As therapists, we espouse the benefits of self-care to our clients, but when we’re in a hurry to make it to our first appointment of the day, we’re quick to leave ourselves behind. Abhyanga, or Ayurvedic self-massage, is one of the easiest and most affordable treatments to incorporate into our daily routines. It will add only about 10 more minutes to your morning routine, and it takes the place of after-shower moisturizing. In the Ayurvedic tradition, it is a vital part of self-care along with diet, rest and exercise.
You will need:
- About 2 ounces of oil (olive, light sesame or apricot are good)
- A few drops of essential oil
- A bottle to mix and hold your oils
- Warm water in a shallow bowl
- A towel reserved for just this purpose (not a nice one)
- Nonslip shower surface
In Abhyanga, the health benefits of good circulation and lymph drainage are as important as the antibacterial and nourishing qualities of the oil. Vary the essential oils depending on your mood and health. Try rosemary and eucalyptus if you’re feeling spacey or mindless, and in the hottest days of summer, enjoy Abhyanga with the cooling effects of rose and sandalwood. Ginger and lemongrass are invigorating if you’re feeling sluggish. These are just suggestions, but you should pick essential oils you like so that you’ll want to do Abyhanga and so you’ll smell good during your day.
Run a little warm water into a bowl. Float your bottled oils in the warm water to heat them. Stand on your towel. Start with your legs, massaging upward using circular strokes around the ankles, knees, hips and other joints. Do the best you can to reach your back; it’s okay to miss a few spots. While working on your stomach, start from the right, making broad gentle circles to stimulate digestion. Work the oil into your arms, one arm at a time, from the wrist upward.
When you get to your hands, spend a few moments thanking them for the hard work they do for you. Here’s a nice prayer/intention to think or recite as you massage every finger joint.
In the tip of my fingers there is prosperity.
In the middle of my hand is learning.
At the base of my hand is divine power.
At the beginning of this day, I bring light to my hands.
As a massage therapist and mother, I am fully schooled in the dangers of combining wet or oily feet and slippery surfaces. Breaking a hip in the shower would not be conducive to a long-term massage career. So although morning Abhyanga usually focuses extensively on foot massage, I usually reserve the oiling of my feet for bedtime. This grounds and centers me after a day of standing and attending to other people’s energies. I keep a small bottle of oil by my bed so that I can get into bed, oil my feet, put on a pair of socks and go to sleep. It’s a nice way to finish the day.
Ayurvedic scalp massage is usually part of the morning routine, but I reserve it for bedtime also. It’s great for when you feel a headache coming on or if you’ve been “stuck in your head.” Try to keep the oil close to the scalp, and use only a little at a time. You’ll want to cover your pillow or mattress with a towel so that oil doesn’t ruin your beautiful sheets. In the morning, after your body Abhyanga, emulsify a little shampoo with water and rub it into your scalp before stepping under the water. The shampoo will wash the oil out, whereas water on an oily scalp will just run off, leaving your hair greasy.
When you have covered your body in scented oil, rub some of the oil off your hands so that you can turn the water on in the shower. Carefully step into the shower. The heat of the water will help the oil absorb into your skin, and the water will rinse off some of the oil. Use soap only on areas that need it. When you step out of the shower, allow the hottest water to run over the shower surface so it won’t be as slippery. Towel off the excess oil from your body.
Then get ready for your day. You’ll be in a better mood and your clients will notice, too.
Monica Varah, E-R.Y.T., C.M.T., is a registered yoga teacher and massage therapist who has been teaching yoga in Southern California for 10 years. She decided to become a massage therapist after learning Thai Yoga Therapy from Saul David Raye in 2004. You can see more of her work at PeaceLoveBreathe.com, an online meditation/yoga/aromatherapy/fun website. Her favorite essential oil for Abhyanga is frankincense.