medicated oils according to ayurvedic principles.

Typically the massage is done in the direction of the hair follicles (Anuloma gati) whereas the major joints are massaged in a circular fashion. Similarly, clockwise circular direction is maintained while massaging the abdominal area. Strokes and pressure in each massage depend on the pathological condition as well as the personal constitution. One abhyanga procedure is done for a time period of 45 to 60 minutes. Therapeutically, the procedure is done as a course of 7, 14 or even 21 days depending upon the condition. Nevertheless, single massage sessions are also given as a relaxing or de-stressing therapy.

Traditional abhyanga procedure involved 4 therapists performing the massage with two of them managing either side of the person receiving the massage. But two therapists can also manage an abhyanga procedure effectively by maintaining the synchronous fashion of the massage.

With all the diversities, this massage technique has always been accepted as one of the most sought after Ayurveda treatment.