What is Abhyanga?
- 26 November 2020 26 November 2020
In the ancient Indo-European language of Sanskrit, Abhyanga literally means ‘self-massage with oil’. This humble means of relaxing massage has scores of health benefits and is a great contributor to overall personal wellness. Ayurvedic massage, of which Abhyanga is an important element, has been practiced in India for at least 5000 years. This form of massage has an extensive heritage and a culture that has developed and improved over millennia. It is a style of wellness that is centred in the natural: encouraging one to find balance with the world around them through the meditative and soothing art of oil massage. An Ayurveda holiday is a chance to learn this ancient art form by those who practice in the tradition style of the old masters.
How to Practice Abhyanga
Abhyanga starts at the top and works down. You begin by warming your oil in hot water before slowly pouring it over your entire body. Rub the oil into your scalp with your fingertips in a circular motion. As you unwind, move further down your body, continuing the same clockwise motion of massage. Follow the natural contours of your shoulders and ribs, easing any tension in the tissue. Once you’ve gently rubbed the soles and heels of your feet, relax for ten minutes as the oil hydrates and softens your skin. Every inch of your body should now feel smooth, rejuvenated and free of tension. To finish, simply take a warm bath and clean off any residual oil.
The Benefits of Abhyanga
At the time of its creation, Abhyanga’s health properties were only speculative but now we know that regular self-massage can be very beneficial for a variety of health problems. The gentle rubbing of the tissue improves the drainage of the lymphatic system, allowing your body to better process toxins and to spread infection fighting white blood cells. Abhyanga causes the brain to naturally emit positive endorphins. The mental benefits of the natural release of chemicals like serotonin and dopamine can relieve the symptoms of fatigue, insomnia, migraines, stress and IBS. Abhyanga, and Ayurvedic massage as a wider practice, should be an integral part of anyone’s wellness routine for both its physical and mental benefits:
The Lymphatic System is our natural form of filtration: it removes impurities and carries white blood cells to areas of the body that are fighting infection. Like the liver and kidneys, the lymphatic system is responsible for the filtering of toxins. When the lymphatic system is weakened or under heavy strain, the lymph fluid can build up and cause inflammation or swelling of the tissue. In extreme circumstances this develops into Lymphedema. Abhyanga, as a gentle form of massage, helps with lymphatic drainage. It breaks down blockages of fluid and allows the toxins to be processed by the body. This style of oil massage frees up trapped lymph so that white blood cells can spread throughout the body. Abhyanga, as an accompaniment to a healthy diet and regular exercise, can maintain and strengthen your lymphatic system whilst also bolstering your body’s ability to process toxins.
The soft and relieving motions of Abhyanga, break down the tension and soreness of overworked muscles. When your muscles are forced to become taught during demanding exercise or stress, the fibres can become tighter and stiffer. Over time, these strains in the fabric of the muscle become worse. When they next have to perform demanding exercise, the build ups of lactic acid in the strained muscle fibre can crystallise into knots and further clog your tissue with waste from the aerobic process. These knots and strains can be broken down and soothed with Abhyanga. This will allow the muscle to release its built-up tension and improve its function. Once you’re free of aching muscles, you’ll be able to exercise more and do all other activities that bring you joy. Feeling relaxed and tension free will have an additionally positive effect on your health and mental wellbeing.
When your body is gently rubbed, you experience a calming and relaxing feeling. It is ingrained in our evolution to enjoy the sensation of having our bodies rubbed. Abhyanga massage induces, in your brain, a release of positive endorphins: serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. These natural neurotransmitters act as anti-depressants and mood regulators. They combat the other chemicals and hormones of our body, like adrenaline and cortisol, which are raised when we put ourselves under stress. The positive feelings of the endorphins released by Abhyanga, in optimal quantities, are vital in fighting against the negative mental health effects of stress. Symptoms of depression, anxiety, ADHD or PTSD are lessened with the regular release of these endorphins. Sometimes it is best to be wary of things that feel nice; however, Abhyanga is one of the rare exceptions to the rule. It feels good because it does good.
Why not harness the power of Abhyanga for yourself today?