Yesterday, after giving an abhyanga treatment to a client, we were chatting about all things self care and she sweetly remarked "you are a self care queen!" I can't deny it, I do love self care and it's become a huge part of my life. It's had such a profound impact on my health and happiness, and I want to share it with everyone, which is why I decided to start this self care series.
This soothing practice has been part of my self care routine for about 4 years since I first began my Ayurvedic studies. Abhyanga means loving hands and the word for oil, sneha, means lavish love, so it can't get much more loving than that. It's a practice where you are massaging your whole body with warm, luxurious oils, like a freakin' queen.
Now to be honest, the first few times I did my self massage, it was a little awkward. I wasn't sure what oil to use, the oil was a little cold, I used too much, and I wasn't sure what to do while I waited around naked in my bathroom with tons of oil all over my body. Over time, I kept with it though and really made the practice my own. I often tell my students, if it feels like torture, don't do it! This is YOUR self care and it should feel lovely! Sometimes it takes tweaking to make it work for you - for your constitution, your schedule, your wallet.
Abhyanga can be done in the morning or evening, before a bath or a shower, or even a shortened, less oily version after you bathe. It can be done daily, weekly, or monthly. You can buy some fancy massage oil or you can just grab whatever you have in your kitchen. It's really up to you. Here's how to get started:
1. Find your oil
First things first, make sure it's organic. Our skin eats and therefore whatever we put on our skin is processed by our body much like our food. You can use heavier oils for vata or for cooler months such as sesame, almond, olive, or even some castor oil (although it's very thick!). For warmer months or people who run warm, you could use olive, sunflower, or even coconut oil. Lighter oils like sunflower, jojoba, or apricot oil are nice for people who don't like to feel very oily. My favorites are olive or apricot and most often I mix them together. I often infuse them with herbs as well, stay tuned for a blog post on this.
2. Warm your oil and prep your space
Put your oil in a glass or bpa free container and set it into a cup of hot water to warm it before your massage. Set down an old towel and make sure the room is warm as well. You might want to put on some music or burn some incense as well.
3. Once your oil is warm, rub it on in!
Abhyanga is done in a sacred order, but don't worry too much about that. The warm oil and self massage is amazing however you do it. Typically abhyanga starts from the top and works it way down the body. Take a quarter-sized amount of oil in your hand and start massaing your face and scalp working down into your neck and shoulders. You can do circles on your joints and long strokes on your arms, taking some time to massage your hands as well. Massage all around the breast tissue, under your arms, around your ribcage and armpits. Circle around the belly, clockwise with your digestive system, up on the right and down on the left. Get your hips, your legs, again using circles on joints and long strokes on the long bones, with some extra love for your feet.
4. Hang out for a bit
Let your body soak up the oil for 5 to 20 minutes. I often brush my teeth or do some yoga stretches in the bathroom while the oil is on before hopping in the shower. Remember though, oily feet!
5. Shower or bathe
Hop in the shower or slip into a warm bath and soak. When you do rinse off, take it easy on the soap so the oil stays on and absorbs into your skin.
6. Towel off gently and have an amazing day
Again, feel free to tweak things to fit you. When I don't have time or I'm traveling, I often just put a little oil on after my shower to protect my skin. The benefits of this practice are endless from soothing your nervous system, to hydrating your skin, to boosting your immunity. Now is the perfect time to start a self massage practice to support you through the Fall and Winter. So go get your glow on bbs.