One of my favorite ways to take care of myself during the week is through self massage. I first learned about this ancient Ayurvedic practice from a yoga teacher in Portland. It was Spring of 2009, I was anxious for Summer and feeling ungrounded. She suggested I start a self care massage practice called Abyanga (Sanskrit for ‘oil massage’) to restore balance and help me relax. Since then Abyanga has been a big part of how I connect to and love my body.
I spent much of my teen years into my 20’s disassociating from my physical body. When I found yoga in my early 20’s I felt like I was starting to reconnect with my body in a new way. I had started the path of slowing down and paying attention to myself. By the time my teacher shared the Abyanga practice with me years later I was ready to try it. Honestly I didn’t like it at first. It made me super uncomfortable to touch myself, it felt foreign. It took me several years to integrate Abyanga into my self care routine. I am glad I stuck with it even though I really didn’t like it much in the beginning. I knew deep down it was the work I needed to do to heal.
Learning the art of massaging myself has given me greater access to my innate wisdom, feminine energy, and creative power. By taking care of my body in this way and connecting to what it tells me I am much better at taking care of myself overall. Our bodies have so much to teach us and they are often ignored until they are shouting for attention. Abyanga has also helped me tune into my intuition and sensitivities. Through years of practice I have learned the importance to listening to all of the subtle signals my body shares with me throughout the days.
Ancient Ayurvedic teachings suggest that the effects of Abyanga are beauty, longevity, physical health. Regular practice of self massage, just 10 minutes a day, is very grounding, especially if you have an airy constitution like I do. Grounding is key!
Here are some more of the benefits of Abyanga
- Calms the nervous system
- Connects you to feminine energy
- Promotes restful sleep
- Increases circulation
- Slows you down
- Stimulates digestion and detoxification
- Nourishes the body
- Gives hair a beautiful shine and helps it grow
- Smoothes skin
- Tones muscles
- Lubricates the joints
Our skin is the largest organ of elimination. By massaging the skin with high quality oils, especially oils that are formulated with healing herbs, you are assisting your skin in its daily function. Being able to release toxins well is a corner stone of health and wellbeing.
Traditionally Abyanga is preformed in the morning before your shower. This helps to release any toxins that were built up overnight. I prefer to dry brush in the mornings and do my self massage at night before bed. The massage helps me unwind, get ready for sleep and it feels like such a treat at the end of a long day.
There are many suggestion in Ayurveda that suggest how often to give yourself Abyanga. These are based on your dosha or constitution. Given that most of us have busy lives I always suggest that you incorporate this practice in whatever way feels good for you. When I started self massage I did it once a week because that is what I could handle. Over the years I have practiced more or less massages during a given set of months and it has worked well for me. If I am feeling ungrounded I might do 2-3 a week until I feel like I can do less.
The beauty of Abyanga is that it is teaching us to slow down and listen to our bodies. In my years of practice this has been the greatest benefit. Give it a shot and see what feels right for you.
Note to my pregnant mamas, self massage is totally self and welcomed! It’s a wonderful way to connect to your babe. I suggest oils specific for pregnancy like this one. Massage your abdominal area gently and use this scared time to love your amazing, changing body.
Here are some other oils I recommend”
- Herbal body oils by Jiva Apoha or de Mamiel.
- Pregnancy herbal oil.
- For grounding: sesame oil, almond oil, Vata herbal oil.
- For soothing: coconut oil, sunflower oil, Pitta herbal oil.
- For energy: safflower oil, Kapha herbal oil.
If you are interested in learning more about Auyrveda and your dosha this is a wonderful book. And here is a lovely video that explains how to warm the oil and how to massage your body. Be sure to drink plenty of water on massage days and be really kind to yourself during this process. A lot can surface when we start connecting with our bodies in this way. Know that whatever comes up is supposed to surface. Above all trust your body and your inner voice.
Images by Asami Zenri