Let’s face it – nothing is ever going to beat lying on a massage couch while someone with skill and healing hands gives you a lovely treatment (looking at you, Lee!) However, the traditional Indian system of lifestyle and healing, Ayurveda, has a wonderful self-care practice called Abhyanga.
Abhyanga (no, I don’t know how to pronounce it either!) is self-massage with oils. Because it’s Ayurveda, there are of course different recommendations for oils to use for the different Doshas – sesame or almond for Vata, olive or coconut for Pitta, and sunflower or sesame for Kapha – but at the moment I’m using up a mix of oils left over from closing my Aromatherapy practice a few months ago. I think there’s fractionated coconut oil (fractionated is treated so that it is liquid at room temperature – it’s a gorgeous, silky oil to use), macadamia and jojoba in there.
If you buy a ready-mixed Dosha massage oil, such as these, they will often have essential oils included in the mix, but you’re going to be bathing or showering immediately after your self-massage so you will really only get the inhalation benefits of these and very little absorption. It certainly adds to the delight of the treatment to have these beautiful aromas though.
So you’ve got your oil ready, what’s next? First of all, warm it to skin temperature. I do that by sitting it in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes. Second, and most important, let everyone else in the house know that you will not be available to meet their needs, requests or demands for the next 20 minutes or so. Then take yourself into your cosy bathroom, lay a fluffy towel on your toilet seat or a stool, disrobe (love that word!) and have a seat.
Traditionally you start your massage at the top of your head and work down. So pour a little of your oil into your hand and let it drizzle right onto the crown of your head. Give your scalp a good old rub, get the finger tips in there and encourage the skin of your scalp to be not quite so stuck to your skull. Pull your hair as hard or as gently as you like. If you’ve ever had an Indian Head Massage, you’ll have a good idea what to do.
Then, continuing to add oil as you need to, move on to your face. You can stroke quite firmly with your finger tips from the centre of your forehead out to the sides, circle gently round your eye sockets, make little circles at your temples, and stroke over your cheekbones and jaw. Give your ears some attention, inside and out. Earlobes appreciate a bit of a pull.
Continue to work your way down your body. You will be able to do quite vigorous, long strokes on your limbs, and circles round your joints. Go more gently on your torso. Give your decolletage some love, and oil over and around your breasts – this also allows you to check for lumps at the same time. Make big, clockwise circles on your abdomen, that’s the way your digestive system is organised (this is great for constipation, by the way).
Get your back done any way you can – I usually slap plenty of oil on my lower back and then use the backs of my hands to work it as high up between my shoulder blades as I can reach. Don’t forget your hands themselves. They’re doing all the work, but they will love a bit of attention around the joints and a nice deep circling press into the middle of the palm.
Finishing off with the feet is recommended, but I have to admit that I tend to skip that bit. I think it’s quite important as the cut-down version of the treatment is head and feet only, however the shower tray gets slippery enough as you wash off the oil without starting off with oily feet. I’m thinking as I write this that putting a towel down in the shower tray would be one way round that – I will give it a try and report back!
When you’re done, get yourself into a warm (not hot) shower or bath and wash with a mild soap. The aim is not to remove every scrap of oil, but to keep a very light, moisturising film on the skin. As I said, the shower tray gets slippery so be very careful! When you’re finished, to prevent the next person who steps unknowingly into the shower from having an accident, do them a favour and clean it. I found that out by being the next person in the shower and having an accident!
So, you’re back out of the shower now, toweled dry with an enormous, fluffy white towel (OK, fantasy land – any old towel will do fine – you’d probably just end up with oily marks on your pristine white one anyway) and it’s time to admire your silky soft skin. No body lotion required!
Ayurveda recommends this as a daily practice, but I generally do it once or twice a week on the days when I have a bit more time before I need to be out the door. Do give it a try, you won’t be disappointed. Let me know how you get on ….
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