Ideally, full-body Ayurvedic massage should start with the head and end at the feet.
The body should be massaged in sections and not the whole body at a stretch. This is to facilitate the proper flow of blood and lymph and induce relaxation of the body part by part, from the head downwards. Massage should be done slowly with varying pressures.
Firm pressure should be applied on the extremities and light to very light pressure should be applied to the neck, abdomen, heart area, face, eyes, and forehead. The extremities can be massaged with long strokes in the direction of the body hair. The back of the neck, waist, and sides of the body can also be massaged using long and firm strokes.
Circular clockwise motion should be used on the joints. The abdomen should be massaged in a clockwise circular motion in the direction of the large intestine. Move up on the right side then straight across the abdomen and then downwards on the left side.
The massage should be done for 5-15 minutes on a routine basis and on weekends one should give at least 10 -15 minutes to each of the three areas of the body – head, body, and feet. Rest for 15 minutes after massage then take a warm water bath.
Massage should be done in a comfortably warm, ventilated but draft-free room like a bathroom. Warm oil should be used for the body and cool to lukewarm oil should be used on the head. In peak summer season cool oil can be used and in cold seasons lukewarm to warm oil should only be used even on the head.
For Pitta dominated people or for those with Pitta aggravation, oil at room temperature can be used. This is commonly used method in Prasadini ayurnikethana.
Oils for Full Body Massage
The choice of oils should preferably be made according to your dosha or body type and the area to be massaged. For the head, generally oils with cooling properties like Triphaladi Taila,Bhringaraja Taila,Bhringamalaka Taila, Asanabilvadi Taila are used.
- For Vata constitution and vata dosha predominant diseases, use sesame, olive or castor oil or Ksheerabala oil, Karpasasthyadi oil.
- For Pitta constitution and pitta predominant diseases, use coconut, sunflower oil or ghee or Mahanarayani Taila,Triphala Taila.
- For Kapha constitution and Kapha dosha predominant diseases use mustard, sesame, corn or olive oil.
- For the body, use sesame, olive, sunflower, mustard or corn oils.
- For the head, use coconut oil or sesame oil infused with cooling herbs.
- For the feet use any oil appropriate for the dosha. Or use ghee.
In addition, there are several herb-infused oils available for different purposes and can be selected following the advice of an Ayurvedic practitioner available for consultation in Prasadini Ayurnikethana.
How to Give Yourself a Whole Body Abhyanga
Begin by heating a quarter cup of massage oil. Don’t heat oily directly keeping it on fire, instead heat by keeping in water bath. It should be slightly warmer than body temperature, 38°C or 100°F, for example. Check temperature of massage oil, with the back of your hands before applying.
Start by massaging the head.
Put a small amount of oil on the crown. This is the area on the head that remains soft in young children and subsequently becomes ossified. Give gentle dabbing strokes using your palm.
Pour more oil on the scalp. Massage using open palms of the hands and the flat surfaces of the fingers. (Avoid using the fingertips) for the whole massage. The stroke should be circular manner, using small circles. Spend more time on the head and foot, than on other parts of the body.
The head has marma points (vital points) which influence all the other parts of the body. It is like an elevtrical switch which controls illumination of electric bulb. Head massage (shiro abhyanga) in itself is a very important part of self-care.
According to Ayurveda, it can be a quick fix for headaches, insomnia, and stress. Massage the face and outer part of the ears, using the fingers.
Massaging the ears is said to influence the whole body.
Give them some extra time, but don’t massage them vigorously. Massage the entire outer ear and apply some oil at the opening of the auditory canal and massage using your little or index finger.
Trim your nails if you have long ones. At this point, you may want to smear oil over the rest of the body. This will give the maximum time for the oil to penetrate the skin.
Massage the front and back of the neck and the upper part of the back using firm and long strokes along the direction of muscle fibres.
Next massage the arms, chest, and stomach.
Massage the arms using long strokes in the direction of the body hair (from the shoulder towards the hand). Use a circular motion, on the shoulder, wrist and elbow joint. The palms, back of the hands and the individual finger and the finger joints should also be massaged with firm but gentle pressure using the thumb and finger of the other hand.
Repeat for the other arm in succession. Now do the chest and stomach. Use moderate to light pressure particularly on the heart area. Use a circular motion over the pectoral area and a very gentle, vertical motion over the breastbone and solar plexus. Use a very gentle circular motion over the abdomen, moving clockwise, in the direction of the large intestine. Massage the back, spine, and sides as far as your hands can reach using firm and long strokes.
Massage the legs and feet.
Now massage the legs in the same way you did the arms: straight on the bones, circular on the joints and from the hip downwards in the direction of the body hair. Massage the feet spending more time. Massage the sole and top of the foot vigorously applying firm pressure with your palms. The toes are massaged individually like fingers.
Feet also contain many vital points and nerve endings, and like the head affect the whole body. Foot massage is a ritual in itself and thus is detailed later in this section. The ideal length of a daily full body massage is 15 to 30 minutes, but even a quick massage for 5 minutes could be very beneficial. In these short massages make the priorities the head and feet.
Finishing Up Your Ayurvedic Massage (Abhyanga)
Be careful about getting oil on your bathroom floor. If your bathroom is carpeted, we suggest that you protect it with an inexpensive floor mat or some disposable covering. A plastic tablecloth works well. Take a warm shower 20 minutes after your massage, which will give fomentation (swedana) effect.Do not use soap on the body.
Instead, take black gram flour for Vata dominant body types or triphala powder for Kapha and Pitta dominant body types. Mix these with some water to make a thick paste and apply all over. Rub it off once it starts drying. It will take away all the oil but still, some oil will be left to nourish the skin.
For taking oil out of the hair an herbal shampoo can be used. Dab the body dry with a towel. It’s best to keep separate towels for massage as ultimately they get oily and need to be changed. For the head and face, bare hands have to be used. To enhance the effect, the dry massage can be done in the direction opposite to the body hair.
Contraindications Abhyanga for in Ayurveda
In Prasadini Ayurnikethan, we follow the advice given by ayurveda acharyas .We will not do abhyanga in the conditions given below.
- Kapha aggravation
- In ‘ama’ conditions which includes an acute swelling
- Immediately after Ayurvedic detox therapies like vamana (induced vomiting) and virechana (induced purgation)
- In any acute illness (unless permitted by your doctor)
- During menstruation
- Blood clots (like deep vein thrombosis) or bleeding disorders
- In extreme emotional states