This post was last updated on November 29, 2023 by srinivas krishnaswamy
In Ayurveda, the Abhyanga Massage is a very important part of the Dinacharya, that is, those practices to be done daily for good health.
All Ayurvedic texts have extolled the benefits of the Abhyanga massage and given it great importance. In India, from very ancient times, the oil bath or Abhyanga Snana has been an integral part of our daily lives. It has even been mentioned in the Srimad Valmiki Ramayana !
The definition of the Abhyanga Massage
The Abhyanga Massage is also commonly known as the Abhyanga Snana across India. It has two key parts :
1. The first part is the Abhyanga or Oil Massage – In this part, we select a suitable Ayurvedic skin oil & massage our entire body, in a vigorous manner. For the hair & scalp, we choose a suitable ayurvedic hair oil and apply it as usual. It is very important to note here that Abhyanga Massage is a self-massage. It is not to be done in a spa or by a masseuse. It is an act of self-care. (There are special cases like for very elderly people, for postpartum mothers & in certain medical treatments, the oil massage can be done by a trained therapist)
2. The second part is the Snana or Post massage bath – In this part, we use a special ubtan, which is an ayurvedic herb & grain bath powder to bathe with. The powder format of the ubtan helps to remove any excess oil from the skin and also cleanses gently
Who should do an Abhyanga ?
Short answer – everyone !
A regular abhyanga-snana is a keystone habit for good health for all of us, right from birth onwards. An oil massage for babies is a very important aid to a baby’s healthy growth and development. And and as the child grows and becomes an adult, the habit of Abhyanga should be maintained throughout life.
There are some important exceptions to this rule to be noted. Women should absolutely avoid Abhyanga during their periods. Pregnant women should also avoid Abhyanga except when advised by their Ayurvedic doctor. Those who are ill, recovering from surgery or feeling very tired & exhausted should also avoid the Abhyanga
Abhyanga Massage Benefits
There are numerous health benefits of Abhyanga massage given in the Ayurvedic texts
For example, Charaka Samhita ( one of the two fundamental ayurvedic texts) Volume 1, Chapter – 5, Slokas 88-89 say that :
“The body of one who does a regular Abhyanga does not get affected by accidents or strenuous physical work. A daily Abhyanga endows one with good skin, good physique and the body becomes strong, pleasant to look at, has good lustre and is not affected by old age”.
These are an extra-ordinary range of health benefits that have been widely observed in actual practise from ancient times. In our work at Krya in the last few years, we too have received an large number of very positive testimonials from our customers who regularly use our Abhyanga products.
It is important to note that you should make the Abhyanga massage a regular habit. At least once a week or better still , twice a week is a good Abhyanga frequency. The health benefits accrue to you with regular practise. Even though you may feel really good right after your very first Abhyanga, it is critical to stick to this habit for at least 2-3 months to start reaping all the benefits. Then you should strive to make the Abhyanga Snana a life-long habit.
Some health benefits that regular practitioners of Abhyanga experience are
1. Reduction in muscle fatigue, tiredness, and daily exhaustion
2.Reduction in insomnia or inability to sleep
3.Improvement in digestive ability – reduced wind, reduced feeling of constipation, reduced feeling of incomplete bowel movements
4.Better mental sharpness and clarity – you can work longer without feeling tired, fatigued or irritable
5. Better skin and hair health due to reduction in excess vata dosha – skin health improves almost immediately; hair health improves after a few month of regular abhyangas (depending on extent of vata imbalance)
Here is our detailed blog post on the many health benefits of regular Abhyanga Snana
How to get ready to do your Abhyanga Massage
1.It is very important to do your Abhyanga on an empty stomach. It is ideally done in the morning , after bowel movements, on an empty stomach. It is Ok to have tea or coffee before the Abhyanga
2. It is preferable to do your oil massage before 9 AM as a general guideline
3. Use a suitable Abhyanga oil for skin massage & a separate hair oil for hair & scalp application
4.On cold days, you can warm the Abhyanga oil by pouring it into a cup & then keeping that in a bowl of hot water. Do not heat the hair oil at all times.
5. Sit or stand on an old towel for your abhyanga. Ensure the room is free from draughts, the air conditioner is switched off. The fan is either switched off or at a very low speed.
