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Is the Ayurvedic practice of Abhyanga for you?

Should you be including this ancient daily self-care ritual into your routine? Lounge finds out

Choosing the right oil is very important
Choosing the right oil is very important (istock)

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Ayurveda propagates the important aspect of Dinacharya, the Ayurvedic daily routine that promotes good health and well-being. A full-body oil massage or Abhyanga is an important aspect of it. Abhyanga aids nourishes the dhatus or body tissues and brings aggravated doshas back to balance and it improves the condition of dry, coarse hair and skin as well. Dosha is a Sanskrit Ayurvedic term meaning “that which can cause problems”. It refers to three categories or types of substances(vata, pitta, and kapha) that are believed to be present in a person's body and mind. Yoga exponent and wellness consultant Mini Shastri, 53, New Delhi says, “Oiling our skin is a simple convenient procedure to accomplish at home and take our health into our own hands. It can be incorporated into a routine by everyoneAbhyanga will help in bringing a sense of stability , nourishment and much needed self-care in our lives of overwhelm and excess”.

When it comes to choosing the right oil, the decision should take into account the three doshas (vata, pitta, and kapha) and what is your current state of balance (vikriti). If you currently have a dosha that is high, it is beneficial to follow a dosha-pacifying abhyanga. According to Shastri, oils such as  sesame, coconut, apricot , are good ones to pick but she insists on good quality oil from a trusted source which is cold pressed, and non-rancid. “Sesame oil is a good choice for strengthening the body and for dry skin. Coconut oil and Sunflower oil are both cooling making them good for skin irritation and inflammation. Olive oil can be used if its organic and cold pressed. Essential Oils can also be added to the carrier oil according to Ayurveda. If one is short on time, a foot Abhyanga done before benefit has similar benefits.”

But can Abhyanga actually be done by everybody? Dr. Neha Dubey, Consultant Medical & Cosmetic Dermatologist, and MD at Meraki Skin Clinic, Gurugram thinks otherwise. “It is not for everyone. The prolonged massage with warm oil can exacerbate or cause folliculitis & acne. Patients who are prone to acne should avoid abhyanga as it can break them out very easily. Vigorous massage is one of the known causes of folliculitis, so people who have a history of recurrent folliculitis should avoid it. Similarly, people who have a history of allergy or eczema toys skin conditions like atopic dermatitis or psoriasis should not go for it”, advises Dubey. Srinivas Krishnaswamy, Co-Founder, Krya Organics, from Chennai has a different viewpoint. “There are some days when Abhyanga is contra-indicated like when we are not feeling well or very tired or for women during periods but otherwise Abhyanga can be done regularly by all healthy people. Right from birth, through life, the regular habit of Abhyanga will keep us in good health & prevent diseases. It is not the same as a spa massage”, he says.

Mumbai based Gargi Chakroborty, 50, a volunteer with Isha Foundation was diagnosed with an aggravated kapha dosha. “Practicing Abhyanga thrice a week with sesame oil during the winters, have benefited me immensely. My regular chest congestions, cracking joints and quality of sleep has improved significantly. It helps in deep tissue detox and lymphatic drainage, making me feel more energetic and active through the day”, says Chakroborty. Dr. Hrishikesh Ashok, Chief Ayurveda Consultant at Naad Wellness, in Sonepat, Haryana describes Abhyanga to have tremendous health benefits. “Abhyanga is an external application of medicated oil on the body surface under systematic pressure. It improves blood circulation, facilitates removal of the toxins from the tissues, relieves physical and mental fatigue, improves the functioning of the musculoskeletal system,  reduces pain, stiffness, and heaviness of the body”, says Ashok.

Steps to follow for Abhyanga:

  • Warm the oil using the double boiler method or by using a coffee cup warmer.
  • Begin by applying oil to the head and massage your entire scalp.
  • For the face, massage your forehead, cheeks, and jaw in circular motions always moving in a upward movement, not forgetting your ears.
  • Use long strokes on the arms and legs and circular strokes on the joints i.e. elbows and knees.
  • Massage the abdomen and chest in broad, clockwise, circular motions.
  • Feet are a very important part of the body with the nerve endings of essential organs present and make sure to spend a few minutes massaging them.
  • Sit with the oil for at least 15 minutes for the oil to penetrate into the deeper layers of the body.
  • Enjoy a warm bath or shower. 

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