At a time of year when the weather tends to keep us indoors, it’s not uncommon to feel isolated and lonely.
In the darkness of Winter, many people come in requesting massage just for the sake of being touched. Examining this a little more closely, we know that touch can help to soothe anxieties, relieve stress, and of course, help with pain and tension that the body holds.
Touch is fundamental to being human.
There are a multitude of studies that show that regularly receiving touch decreases violence, increases trust, promotes stronger immunity, and helps with overall wellbeing. How does this work?
Massage, and touch in general, has been shown to increase production of oxytocin and serotonin, two of four neurotransmitters that are responsible for our happiness. Serotonin flows when you feel significant or important. Oxytocin creates feelings of trust, intimacy and builds healthy relationships and is essential for creating strong bonds and improved social interactions. Oxytocin, known as the cuddle hormone, can be released with something as simple as a hug.
While it’s not quite the same as receiving touch from another person, some of these same positive benefits can also be experienced through self massage.
Abhyanga (pronounced AhbYAWNga) is a form of self-massage that is derived from Ayurveda, the Indian system of medicine. Ayurveda has always included self massage as part of its daily regimen for promoting good health.
Performed daily, it can have the positive benefits of nourishing the entire body, lubricating the joints, increasing circulation and lymph flow, and promoting better sleep. It also gives you a chance to check in with your body and can soften, smooth and brighten your skin.
Traditionally, unrefined sesame oil is used to help warm the body. In the summer, an unrefined coconut oil can be used to help with excess heat in the body as it has a more cooling effect.
Self-Massage: Abhyanga Step by Step
Warm approximately 1/4 cup of oil using a glass jar in a vessel of warm water or a mug warmer.
Make sure the room is warm and comfortable.
Starting with your feet, take some time to rub the sesame oil into the soles of your feet.
Work your way up your legs with long strokes toward your heart, taking time around the joints with circular strokes (knees, hips, elbows).
Massage the abdomen and chest in broad, clockwise circular strokes.
On the belly, follow the path of the large intestine, moving up the right side of the stomach, across under your ribs, and down the left side in circular motions.
Finish the massage spending time on your face ears and scalp.
Let the oil sit on your skin for 5-15 minutes. This is a great time to throw on some old pajamas and cultivate your meditation practice.
Enjoy a warm bath or shower. Avoid using soap on the skin except for the more strategic areas to allow the oils to continue to nourish your skin. Try to avoid vigorously soaping and rubbing your body.
Towel dry gently, blotting away the moisture instead of rubbing your body dry.
The use of essential oils such as lavender or vanilla has been linked with the release of endorphins, which act to alleviate anxiety and depression.
Feel free to put a drop or two into your oil to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of these essential oils during your self-massage. Please take care getting in and out of the shower or bath with oil on your feet. You may want to use a warm washcloth to wipe your feet before bathing.
“The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries, or strenuous work. By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age”
Charaka Samhita Vol. 1, V: 88-89
(One of the Great ancient texts of Ayurveda)
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