6.If your workout regularly, then you can do your Abhyanga on your rest days. OR you can also do your abhyanga an hour after your workout, once you have cooled down
The Abhyanga Massage Technique
1. Massage oil generously and attentively on your body. We advise that the oil quantity should be such that your hands glide smoothly without any drag on your body.
2.Each part of the body should be massaged well a few times using easy, smooth and firm movements.
3. Start with the extremities: you can start with your head, neck, shoulders and arms, or your toes, ankles, calves and feet. Finish the extremities and move into the centre of your body for your chest, back and stomach.
4. Ensure you massage your head, hair and scalp with a suitable Ayurvedic hair oil.
5. The general rule of thumb in an abhyanga is to use long up-down strokes on the limbs and circular strokes on the joints. A continuous pulling stroke is used for fingers and toes. Circular strokes are usually done only clock-wise.
Special Abhyanga Procedure for certain body parts
1.The Ayurvedic texts like Ashtanga Hridayam give special emphasis to daily oil application of the feet. This Abhyanga procedure for the feet is called “Pada Abhyanga”
2. Use a generous quantity of oil and massage the soles of the feet and work on the toes and small bones.
3.In fact, you can also do only the Pada Abhyanga at night, just before sleeping. This helps relieve fatigue, improve vision & promotes better sleep
Use open and upward strokes for the chest area
1.Ensure abdomen is relaxed before massaging it.
2.Pay special attention to the nabhi (navel) as it is capable of sending nourishment to the veins and arteries in the body (which originate from here)
3.Use firm downward strokes of the front and back area of the lower abdomen to stimulate proper downward movement of Apana vayu
1.Pay special attention to the head of the shoulder and use circular clockwise movements in the abhyanga. Then focus on the front and back of the shoulder blades.
2.Interlock the fingers; work on the palm and all the fingers, especially if you use smart phones and computers frequently.
3.Pay special attention to the wrist and forearm as well, as they often carry vata-dosha from repetitive movements like typing, etc.
4.Deeply knead the palm and fingers to release excess vata-dosha there
Massage for the ears
1.Apply a drop of oil on your little finger and gently massage the oil into the outer ear canal & lobe using clockwise circular strokes
2.Massage using circular strokes behind the ear and allow the ear to remove any stiffness and vata accumulation, due to excess phone usage
Now you have completed the Oil Massage part of the Abhyanga Snana !
Do we need to allow the Oil to Soak after Massage ?
There is no need to allow for a long soak time after the oil massage. You can move ahead to the Snana ( bath) 5-10 minutes after completing the oil massage.
On cold days , those with a strong kapha-constitution & those prone to catching colds, the bath can be done immediately after the oil massage
Post Abhyanga Massage Snana (Bath)
It is very important to choose a good Ayurvedic ubtan for the bath. Soaps will NOT work on the oil massage day. An Ubtan is an specific herb & grain based formualation , in the powder format. The herbs chosen and the powder format help to remove the excess oil from your skin, help cleanse gently without drying out your skin
You can also use a suitable Krya hair-wash powder (choornam) to wash your hair as well.
Who should Avoid Abhyanga & When NOT to do an Abhyanga
An abhyanga should NOT be done by the following groups of people or at the following times
- Pregnant women should avoid Abhyanga in general
- Menstruating women should avoid Abhyanga (An abhyanga tends to release ama from the body, so this is not recommended when the body is already tired with the menstrual process)
- If you are running a temperature, have a digestive disorder or are acutely ill
- If you are extremely tired, have had high sun exposure or a very heavy and depleting exercise practice (for example: immediately after running a marathon)
- Immediately after meals or when the earlier meal has not yet been digested fully
- Do not do an oil massage over broken skin,
- Do not do an abhyanga over swollen painful areas or masses in the body
- Do not do an abhyanga if you have acute physical discomfort
- Do not do an abhyanga is you have been fasting
Post Abhyanga Snana Care
It is important to remember that the Abhyanga is a dosha balancing, health giving practice. If your vata dosha or pitta dosha is aggravated, the Abhyanga is going to physically bring down this dosha excess. So the abhyanga can cause some amount of temporary strain on the body during the process of restoring the body to its state of health.
So it is important not to strain your body further on the day of Abhyanga.
