Craving physical touch? Try Abhyanga (self-massage) for the Ultimate Self-Care Ritual

Craving physical touch? Try Abhyanga (self-massage) for the Ultimate Self-Care Ritual

by Andrea Pacini May 03, 2020

As we are all discovering during this time of isolation and quarantine - human touch is incredibly important. When our ability to connect with and nurture one another with a warm handshake or huge hug is restricted, it can take a toll on our emotional and mental well-being.

During this time, many of us have been forced to go within and face certain discomforts. A silver lining of this may be that by moving through the unpleasant things we've been avoiding, we discover that we are empowered to comfort and soothe ourselves. 

The ancient Ayurvedic practice of self-massage, or abhyanga (pronounced 'abby on guh') is a truly tangible way to nurture ourselves. Abhyanga involves massaging warm oil specific to your dosha, or innate constitution, all over your body from scalp to feet.

I began this practice in late January after seeing an amazing Ayurvedic counselor who recommended that I incorporate it into my morning routine.

Benefits of Abhyanga include:

  • increased circulation and more efficient organ function
  • improved sleep, decreased stress
  • improved joint health
  • improved detoxification by moving lymph fluid
  • improved muscle tone
  • also said to improve vision, stimulate healthy hair growth, soften the skin and decrease the signs of aging

An excerpt from one of the preeminent Ayurvedic texts Chakara Samhita states:

"By using massage oil daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age."


My dosha is predominately Pitta, which means that I naturally run hot and need to balance that heat with cooling supplements, herbs and oils. So I began this practice using a pitta-specific oil every morning. By the next month's visit, I was more in balance and transitioned to a tridoshic oil, which is a blend suitable for all doshas (there are several free online tests that will help you determine your dosha if you don't know yours).

If Ayurveda seems overwhelming or you're not ready to dip your toe in just yet, this practice can be performed with any oil - coconut, safflower or sunflower are good basic bases. If you like a little more pizzazz, many companies make beautiful ritual oils. I love to support local small businesses and I really enjoy Fey Herba's handcrafted enchanted oils.

I'm not much of a stickler for rules when it comes to self-care as I strongly believe that everyone is on their own path. It's easy to get bogged down in dos and don'ts - should I do this every day, do I really have to pour warm oil into my hair, I don't have enough time to give myself a 20-minute massage every morning, I don't want to make a mess of my shower and bathroom - all valid questions and points. I believe in starting with what you're intuitively comfortable with and truly enjoying the ritual rather than feeling as though you're going through the motions because you "have to."

I don't wash my hair every day and I don't love the idea of saturating my scalp with oil so the only time I've actually applied oil directly to my hair is before a detox bath and shower at night. Sometimes I don't have time for the full massage, but I at least like to do my feet, calves, legs and tummy. I have found this to be a very soothing and comforting practice - my favorite aspect is that I find that it increases intimacy with self. There is something very luxurious about applying a beautifully-scented oil to your body that really supports healing and self-love on all levels. Spending 15 minutes spoiling myself every morning has made it increasingly more difficult for me to engage in self-sabotaging behavior and sugar binges.

 Some basic guidelines for self-massage:

1. Use circular upward movements - start with the scalp and work your way down (I don't use oil on my scalp or face) making sure to include the earlobes

2. Use long strokes on the arms and legs and circular strokes on the joints

3. Massage towards the heart

4. For abdominal massage, stroke up the right side then across then down the left side

5. The feet are incredibly important as they contain multiple marma points - or concentrated locations where prana (life force) dwells. Stimulating these points can ensure that respiratory, circulatory, reproduction and digestive functions in the body are performing optimally.

6. Try to sit for 10-15 minutes before rinsing off so that the oil can penetrate (I lay down on my back and meditate with a crystal during this time)

Additional tips:

1. I like to keep an "oil towel" (mine is dark gray) nearby so I can rub the excess off before showering.

2. Sometimes an abhyanga foot massage before bed is a nice compromise if your mornings are cramped for time (I like to wear socks afterwards).

3. You can pour about 1/4 cup of oil into a glass cup and microwave for 20 seconds or place the bottle into a mug of hot water. Or you can vigorously rub your hands together and use room-temp oil - this is your practice and your body - do what works for you!

Have you ever performed self-message? What are your favorite oils to work with?




Andrea Pacini
Andrea Pacini


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