Self-massage (known in the Ayurvedic system as Abyhanga) is one of the most beneficial practices that you can integrate into your day-to-day life to enhance your health. It stimulates the lymphatic system, fortifies immunity, nourishes the skin, reinforces the connection between the body and mind and calms and rejuvenates the nervous system.
When preparing for Abyhanga, you may wish to create a sense of ritual or ceremony around the practice to nourish the senses. Lighting a candle is a simple and beautiful way to do this.
Aromatherapy can also be used when performing Abyhanga to deepen the therapeutic action of the practice. By adding essential oils to a base massage oil of choice, you will benefit from medicinal action that varies from the subtle uplifting of mood to protection from germs and pathogens in the environment. Essential oils* carry antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that have been known and used for millennia.
The benefits of Abyhanga are enhanced by warming the oil before application, especially in cold seasons. A simple way to do this is by placing the bottle that contains the oil you will use into a bowl filled with hot water. Be sure to use hot, not boiling water, or the bottle, if plastic, might melt and, if glass, might crack and break.
Before applying oil to the body, place a towel beneath you to catch any oil that might drip.
Traditionally, organic unrefined sesame oil is used to perform Abyhanga. However, sunflower, almond, coconut and mustard seed oils can also be used.
To begin, pour the oil in the palm of your hand.
Because Abyhanga is a massage that stimulates lymphatic drainage, we begin with the limb and work inward toward the heart.
Start with the feet. First, paint the oil onto the skin to coat the surface. Next, move your hand rapidly in an oblong pattern over the sole of the foot. This is called a friction stroke and is used repeatedly throughout the massage. It creates heat, which stimulates circulation, dilates pores and allows the oil and medicinal herbs that it carries to absorb into and nourish the skin.
Next, apply double thumb pressure to the sole of your foot. Begin at the heel and work toward the toes. Thumbs spread outward slightly with each circle.
Move into applying pressure with the thumb of one hand to the sole of the foot while the other hand stabilizes the foot. Allow the thumb to glide from the heel to the small toe and then repeat with each toe as you work your way to the big toe.
Lace the fingers in between the toes and move them in small circles, first in one direction, then the other.
Moving up, place hands on each side of the ankle and direct the circular friction strokes over the joint and the heel of the foot. Friction strokes applied to the joints of the body are particularly important. They create a heat that is therapeutic and enhances the absorption of oil and herbs into an area that is often overworked and stiff.
The long-bones of the body are given a longer stroke, always towards the heart. Use pressure, paying attention to the stimulation and sensation of the massage. This is an opportunity to integrate your awareness with your body. When the mind and body are linked, more resources are available to you to move through the day responding to the world with a sense of ease and peace. This decreases stress levels and allows your health to flow.
Circular friction at the knee. You will notice that there is a pattern with the Abyhanga. The ankles, knees, hips, wrists, elbow and shoulder joints receive circular friction.
Calves, thigh, forearms, upper arms receive long strokes that move toward the heart.
When you reach the stomach, begin a series of slow circles. This massages the vital organs and stimulates digestion and absorption. Finish with a series of downward strokes that encourage downward grounding movement.
The chest is rich in lymphatic channels. Complete three rounds of small circles around the breast followed by three sweeps toward the nipple and three sweep from the nipple to the base of the breast.
If you have the time to wash your hair following the massage include the scalp in the massage.
After you have completed the Abyhanga choose a robe or a towel that you won’t mind getting oily and give your body about 15 minutes to absorb the oil before showering or bathing.
The purpose of showering or bathing after Abyhanga is not to wash the oil that you have applied to your skin away, but to drive it more deeply through the membrane of the skin with heat. Heat dilates the channels of the body and opens pores, stimulating circulation and absorption.
Allow the water to wash over your skin leaving the surface fresh and gently cleansed.
Harsh chemical soaps strip the skin of a natural protective mantle, disrupt balanced skin ph levels and interrupt the natural function of pores. It is best only to use soap on areas that accumulate bacteria, such as the armpits and groin. If there is an accumulation of dirt and grime that only soap can remove, use a natural, organic vegetable based soap. After washing with soap, always coat the skin with oil or a natural lotion so that the skin is protected.
Gently pat the skin dry after showering.
Take a moment to enjoy the sense of wellbeing and peace that this practice enlivens in you. An Abyhanga practice in the morning opens a sense of relaxed awareness that will stay with you throughout the day.
Practicing Abyhanga in the evening will dissolve any stress of the day that you may carry and allow you to relax into a night of peaceful sleep.
*When using essential oils in a base massage oil, a rule of thumb for dilution ratio is roughly 12 drops of essential oil to one ounce of carrier oil for application on an adult. Use 6 drops of essential oil per one ounce of carrier oil for children. *