Ayurveda is a system of medicine originating in India. Western scholars believe that it originated between 2500-600BC. Eastern scholars believe it originated around 4500BC. Like Chinese medicine it works with nature and the elements. It’s basic principles look at the cycles of nature and living in harmony with these cycles. Ayurveda is a sandskrit word meaning life (ayus) and knowledge (veda).
Depending where in India you go, the practices of Ayurvedic medicine can differ. Ayurvedic medicine is a big part of India’s health care. There are over 250 colleges and universities that specialize in Ayurvedic medicine with 8 branches of different health care. Most of these branches specialize in the treatment of disease and a few work with preserving health and vigor.
Ayurveda looks to treat the underlying causes of symptoms in individuals rather than to treat general symptoms the same way in everyone. They look at individuals according to their constitutions in relationship to the 5 elements that form the foundation of Ayurveda, earth, air, fire, water and ether. The three main constitution types are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Using the lense of these body types, Ayurveda uses diets, exercises, specific herbs and seasonal cleansing techniques, including massage to help the body be balanced. One of the main cleansing programs in Ayurveda is called panchakarma. In panchakarma, you work with an Ayurvedic doctor and follow a specific protocol for a certain length of time. This can last from 1 week for up to 3 or 4 months. Massage is a big part of the preparation and also during the cleanse to help the body prepare for and integrate the experience.
Abhyanga is a classic Ayurvedic massage techniques. It is a Sanskrit word meaning to rub(abhy) and limb (anga). It was primarily used to prepare the body for the panchakarma. Using warm herbalized oil and specific strokes including circles at the joints and long strokes on the long bones.. Abhyanga has many benefits. The herbalized oil penetrates the skin, relaxes the body and mind, nourishes the nervous system, breaks up impurities in the body, and stimulates arterial and lymphatic circulation. Despite the many variations, they are all similar goals and are originated form the same source.
The strokes of Abhyanga work with the energy body as well. In Ayurveda there are three main energetic channels/parts to the body. The subtle energy bodies (vayus), the marma points (called nadis, that are similar to acupuncture points in Chinese medicine) and the chakras. The strokes help to clear and open these channels to restore them to their optimal function.
In John Douillard’s Book, The Encyclopedia of Ayurvedic Massage he writes: “The treatment must be embarked upon with the intention not to heal the pain with deeper massage pressure but to bring the guest’s awareness into a state of silence so they can be more self-aware and ultimately heal themselves….”
So much about the session is about the heartfelt intention of the practitioner to hold a safe healing space for the receiver.
There is much depth to Ayurveda. The information is meant as an introduction and is just skimming the surface. My understanding of this work comes mainly from my experience as a massage therapist. I have enjoyed receiving this work and I have found it brings me into a deep state of relaxation and peace, in a way that is different from a western massage. I also enjoy the fullness of the strokes. Traditionally draping is done with a towel and the chest/breasts are exposed. This allows for stokes that cover the entire body and stimulate the lymph. If women are uncomfortable a breast drape is used. The comfort and safety of the client always comes first.
Self Abhyanga is a great practice and benefits the body in much the same way as receiving Abhyanga does. In Ayurveda, they recommend everyday, but I think it’s important to bring it into your life in a way that works for you. It’s better to do it once a week, than try to do it everyday and then be hard on yourself when you don’t do it. Remember, it’s about self-love not a dogmatic health practice!
Done regularly, it helps the lymph system and the skin function optimally. When the skin is oiled and moist, it allows the skin to toxins and waste efficiently in to the lymph system. The skin is one of the primary organs (along with the liver and the kidneys) of both processing and eliminating toxins. Oil cannot block the small lymph drainage channels in the deeper layers of the skin because the lipid molecules are too big to penetrate the channels, unlike chemical lotions that can obstruct the channels. Studies are finding that skin is a very effective way to deliver substances into the blood stream. Some medicines are placed topically for this reason. It is also common, if you rub raw garlic on your feet, you will have garlic odor on your breath 20 minutes later. What you place on your skin can affect your body in both positive and negative ways.
The oil can be put on before you shower or in the shower after you are done shampooing and cleaning yourself. Organic, cold pressed oils are best for this. Sesame(warming), sunflower(cooling) and coconut(cooling) are great choices.
Abhyanga is a deeply relaxing session and worth a try especially if you have never tried it. I love receiving this work and I know you will too!
Douillard, Dr. John. The Encyclopedia of Ayurvedic Massage. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2004. Print.
Douillard, John. Perfect Health for Kids. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2004. Print.
Morrison, Kim & Whelligen, Fleur. Like an Apple a Day. Wetton: Double Story Books, 2004. Print.
