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Ayurvedic Practices

How To: Ayurvedic Warm-Oil Massage

Warm your body from head to toe and calm overwrought vata with abhyanga.

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The Ayurvedic practice of abhyanga, or warm-oil massage, is a soothing treatment for overwrought vata. As a self-care treatment, it’s traditionally done in the morning, before bathing, and is especially useful as a daily ritual in the winter months, says Graciella Zogbi, a Vedic health educator at the Raj Maharishi Ayurveda Health Spa in Iowa. “Vata by its nature is dry and cold. With abhyanga, the warm oil penetrates the skin. Its lubricating quality is the complete opposite of vata, and it’s balancing on that level.”

Abhyanga is also used to help direct ama (toxins) from the tissues to the organs of elimination. Done regularly, Zogbi says, it can improve circulation and digestion, relax the nervous system, nourish the skin, create feelings of groundedness and focus, and increase ojas, or radiance, which results from good digestion and strong immune functioning.

Plan to spend at least 10 minutes massaging the entire body after coating it in oil, and then resting for at least 10 minutes before washing the oil off. (If you don’t have time to rest and let the oil sink in, try lubricating the body in oil before beginning the massage to give it more time on your skin.)

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 to 3 cups organic sesame oil to generously lubricate the body. (If you have a strong pitta in your constitution, you may want to substitute organic olive oil.)
  • A metal saucepan to heat the oil
  • Towels

How to Do It:

1. Heat the oil on the stove until it’s warm but still comfortable to the touch.

2. Massage your body with the warm oil, moving from the head to the feet. Begin with the outer folds of the ears, then massage the head (if you don’t want to get oil in your hair, do a dry head massage), and work downward. Use circular motions on the joints and use a gentle circular clockwise motion over the heart and abdomen. This, Zogbi says, is a way to coax erratic vata in the direction it’s supposed to move. On the torso, massage inward following the direction of the ribs. Massage straight up and down on the arms and legs. Finally, thoroughly massage the feet.

3. Sit comfortably on the edge of the tub or lie on a towel on the floor and relax for at least 10 minutes, allowing the oil to penetrate the skin. You can also sit in a warm bath.

4. When you are done, wash the oil off using a gentle cleanser.

Extra: Watch a video demonstration of abhyanga here.

More: For more information on overwrought vata, read Down to Earth.