The application of oil in ayurveda is one of its most well-known therapies. Oils, according to ancient ayurvedic tradition, can help manage weight, promote better sleep, achieve clearer skin and reduce stress.
As a massage therapist, you are probably aware of the three body types, or doshas, in ayurveda: vata, pitta and kapha. Vata and kapha body types benefit most from warming oils; the common point between people with vata and kapha natures is they tend to feel cold. An oil such as sesame helps warm the system, and can be relaxing and revitalizing. Pitta people, those with a sharper, more type-A temperament, enjoy more cooling oils, such as olive or coconut. These oils can help de-stress the mind.
Regardless of body type, the application of oil with massage can help enhance your work and further your client’s treatment goals. Sesame, olive and coconut are good standards to keep on hand; here are three more oils that can add an ayurvedic touch to a massage session, depending on which body type your client most identifies with or which of her doshas may be out of balance. (All statements regarding these oils’ specific health benefits are supported by information in Ayurveda & Aromatherapy: The Earth Essential Guide to Ancient Wisdom and Modern Healing, by Light Miller, N.D., and Bryan Miller, D.C.)
This oil has been used for thousands of years in ayurvedic medicine for calming the mind and dealing with an array of physical and emotional health problems. Sandalwood oil has the potential to benefit the reproductive and nervous systems, marrows, plasma, muscular and circulatory systems. Sandalwood oil also:
- repairs, rejuvenates and nourishes skin and hair.
- has a cooling effect on the brain and a calming effect on the mind, which makes it a good meditation tool.
- helps ease pain, inflammation, and digestive and respiratory problems.
Dosha-balancing benefits: Sandalwood oil reduces pitta or vata; it has a neutral effect on kapha.
Rosemary is touted for its memory-enhancing power and antidepressant properties. Health conditions that may benefit from rosemary oil include halitosis, upset stomach, headache, and insect bites and stings. Rosemary should be in everyone’s medicine cabinet, because it:
- nourishes the hair and skin.
- may help improve memory and cognitive performance.
- has stimulating and antidepressant properties that can help improve stress-related disorders, such as nervous exhaustion, depression, fear, fatigue and anxiety.
Dosha-balancing benefits: Rosemary oil reduces kapha and vata; its warming qualities can increase pitta.
Patchouli is believed to help correct emotional imbalances including depression, stress and anxiety, along with numerous skin problems. Patchouli essential oil:
- can be used in skin care to alleviate acne, eczema and inflammation.
- might boost mental clarity by defusing jealousy and feelings of insecurity.
- is said to uplift the mind and help overcome depression.
Dosha-balancing benefits: Patchouli oil can increase kapha, and reduce vata and pitta.
Make ayurvedic massage oils
You can use any of these oils in full-body massage—and they work best if they are cured before application. To cure oil, heat until it comes to the boiling point, then turn off the heat. After it cools, store in an airtight container.
Warm the oils before you apply them during massage. For an enhanced effect, you might choose to blend in a few drops of other essential oils that can benefit your client’s particular condition or dosha type.
Diane Trieste, B.C.T.M.B., is the director of Shankara Ayurveda Spa (artoflivingretreatcenter.org/spa), based at the Art of Living Retreat Center near Boone, North Carolina. Trieste is responsible for spa and hotel operations and integrating the spa and hotel amenities into the center’s offerings. She is nationally certified in therapeutic massage and bodywork and is a certified sports massage therapist.