How do we end up on our path? I have often wondered this. Sometimes you can pinpoint that moment that you had two paths before you and you choose a certain direction. Sometimes we find ourselves on a path not knowing exactly how we got there.
I am reminded of Robert Frost’s poem, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth; Then took the other, as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there had worn them really about the same, and both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
I think back to my senior year in high school and I really wanted to study massage. My mother felt it would be better for me to go to college. I decided to travel that path, well, for 1 year at least. At my college there was a professor Jeff Noblett who taught Reiki to students. I remember sitting in his house with his two Reiki teachers. We listened to their stories of their healing paths. We learned about the chakras and about opening up to the universal energy to fill our cups and let the energy flow out of our hands to heal. My world was forever changed. I knew then, that I needed to follow my heart and pursue massage.
My mother was not very happy with my decision at first. She slowly warmed up to the idea. She has so often supported me in my life decisions. Once I started down that road, I think she saw that it was a good path for me to take. So at 19, I left the northeast and headed out to California to study massage. Little did I know this would be not a path of learning to heal others, but really the beginning of my own healing path. Healing always starts with ourselves. We can look outside and try to grasp at whatever is in front of us. It is not until we are willing to be with who we are and accept ourselves in all our light and darkness, our strengths and weaknesses, does our healing start. I’ve also found this process of acceptance does not end, it is constant work.
Gardening often comes to my mind when I think of relationships, our relationships to ourselves and our relationships with others. With a garden, you have to create the beds to plant the seeds and feed the soil with nutrients and compost. Once the seeds are planted in the earth you have to water and weed out any plants that are inhibiting space for them to grow and flourish. The elements are also a factor. You have to make sure they get enough sun and water. Sometimes there is not enough rain or too much rain. Sometimes some little critter comes and eats all the plants you have spend so much time nurturing. All the while, you have to weed and tend the garden beds. Garden beds left unattended take a little extra work to tame. Sometimes it gets too overgrown and you get overwhelmed by it and let it go completely.
If all goes well, you get to watch the plants blossom and grow. Then you can harvest them just at the right moment. With some plants, like lettuces, if you wait to long. they become bitter and un-edible. Some if you harvest them to young, they are are un-edible. Once you have enjoyed the harvest, you have to clear the beds and let them rest and prepare them for the next year. It’s a lot of work and it doesn’t end. Day after day and year after year. This is why I have deep respect for farmers!
Our relationship to our own healing journey requires constant tending. When we nourish and support ourselves, we can also reap the benefits of that. Sometimes storms come along out of the blue and it takes time to rebuild and recover.
My friend said to me once, “Healing is a process and not an event.” This is so true. We always wish for the quick fix, but healing can take time and persistence.
So now many years later, I’m still on my healing path. I sometimes feel parched or drenched, but I always know the earth is beneath me supporting me and holding me in all the many facets of who I am.
I am glad I chose this road of learning to heal. It definitely hasn’t been without it challenges, but it has also had many gifts. One of my teachers says, “Our greatest curse is our greatest gift.” This is also so true. So often those things that challenge us, lead us on the path we are today. I do have regrets in my life, but I don't think I would trade the paths I've taken because I wouldn't be here. Right here in this moment. Trusting in my path is the only way I can see the light along the way. What is that saying, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger?
I don't often know how to relate this idea of trust to the greater suffering in the world. My heart breaks to hear about death and war, all the families torn apart and displaced, and amazing historical places destroyed. I have so much priviledge in my life and try to share my light in the ways I can. I see part of sharing my light is trusting in my own path.
Sometimes our paths take us out of our comfort zone. We risk losing ourselves or more importantly finding ourselves. Sometimes we have to take those risks and hurt others to be true to ourselves. I've been both the person taking the risk and moving on. I've also been the person that is left behind. Neither are easy or comfortable, but all those experiences are woven into the threads of our lives and make up the fabric of who we are. It's always a dance to not feel bound and inhibited by those threads, but integrating those threads into ourself and find contentment with just being ok with who we are. It's also a dance not to get caught up in the idea of where we think we need to be or our perception of what others think of where we are. Even if we feel stuck, it's ok, we are still on our path.
Just like that garden, we are constantly going through our own cycles of death and rebirth. Physically, we see this on a cellular level. Our cells die and reproduce all the time. I feel like this also happens emotionally and spiritually. Trusting that path and the cycles that life brings you.
So if you are reading this, you have made it to the end of my pondering for the moment. I’m not sure what I have to offer here on this blog. My hope is that I can offer some inspiration to you as you walk the paths in your life and give you strength and hope to trust the paths you take so it can make all the difference.