The morning time is an invitation to set a positive precedent for the rest of your day. How do you usually feel in the mornings? Do you crave coffee? Do you want to go right back to bed? I believe developing a nurturing morning routine leads to greater success during the day and a more peaceful bedtime experience. This is why for the next few weeks, I'd like to discuss tools for a healthy morning routine.
Today, I will introduce a technique that I use first thing in the morning: abhyanga. The Sanskrit definition of abhyanga quite literally translates to "massage." You can go to an Ayurvedic spa or hire a specialist and experience abhyanga firsthand. However, today I want to discuss the simple and affordable task of self-massage.
Incorporating self-massage in the morning routine has made a huge impact on my life as well as the lives of my clients. Through the oil-based abhyanga technique, you can improve your skin, your mental health and your general wellbeing.
One of the oldest Ayurvedic texts (it dates back at least 3,500 years!) details the benefits of abhyanga to the body:
“The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries or strenuous work. By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts, and becomes strong, charming, and least affected by old age.”—Caraka Saṁhitā Sū 5/88–99
If pleasant touch and gentle aging don't pique your interest, I don't know what will!
Benefits of Abhyanga Ayurveda
Abhyanga benefits your physical and mental health. Engaging in this style of massage absolutely qualifies as an act of self-care to start your morning. If you make a habit of self-massage, you will begin to experience these improvements to your health:
Healing of imbalance in aggravated doshas (for a reminder of the doshas, check out my post that unpacks each of the three)
Improvement in digestion
Strengthening of the dhatus, or the 7 bodily tissues
Added harmony to the prana, or your life force
Reinvigoration of your overall mind, body and spirit
I invite you to try out abhyanga Ayurveda if you have been experiencing strain on your mental health in the form of anxiety or lethargy, or physical discomfort such as constipation or psoriasis.
Abhyanga Ayurveda: The Steps
Now that we've explored the abhyanga benefits, I will give you clear and easy steps for this positive addition to your morning routine.
What You'll Need
In Western culture we tend to use lotions for our massages. However, I maintain the belief that you must treat the skin, the largest organ you have, as you would the rest of your body. In other words, if you wouldn't feel comfortable literally eating a spoon full of the product you apply to your skin, don't use it.
Before you begin your Ayurvedic massage, make sure you have the correct oil. The two oils I recommend are organic coconut oil and sesame seed oil. When purchasing the sesame seed oil, check to make sure you aren't buying the toasted version. Toasted sesame seed oil has completely different properties and would not be appropriate for this technique.
When choosing which oil to use, consider the time of year. I recommend using coconut oil in the summer time as it contains cooling properties and sesame oil in the winter time when its warming qualities will benefit you most. In the spring or fall, you can mix the two for that balance of warm and cool.
How to Get Started
In order to get the most of of your abhyanga experience, warm the oil before applying it to your skin. Avoid the microwave as it may change the natural properties of the oil. Instead, pour a quarter of a cup of oil in a mason jar. Put the mason charge in a double boiler and test the oil with your finger to make sure it is warm, not hot. We want to warm our skin, not burn it.
The Massage Technique
Abhyanga massage is easy to learn how to do. Make sure to massage your body before you eat breakfast. Abhyanga can disrupt digestion if done directly after eating.
Start by applying the oil to your head and face. If you don't want to wash your hair, tie it up and apply the oil to your face. I like to add a little bit of oil to my ears and the insides of my nostrils. Give yourself a relaxing face and head massage. Continue to work your way down to your upper body, stomach and legs. Don't forget about hidden areas like your armpits.
Make sure that you are generous with the amount of oil that you use. I like to apply it to my body and wait a few minutes to see if it dries. If I no longer see the oil on my skin, I add another layer. The ideal oil and technique will vary based on your prakriti, or Ayurvedic constitution. If you're ready to create an experience that's custom for your body and mind, review our recent post.
While abhyanga has many benefits, there are times that the massage can harm you rather than help you. Do not engage in self-massage if you are sick, if you are in the first three to four days of menstruation and/or if you notice symptoms of ama (toxins) in your body. These symptoms include sluggish digestion, foul smell in the form of breath or body oder, body aches, and/or heavy coating on the tongue.
If you are pregnant, consult an Ayurvedic physician or OBGYN before engaging in the massage. However, if you just had a baby and have entered the postpartum stage, massage can be incredibly supportive.
Self-Massage as Self-Care: Start Your Morning With Love
Sneha, the Sanskrit word for oil, also translates to love. With that in mind, my last invitation to you is to apply the oil to your body in a loving way.
Abhyanga promotes moisturized skin and will help you create a sense of grounding during this time that, let's be honest, seriously lacks balance and assurance. If you are interested in trying out this act of self-love, pick up some oil and start your morning with a gentle massage.
Are interested in incorporating confidence and stability in your morning routine? Do you want to learn more about Ayurvedic massage? As we shift from summer to fall and prepare for the changes ahead, I am here to help you maintain grounded and loving practices each day. Schedule your free breakthrough session with Lauren Baptiste. This session will help you identify how to customize a health plan that's made-for-you.