How To Practice Self-Care With Abhyanga – An Ayurvedic Anti-Aging Ritual
“Self-care is so important.
When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from overflow.
You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”
– Eleanor Brown, novelist
Many of us are running ragged without even realizing it.
If you find yourself chronically stressed, overwhelmed, tired, achy, irritable, or emotional then it may be time for a little self-nurturing reset.
This doesn’t have to be a big or expensive ordeal.
You don’t even need to leave your house.
But you do need to commit to yourself and create space for it.
Self-care is a form of yoga practice
In yoga and Ayurveda, self-care is an important part of the equation because without it we’re more likely to experience disconnection, mindlessness, and suffering.
These things are the exact opposite of the main goal of yoga – union, connection, awareness, and inner calm.
According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the oldest most authoritative texts on classical yoga practice, there are 8 Limbs or stages of acquiring yogic power.
Yogic power isn’t about how well you can do advanced poses (asanas) or how flexible your body is; it’s about how well you can advance your mind and how flexible your emotions are.
Yogic power is about mindfully responding to life instead of impulsively reacting to it.
Self-care and self-nurturing (Ahimsa) are the foundation of the 8 stages of acquiring yogic power.
Ahimsa is the first of five self-regulating behaviors known as the Yamas in Classical yoga.
The yogic principle of Ahimsa is usually thought of as non-harm and non-violence, but at its essence, it goes far beyond that.
It’s also about self-compassion and having benevolent intentions towards oneself.
‘Do no harm’ is one of Ahimsa’s mottos.
‘Love thyself first, then others’ is another.
The power of rituals for restoring harmony & well-being
“Rituals are the formulas by which harmony is restored.”
– Terry Tempest Williams, writer
The yogic lifestyle invites us to adopt small empowering habits and nurturing rituals that when practiced wholeheartedly over time deliver yogic powers in the form of increased vital energy, deeper intuition, and enhanced youthfulness.
Rituals don’t have to be long, drawn-out processes we “have to do.”
They can be small, pleasurable acts of love we get to do and we choose to do.
The benefits of the Abhyanga ritual for youth-enhancing beauty and wellness
One such ritual is called Abhyanga, the ayurvedic practice of self-massage and self-anointing with oils.
According to ancient Ayurvedic texts, this simple practice offers anti-aging (youth-enhancing) effects when practiced regularly if not daily:
“Abhyanga should be resorted to daily. It wards off old age, exertion, and aggravation of vata.”
– Ashtanga Hrdayam: Sutrasthana: II: 8-9
Additional benefits of Abhyanga:
- Soothes the nervous system
- Relaxes tense muscles
- Decreases stress hormones
- Increases inner calm and relaxation
- Reduced tiredness and fatigue
- Can enhance deep, restorative sleep and rest
- Support detoxification
- Softer, healthier skin (the largest organ in the body!)
- Improved circulation and lymphatic drainage
- Improved vision
- Increased vital energy
It’s believed that the benefits of Abhyanga are amplified when self-massage is accompanied by the healing power of essential oils and ayurvedic oils.
In Ayurvedic philosophy, the act of enveloping or anointing yourself with oils is also an act of self-love.
How to practice Abhyanga:
Ideally, you’ll want to dedicate at least 15 minutes to this self-love and anti-aging ritual.
Doing it daily is ideal, but you can make this a weekly ritual too.
The point is to do whatever is going to work best for your life and your schedule as long as you practice with consistency.
This practice is traditionally performed in the morning to better help your body get rid of toxins, but evenings are ok too, especially if you experience chronic stress, anxiety, or trouble sleeping.
Think of it as a moving meditation where you place your one-pointed focus (dharana) and full attention on the specific body part you’re massaging.
Become present and mindful of your tissues, your skin, and your entire body.
Bless your body and thank it for everything it does to keep you healthy.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- A small closeable bottle that’s easy to pour. (Better if it’s dark glass or at least non-BPA plastic.)
- At least 3 large towels you don’t mind getting oily.
- Organic fractionated coconut oil, jojoba oil, neem oil, almond oil or sesame oil
- Organic, high-quality essential oils that are known to be calming like lavender, sandalwood, ylang-ylang, rosemary, or vetiver.
- Hot water
- A large glass, metal, or non-BPA plastic bowl
- Place about ½ cup of your oil of choice in the bottle and add 10-12 drops of essential oil
- Add the hot water to the bowl and place your bottle in the water to warm the oils before use. Leave it for a few minutes until it’s fully warmed.
- Place a dry towel under you or sit on the floor on top of the towel (near your shower or tub) so you don’t slip.
- Start with your scalp and apply the oil thoroughly massaging your head in a circular motion. (There are energetic points known as marma points in your head that can become activated by the movement.) Bring all of your senses and attention to your head and scalp and breathe slowly and deeply as you work this part.
- Now move onto the face and keep massaging your temples, cheeks, eyelids, jaw, ears, forehead, and neck in circular, upward movements. Again, keeping your attention on the area you’re working on. Breathing deeply and slowly. Feeling gratitude and love for this body part.
- Move onto your limbs now. Using longer strokes on your arms and legs and circular motion on your joints (elbows, knees). Massage strokes should be in the direction of your heart center.
- Now massage your chest and abdomen. Directing awareness and appreciation to your heart and digestive system. Thanking both for the incredible intelligence they display in keeping your body functioning. Keep breathing deeply and slowly. Use circular clockwise motions.
- Next massage your shoulders, your back, and your buttocks. Again, tapping into gratitude. Again, breathing mindfully as you massage and bless these areas.
- Finish with your feet and hands – both of which have many energetic points that help vital energy flow throughout the different systems of the body.
- Finally, allow the oils to seep into the deeper layers of the skin for a minimum of five minutes. Place your left hand over your lower belly and your right hand over your heart center and take this time for some gentle pranayama (yoga breathing). Inhale for 5 counts, hold for 2 counts, and exhale for 7 counts… keep repeating this pattern for at least five minutes.
- You’re now ready for your warm shower or bath to wash off the oils.