Start Your Day Right
Abhyanga is a daily, total body, self-massage. This Ayurvedic healing ritual is the foundation of beauty, youth, strength, and tone as well as mental and physical calm. In Sanskrit, the source language for Yoga and Ayurveda, sneha means both oil and love. When we massage with a caring heart and hands, we nourish deeply with oil, which is stabilizing, comforting, and enriching. Following morning abhyanga, we move into our day steeped in care and slippery with love.
In 1995 I first traveled to Mysore, a small, still provincial, Southern Indian city.
Local people were friendly and curious, why had I come?
"To study Yoga," I answered.
Older people were delighted I shared an interest in their traditions. Young people were surprised that I cared about such outdated things, with one girl asking, "But what about MTV?"
Most often though, people asked for advice.
Which yoga asana is best for slimming?
What asana is recommended for back pain? Best one asana for stiffness? Tight Shoulders? Menstrual concerns? Balding? Wrinkles?
Do you take Abhyanga? I’d ask.
Oh no. I should. Of course. You are right.
My yoga teacher, Pattabhi Jois, recommended a South Indian oil “bath” for nearly every ailment and concern. His weekly teaching schedule was organized around this health ritual.
When my Sanskrit professor had knee pain, she asked my advice.
“Abhyanga.” I said.
She was delightfully humbled by my recommendation, “Oh, to think you have traveled all the way from your home to mine to tell me the very thing my own mother had taught me.”
In Ayurveda, the first place to seek wellness is with daily schedule; developing rituals and supports that occur at the same time daily. So before food, herbs, or intervention, we simply look at the day. Up all night, eating odd hours, high stress work days, no time off? Put order to the day – eat meals at the same hours daily, wake at the same time, to bed at the same time. This is called Dinacharya – the day rules health. Most concerns can be cleared up with a regular schedule. So when we wake and begin by nurturing with a healing touch, and nourishing oils, we are on our way to a steady, respectful start.
Every morning, before your shower or bath, spend 10-15 minutes massaging warm organic oil over your entire body with caring firm hands. Always use fresh organic oil. Whatever we apply to our skin moves into our blood stream and affects our inner ecology no differently than if we were to eat it. To keep oils from going rancid, store the bulk of your oil in the refrigerator and keep a small bottle in the bathroom for weekly use. Keep two towels aside for abhyanga, one to stand or sit on during abhyanga and one to dry off with after your shower. These towels will get stained over time, so keep them separate from your “nice” guest towels.
Standing on a towel in your bathroom, or sitting on the edge of your tub, pour oil into your palms and then press your oily palms firmly to your skin, as though you could pacify the nerves and press to the bones. Begin the massage at your hands and feet and move from your extremities in firm strokes along your limbs, and circular strokes on your joints, towards the trunk. Massage oil in clockwise circles over the belly and lower back to benefit digestion and elimination. Massage up the spine and torso, over the breasts and up the neck to the face and crown of the head. Spend extra time massaging where you may have joint pain, weakness, sluggishness, or extreme dryness. At the end of your abhyanga, massage extra oil to your heart, navel, inside your nose, underarms, genitals, and anus. Take a warm shower rubbing the oil deep into your skin. You won’t need to use soap; oil acts as soap removing surface dirt and deeper grime. But you can use organic pure olive oil or Castile soap on the soles of your feet and a dab under your arms. After your shower, no need to use moisturizer, your skin will be soft and bright.