After our explorations into settling imbalances in the mind through Sight, Sound, and Smell, it’s time to turn our attention towards the body. As you recall, we are able to satisfy and support our dosha physically through the senses of Taste and Touch.
Considering that our skin is actually the largest organ of the body, it makes wonderful sense that Touch offers such a potent and powerful method of healing. We have access to this entire system of nerve receptors and can send specific messages to our body to help shift our state of being—physically, emotionally, and energetically.
A mindful, intentional approach to healing touch can encourage energy to flow in a variety of ways. Many of us are well-aware of the scientifically-supported benefits of massage, and it certainly is a treat when we can receive this healing from others. However, this indulgence isn’t always feasible for our schedules or our pocketbooks.
Through an ancient practice of Ayurveda, we can recreate the spa at home with a self-massage known in Sanskrit as Abhyanga. This is a daily routine that you will leave you feeling nurtured from top to bottom.
Abhyanga & the Sense of Touch
Abhyanga—or Abhy, in short—is a ritual of anointing our bodies from head to toe in warm, herbalized oils. It helps to restore vital nutrients, improve skin and muscle tone, promote cellular regeneration, and improve circulation, among countless other benefits. It’s ideal to practice Abhy as an every-day ritual, though you can start with once a week and allow your practice to grow naturally. There are many ways to customize the treatment for Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, which we will dive into in a moment.
First, let’s explore the basic sequence for all body constitutions.
Begin by warming your oil to a comfortable temperature. You can use a double boiler, coffee mug warming plate or, in a pinch, the microwave. Vata and Kapha will benefit from oil as warm as is comfortable. Pitta is best to use lukewarm oil, so as not to overheat the already fiery constitution.
Begin at the crown of your head. Place a small amount of oil in your palms, rub together, and massage all over the scalp. From your hairline to the front, all the way to the nape of your neck, with even attention to left and right sides. Use your fingertips with a comfortable pressure.
Move to your face, paying special attention to the areas where we tend to hold tightness and tension—the brow, temples, cheeks, and jaw. Don’t forget your ears! There are many energy centers (known as marma points) here that stimulate healing throughout the rest of the body. Flow into sweeping movements down your neck and throat—front, back, and both sides.
As we move through the rest of the body, apply more oil to the palms before each major section/step. We want to get nice and slick to really receive the benefits of this anointing!
Then move into massaging your shoulder, upper back, and arm of the left side with right hand. As you work your way down, use circular motions on the joints (shoulder, elbow, wrist) and long stroking motions when you arrive at the bicep/tricep and forearm. Don’t skip on massaging your hand and all the way down to each fingertip. Think about “pulling” stuck, stale energy out of your body through the fingers to be released. Allow the left hand to play masseuse now as you repeat on the right side.
Using both hands, massage your chest muscles with the intention of opening the heartspace. Then move towards the belly, creating broad circular motions around the abdomen. It’s important to follow the direction of the ascending and descending colon to promote digestion and stimulate our metabolism…So move in a clockwise motion. Up on the right, across the solar plexus, down the left side, and sweeping back across the lower abdomen to the right. Circle around 5-10 times.
We move now to the lower body with a similar pattern as the arms, though this time both hands on each side. Start at the hip, creating circular motions around the joint. Give some love to your glutes and lower back as well. Then, move into a stroking motion down the quads and hamstrings. Gentle circles for the knees, and strokes along the shin and calf. After circling around the ankles, massage your feet with the same care as the hands. Take your time on all the sensitive tendons and muscles, and draw energy out of each toe. Repeat on left and right.
In addition to the healing properties of touch alone, oils are extremely beneficial to the physical body. Thus, it’s ideal to leave the oil on your skin for as long as possible. After your Abhy, sit for 5-20 minutes in meditation to receive the gifts of this practice. When you shower afterwards, use a mild soap or simply rinse with water and soap only the “high-traffic” areas.
You can move through the entire Abhy process in about 5-10 minutes, though do feel free to extend the process and truly enjoy—especially on days when your physical body is calling for extra attention and care.
Self-massage is an amazing practice for anyone, of any constitution. To customize the experience for your specific dosha, consider the following tips.
VATA // Body Imbalance
- An accumulation of Space + Air creates a physical experience of Dryness, Bloating, Gassiness, and Cold.
- Temper with qualities Fire, Water + Earth to influence effects that are Warming, Comforting, and Moistening.
Healing Vata through TOUCH
- Type of Oil to Use: heavy, warming oils such as sesame, almond or macadamia.
- Ideal Style of Massage: slow, steady movements that produce a nurturing effect. Use generous amounts of oil to nourish this dry constitution.
- Spend Extra Attention On: the hips, legs and feet with the intention of grounding down into the earth.
PITTA // Body Imbalance
An accumulation of Fire + Water creates a physical experience of Inflammation, Skin Irritation, Heartburn, and Heat.
- Temper with qualities of Space, Air + Earth to influence effects that are Soothing, Cooling, and Sweet.
Healing Pitta through TOUCH
- Type of Oil to Use: cooling, anti-inflammatory oils such as coconut or avocado.
- Ideal Style of Massage: loving, purposeful movements that have a soothing effect. Use as little or as much oil as you personally prefer.
- Spend Extra Attention On: the heart and shoulders with the intention of relieving the pressure that Pittas tend to place on themselves.
KAPHA // Body Imbalance
- An accumulation of Water + Earth creates a physical experience of Sluggishness, Slow Digestion, Oily Skin, and Coolness.
- Temper with qualities of Space, Air + Fire to influence effects that are Stimulating, Lightening, and Warming.
Healing Kapha through TOUCH
- Type of Oil to Use: dry, invigorating oils such as safflower or olive.
- Ideal Style of Massage: quick, enlivening motions that will awaken this sluggish dosha. Use very minimal amounts of oil, as Kapha already has an abundance in its constitution. You may even experiment with replacing oil with a dry brush or garshan glove and following the above sequence.
- Spend Extra Attention On: the belly to promote digestion and metabolism, and the crown to move stagnant energy upwards.