oil for Abhyanga self-massageGuest post by Sairupa Krishnamurti, student intern

Ayurveda Primer

Ayurveda is an ancient South Asian system of healing that dates back over thousands of years. From Sanskrit, ayu = life, and veda = wisdom. Ayurveda is often translated as the “knowledge of life, or science of life”. The medicine is vast, but throughout its nature-based teachings an emphasis is placed on self-awareness and self-care. Practices that one can do at home are often taught, such as breathing exercises, meditation, yoga and self-massage.

Self-massage and self-love

Ayurvedic oil massage is referred to as abhyanga, which works with both the physical and energetic body. While this treatment can be beautiful to receive by two hands or four (sometimes two practitioners will offer a session), self-abhyanga can be an equally satisfying experience. It’s something I enjoy recommending to clients as one way to commit to routine self-care, whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly massages.

Many years ago, when I first heard of self-massage performed on a regular basis, I assumed this was too time-consuming for most people to perform. I wondered about body mobility, and how this may be challenging for folks that have chronic pain. Once I started to give myself daily abhyanga however, I began to understand that modifying the massage based on how you are feeling is a powerful tool for self-awareness as well as the massage itself. For example, taking time before you begin to assess where your body might need extra love and attention. Likewise, if it’s too challenging to massage your whole body, you could massage just your feet, hands, or face. While you are massaging, you can also check in with your body, noting how you feel and if there are changes to your skin. What a great way to honour yourself!

Within Ayurveda, the oil is a central part of the massage. By applying it to the body, it helps to bring balance to an individual’s “dosha” or elemental makeup. Ayurveda is a medicine that is individualized depending on the health requirements of the person, so oils are often selected or medicated based on this. An oil that is tri-doshic or for all “constitutions”, is sesame seed oil (cold-pressed, not-toasted). It is recommended to always apply oil to your skin that you would eat, since the skin is the largest bodily organ. Choose edible oils, organic when possible.  Avoid perfumed, rancid, and/or mineral oils. The Sanskrit term for external oil application is “snehana”, and the word Sneha translates to mean love. When doing abhyanga we can think of the oil as an extra dose of nourishment and care into our system.

Benefitsoil for Abhyanga self-massage

Although there are many obvious benefits to self-abhyanga such as stress & pain relief, other documented benefits include the following:

  • Eliminates fatigue
  • Strengthens immunity and longevity
  • Promotes deeper sleep
  • Protects skin prone to eczema
  • Nourishes dry skin
  • Improves the eye sight
  • Encourages sturdiness and strength of the muscles and organs
  • Improves digestion and detoxification
  • Encourages the smooth flow of prana, also known as ‘life force energy’
  • Promotes self-awareness

How to do a “Self-Love-Abhyanga”

An oil that works well with most constitutions or “doshas” is cold-pressed sesame oil. If you are sensitive to nuts or seeds, you could also try olive or coconut oil.

  • Place a bottle, stainless steel cup, or jar of oil in a mug or bowl of hot water until the oil is pleasantly warm. Avoid heating the oil directly as this changes it’s properties.
  • Sit or stand comfortably in a warm room, on a towel that you don’t mind getting oil on. Make sure you’re protected from any wind (open window, door, etc.). You could perform the massage after your shower, or before.
  • Take a couple of deep breaths before beginning, and pay attention to where your body might need extra care. Hold the oil in your hands for a couple of moments, and begin by massaging one of 3 energy centers: the top of your head, your heart or your navel.
  • Using the center part of your hand, begin to massage the oil into your entire body, starting at the extremities and working towards your heart. Use long strokes on the limbs and circular strokes on the joints. Massage the abdomen in clockwise, circular motions. On the abdomen, follow the path of the large intestine; moving up on the right side of the abdomen, then across, and then down on the left side.
  • Once a week, give a little extra time to massage your scalp, ears and feet. When applying oil to the crown of your head and work slowly out from the center in circular strokes.

towels and candles for self-massageTips

  • If dealing with chronic pain and/or a mobility issue, consider doing daily massage to important energy centers such as the hands, feet, abdomen, or chest, depending on what is accessible to your mobility.
  • Traditionally abhyanga would be performed before a bath or shower as the hot water can help penetrate the oil into the skin. Some people choose not to use soap on the extremities and this can be helpful for eczema or severe dry skin. If choosing to perform before a shower, wipe your feet before stepping into the tub and be careful not to slip!
  • Alternatively, massage after a bath, or before going to sleep can be wonderful and also effective.
  • Use a towel you don’t mind getting oily. It is likely to get soaked in oil after the massage (even after a shower).
  • Take your time and enjoy!


  • Never perform abhyanga during menstruation, pregnancy, fever, acute illness, or on skin with open wounds.

Sairupa Krishnamurti studied Ayurveda at The Center for Ayurveda and Indian Systems of Healing from 2008-2010. She is currently completing her clinical internship in Naturopathic Medicine at CCNM. Sairupa is taking patients under Cyndi Gilbert’s mentorship on Wednesdays throughout the summer of 2015.