Important DONT’s on the Abhyanga Massage Day
- Do not go into the hot sun
- Do not over eat
- Do not eat difficult to digest food
- Do not eat very spicy or very sour meals
- Do not go for a long drive
- Do not do any form of extreme exercise after the Abhyanga
- Do not stay up late
- Do not over use your gadgets
- Do not eat sweet, mucous producing food
- Do NOT take an afternoon nap on Abhyanga day
Do NOT take an afternoon nap on the day of the Abhyanga even if you are severely tempted – one of the organs of releasing excess Pitta dosha is the eyes. Through tears and vapour, the eyes will release excess Pitta dosha through the day – if you close them and go to sleep in the day, this excess Pitta will stay within your body and could damage your body.
Here is what you should DO on abhyanga day
- Drink adequate amount of water as and when you get thirsty
- Use the toilet as often as the need strikes you – do not suppress your toxin release. All teh ama and excess doshas in your body will be flushed out through sweda (sweat), mutra (urine) and mala (faeces).
- Eat on time and eat easy to digest freshly cooked food
- Remain calm and seek tranquility and harmony
- Lead a day of moderation and balance
Importance of choosing the right products for your Abhyanga Massage
Ayurveda tells us that when the abhyanga oil is prepared with the right herbs and applied warm with vigorous motion, the herbs in the oil, the temperature of the oil , and the heat generated by the massage help open up the minute channels of the skin called Srotas. There is suction like effect as we continue to massage with the herbal oil. The texts tell us that the pitta in the skin helps absorb the properties of the oil, and vayu (air) transports these materials through the srotas into the seven layers of skin into the blood stream.
This absorption effect is applicable not just when we do an abhyanga. It is also seen when we put Ayurvedic masks (called lepas) , ubtans and bath powders ( choornams) on our skin
Ayurveda tells us that skin has 7 layers, so continued massage of the oil in our skin several strokes in each area, carries the medicated oil through the srotas upto the level of the blood in the body and gets absorbed in the blood stream. Once absorbed the medicated oil goes to work in the area where it has been applied, balancing the doshas and balancing excess aggravated doshas.
This is a very subtle physical process by which the srotas are opened & the materials transported trans-dermally
This is why it is so important to choose a completely natural set of products for use on the skin, as the property of the skin is to transport whatever is applied on it as nutrients into the bloodstream. Imagine the effect on our body of rubbing and applying synthetics like SLS, SLeS, Petroleum derivatives, and toxics like parabens, etc!
In sum, choosing the right abhyanga oil & the right ubtan can vastly enhance your abhyanga massage experience.
An Ideal Abhyanga Massage Schedule
The texts define the Abhyanga as a Dinacharya, which means it is habit that can be performed daily. Of course with all the precautions mentioned above on when & who should Avoid Abhyanga
In actual practise we have found that twice a week Abhyanga Snana is a good schedule to aim for and will give excellent health benefits. At the very least, once a week Abhyanga Massage is a goal that all of us should aim for. In addition, we can sneak in a few mini abhyangas & pada abhyangas each week
Further, as per long held custom and based on classical textual references, following recommendations are important to note
1.Tuesdays & fridays are ideal Abhyanga Days for Women
2.Wednesdays & Saturdays are ideal Abhyanga days for MEN
Conclusion & End Notes
We hope this Abhyanga Massage guide has armed with you with information to successfully incorporate this incredible Dinacharya into your life. The Abhyanga is a valuable tool to bring the body back to a state of balance and it gives us a wide range of great health benefits as mentioned in the texts. After the first few attempts, you will easily get the hang of the Abhyanga massage technique and also learn to listen deeply to the cues given by your body
The Abhyanga Massage is a great act of self-care & self love !
If you have any queries on how you can incorporate this Dinacharya into your life, please email us.
We also have additional articles on Abhyanga for post-partum women and Abhyanga for babies.
Krya products recommended for you and your family’s abhyanga:
- Krya Women’s Abhyanga systemwhich consists of
Krya Men’s Abhyanga system which consists of
For Babies, Toddlers & Kids
- Krya Pushti traditional baby massage oil (for all age groups)
- Krya Traditional Ubtan for baby girls (0-1 year)
- Krya Traditional Ubtan for baby boys (0-1 year)
- Krya Kids Ubtan for Girls
- Krya Kids Ubtan for Boys
Please note: If you , your family members or your child has skin prone to eczema, dermatitis or psoriasis, please explore our Sensitive Skin Range.