The season of grey skies and chilly winds is upon us. It is the harbinger of all things gloomy – cold and flu, dry skin and fatigue. As the season changes, so does our body. Ayurveda’s foundation lies in the belief that our bodily constitution mirrors each season of the year. Ritucharya, an ancient Ayurveda practice of altering our lifestyle and diet according to the season, outlines this concept. This enables us to build our physical and mental strength to prevent ailments that may happen due to seasonal changes.
The cold weather, causes imbalance in our body and aggravates our Vata dosha, the body's air and space elements, resulting in dry, itching and scaly skin. To balance these effects and protect our skin in the winter season, Ayurveda recommends deep nourishment and regular hydration. For this Abhyanga, self-care with warm oil massage, is considered most effective.
Abhyanga – The Ayurvedic Daily Massage
Abhyanga, or warm oil massage, is a key Ayurvedic practice, especially in winters, when we need stability and warmth to counteract the Vata-aggravating season. The Sanskrit word Abhyanga means using our own touch to heal and nurture our body.
Significance of Abhyanga
Abhyanga or self-massage is a way to penetrate love and healing (sneha) through the seven dhatus (layers of tissue in the body). Each is successively more concentrated and life-giving. For deep healing to every layer of tissue, the oil should be massaged into the body for 800 matras, which is roughly five minutes. If we consider that the entire body needs this kind of attention, a 15-minute massage is the suggested minimum amount of time.
According to the Charaka Samhita (Vol. 1, V: 88-89) “The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries, or strenuous work. By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age”
Abhyanga in the Winter Season
The preferred oil for Abhyanga in the winter is Sesame Oil, as it is inherently warming. Start your day with a warm oil massage to hydrate the skin, warm the body and increase circulation. Incorporating Abhyanga into your daily routine will alleviate exhaustion and lethargy common in the winter, making you more active.
Dip your fingertips into the warm oil and apply it lightly to the entire body. Wait for 4-5 minutes to allow some of the oil be absorbed by your skin. Then, start massaging the entire body while applying even pressure with the palm and fingers. After you're done, relax for 10-15 minutes and let the oil penetrate deeply into the skin. Dab excess oil off if you like and then follow with a rejuvenating warm bath or shower.
For a more effective massage pay attention to certain areas and techniques. Apply light pressure on sensitive areas like the abdomen. Use a larger amount of oil and spend more time on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands. Use circular motions over rounded areas such as your head or joints. While, straight strokes work best for straight areas such as your arms and legs.
Other elements of Abhyanga
Although body massage is most commonly talked about, there are other parts of the body that require equal attention. Ayurveda suggests self-care treatments for parts like the head (Murdha Thaila) and ears (Karna Purana).
Excessive or imbalanced Vata dosha can cause obstruction in the flow of the food nutrients to the hair cells. This leads to dry scalp, dry hair, split ends, and finally, thin hair or hair loss. Ayurvedic oils made from Bringraj or Shikakai will strengthen the roots of your hair, prevent premature greying and make your hair lustrous.
First, apply oil first to the crown of your head (Adhipati Marma) and work slowly out from there in circular strokes. Spend a couple of minutes massaging your entire scalp. This will help the oil penetrate the roots and relive the mind from any stress.
Ear massage helps relieve stiffness in the jaw or neck, while nourishing the ear skin. In the morning, using a dropper, fill the ear canals with warm Sesame Oil. Use medium pressure to gently massage the ear canal in a circular motion.
Other Oils for Abhyanga
Other natural, organic oils good for Abhyanga are Almond Oil and Coconut Oil. They provide an effective conditioning treatment and soothe dry, sensitive skin. Use Kama Ayurveda’s Extra Virgin Coconut Oil and Organic Sweet Almond Oil for an Ayurvedic solution.
Abhyanga is a highly beneficial treatment during winters as oil massage works to reverse the negative effects of an imbalanced Vata dosha. Add healing and calming essential oils to the base oil to further enhance the benefits of Abhyanga. Practice Abhyanga at least thrice in a week to truly nurture and nourish your body.