Abhyanga (“oil massage”) is a form of Ayurvedic therapy that involves massage of the entire body from the head to the toe in specific methods and regulations, with Dosha-specific warm herb-infused oil. The oils like Ksheerabala, Murivenna, Mahanarayani Taila, Karpasasthyadi Taila are commonly pre-mixed with herbs for specific conditions. In our Prasadini Ayurnikethana Ayurveda Hospital, we select the oil drugs for massaging depending on doshas involved in particular disease. We in Prasadini prepare our own standardised drugs with authentic herbal formulations based on our researches. Traditionally, the base oil used is (Tila Taila) sesame, Coconut oil (Narikela Taila) but, we Ayurveda Professionals base the oil section on the Dosha type and hence herb oils like Ashwagandha oil, Mahanarayan oil, Bhringaraj oil, Brahmi oil and Neem oil can be used and in some cases to correct Kapha Dosha Almond Oil or corn oil might also be used.
The Abhyanga is a part of the Dinacharya (daily food and lifestyle practices advised by ayurveda scholars) specified by the series of Ayurvedic textbooks to maintain good health and well-being. Proponents’ claim Abhyanga aids joint health, nourishes the Dhatus (body tissues seven in number, mentioned in Ayurveda are Rasa, Raktha, Mamsa, Meda, Asthi, Majja, Shukra) and brings aggravated Doshas back to balance. They further claim it improves the condition of dry, coarse hair and flaky skin.
Abhyanga can be done as part of the steps of Panchakarma (shodhana or cleansing of body doshas) therapy, especially in the first stage: Purva Karma (pre-treatment), or as its own therapy.
It is often followed by Swedana (fomentation) therapy or a warm bath. Abhyanga may be performed by one or more therapists working in sync, but it can also be done by oneself. Oils used can vary depending on the season and the individual’s out-of-balance constitution (Vkrtti).
The Abhyanga as prescribed in all the ayurveda classical texts. It is vigorous, and intended to open up the minor channels (srotas), remove Ama (toxins) through the skin, and melt Kleda
(Secretions blocking the Srotas), and cleanse, moisturize the skin and soften doshas which cause pathology. Abhyanga can also be used to soothe Vata, Pitta and Kapha Dosha imbalances. It will bring deep relaxation to the body and a peaceful mind. In order to correct a specific Dosha imbalance, a Dosha specific base and herb oil concoction should be used to get good results.
The Purpose of Abhyanga
Abhyanga is a synchronized massaging of the body towards the direction of the movement of arterial blood. In practical terms, it means massaging the body in the direction of the body hair. The scientific reason for this may be due to the increase in blood flow towards the most distal parts of the body. Abhyanga may be done using oil, herbal powder, herbal pastes or ghee. It is a part of the daily routine suggested by Ayurveda. It is used for relief of pain, stiffness, and tiredness.
It also forms an important part of snehana or oleation which is an indispensable prelude or prerequisite to panchakarma treatments, the five Ayurvedic detoxification therapies.Before doing shodhana or panchakarma snehana is must, except in cases of sadyovamana or sadyovirechana, wherein these procedures are done as an immediate or emergency management.
Abhyanga not only prepares the body for panchakarma, but also helps to mobilize the dosha or morbidity from the periphery toward the core or gastrointestinal tract (annavaha srotas) t,to the intestines or stomach, in order to get them eliminated through the body orifices.
Vata dosha is particularly pacified by abhyanga. Pitta and Kapha can be pacified with a massage using different massage mediums like ghee and herbal powders respectively. Abhyanga is considered an important treatment modality for balancing the dosha.
Abhyanga in Ayurveda and Ordinary Massage
Abhyanga and other types of massage are similar in two ways. Both involve basic manipulation techniques that have been developed through experience and have been passed on from generation to generation.
Interestingly, Ayurvedic texts do not give details of the procedures involved in abhyanga but mention certain techniques.
‘Samvahana’ means gentle rubbing. ‘Peedana’ means pressing and squeezing. ‘Mardana’ means pressure massage, which corresponds to modern-day massage techniques. Various abhyanga techniques have been developed over the centuries. Marma massage and Kerala foot massage which were traditionally used to heal injured warriors were carefully guarded secrets. Abhyanga differs from other massages in that it invariably uses copious amounts of oil for massaging the body.
Unlike massage which is used for recreation and relaxation, abhyanga is a therapeutic procedure used in many health disorders. Medicated oils are combinations of several herbs, used to encourage therapeutic effects on the body.
Ayurvedic Massage types
Ayurvedic massage can be classified into different types according to the body part involved and the techniques developed and used by different schools of massage and classical texts in ayurveda (samhitas)
- Sarvanga abhyanga (full body massage)
- Shiro abhyanga (ayurvedic head massage)
- Pada abhyanga (ayurvedic foot massage)
- Marma massage (ayurvedic vital point massage)
- Padaghata (Kerala foot massage)
- Soothika abhyanga(Post-natal ayurveda massage for women after delivery)
- Navajatha shishu abhyanga (new-born massage)
The Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita specifically mentions the benefits of full-body abhyanga (sarvanga abhyanga), head massage (shiro abhyanga) and foot massage (pad abhyanga) separately.In Dinacharya Adhyaya,it is told that head, ear and foot must be massaged daily with special consideration.It induces good sleep. Recent researches also proved that pressing and pulling the ear will stimulate hippocampus part of the brain, which is the seat of intellect, memory. These benefits are observed in studies done in our Prasadini Ayurnikethana.
This shows the relative importance of massage of these particular parts of the body. They can be massaged in isolation or along with full body massage. To reiterate this fact, Vagbhatta’s Ashtanga Hridayam states that even if one is unable to perform a full body massage, feet and head should be massaged regularly.
Other popular abhyanga forms are marma massage and Kerala foot massage. Traditionally in rural India massage of the new-born and post-delivery massage of the mother by the midwife is popular. Massage is also done by traditional ‘bone setters’ for sprains, dislocations, and fractures.