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.