Ah, youth. In the kapha time of life, which occurs from birth to puberty, synovial fluid is there to lubricate our joints, collagen makes our skin plump, and moisture in our eyes keeps them bright.
But as we age, vata increases and saps moisture and lubrication from our bodies which creates cracking in joints, wrinkles, and dry eyes, to name a few symptoms.
A practice called abhyanga (or self oil massage) can help us by replacing some of the lost moisture, lubricating joints, and keeping skin looking radiant–especially in winter.
Skin is our largest organ of digestion, so whatever you put on the skin will be absorbed into the body. With that in mind, there are a few times when abhyanga is contraindicated.
When not to do abhyangha:
1) When it’s rainy or foggy.
2) If you’re sick.
3) If you have aam. (Aam is a sticky substance that occurs in the body when you eat more than you can digest. If you have a white coating on your tongue and feel sluggish or foggy, this could indicate aam. Wait until your tongue is pink before you oil.)
4) If you have a rash or open wounds. (Oil can aggravate or prevent healing.)
5) For women on their menstrual cycle.
(Here are some tips to help when it’s that time of the month.)
All set? Here’s how to do abhyanga:
Abhyanga is best done in the morning, before you eat or shower, but after you’ve eliminated.
All you’ll need is organic sesame oil and a way to warm it. (Make sure you don’t use toasted sesame oil; that’s a mistake I made only once.) You’ll want to get about 3-4 tablespoons of oil and warm it to body temperature — warm, not hot. I use a small ramekin and warm the oil over the flame on my stove for about 20-30 seconds. You can also fill a small glass bottle and submerge it in hot water.
Grab a towel you don’t mind getting oily and place it on the floor of your bathroom. Stand on it and grab a small handful of the oil.
I don’t use sesame oil on my face as it can be too heating for my skin which tends to break out. I typically use coconut oil or one of Laavanya’s formulated Ayurvedic skin creams. If your skin is dry, sesame oil on the face won’t be a problem.
Start at the scalp and massage a small amount at the roots of your hair. Massage the ears and use a small bit of oil on your pinkie inside the ear canal. You can also add a bit of oil inside the nose. This may feel weird at first, but it helps soothe dry nasal passages.
Move to your neck and use long, slow strokes. You can massage in the armpits to move lymph. Massage down the arms, using circular strokes at the joints, and then to the hands.
Move down the chest and use circular strokes on breasts (or pecs) and stomach. Long strokes on lower back and if you have someone willing to oil your back, all the better. If not, do your best to reach the whole back.
Use a similar circular motion on hips, too. And then long strokes down the legs. Circular motions on knees, ankles, and small bones of the feet. Really focus on the knees as those tend to get the most “crunchy” with age. Make sure to get the bottoms of the feet, too.
While this technique is what my teacher taught, she emphasized that this should be a relaxing and supportive self-care practice. Don’t feel stressed about getting it exactly right.
Once you’re done, take at least a few minutes (ideally 10-15 minutes) to sit and allow the oil to soak into your skin. Then hop into the shower so the steam can help the oil to further penetrate your skin.
Some additional notes on abhyanga
One additional note: if it’s very hot outside, you can switch from sesame oil to coconut oil. Coconut oil is quite cooling, so you can use it on the head or even the hair. But for the body, only use this oil on the hottest of days.
Oiling isn’t limited to the external body. There are therapies for the eyes, nose, and even the mouth. For a thorough writeup on oil therapies for dental and jaw health (called gandush and kavala), read this piece that describes them in detail on Vedika Global’s website.
Taking time to care for yourself is a powerful practice and a reminder that a small bit of time for self care can have a big impact on overall health and well being.