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Abhyanga: Ayurvedic Oil Self-Massage

In Sanskrit, the word “sneha” means love or compassion. It is also the word for oil. “Snehana” is the application of oil, both internally and externally, to promote the gentle, soft, nourishing qualities of love.

During panchakarma, the Ayurvedic detoxification and rejuvenation process, snehana is an important step to lubricate the seven tissue layers of the body, which allows toxins to be more easily and efficiently released from the deeper tissues. Warm oil also nourishes the nervous system, which promotes relaxation, clarity, and rejuvenation. According to Dr. Vasant Lad, “Snehana not only cleanses the body, but also the mind and consciousness. True to the definition of snehana, the person falls in love with himself or herself.”

There are many methods of snehana, but one of the most simple and effective is the practice of abhyanga, which means “toward the heart.” It is a technique unique to Ayurveda, involving mindfully anointing the body with warm oil in the direction of the heart. By allowing the oil to penetrate the skin before bathing, it protects, nourishes, and cultivates self-love and self-compassion.

“Even the dry pieces of wood bend after proper application of oil and heat. Then what is to be said about the living human beings?”

Charaka Samhita

Benefits of Abhyanga

According to Ayurveda, there are seven dhatus or layers of tissue in the body. Each sustains the next with the end product being vital life/creative energy. Over time, with routine practice of Abhyanga, one's health and well-being are dramatically improved to the deepest and most subtle cellular levels. Some of the benefits of abhyanga include:

  • enhances health of the skin

  • reduces the effects of aging

  • supports restful sleep patterns

  • stimulates circulation

  • cleanses the srotas or channels of the body

  • promotes healthy appetite and strong digestion

  • nurtures and supports positive feelings and emotions

  • maintains optimal body chemistry

  • balances elimination of wastes

  • supports the growth of soft, thick, healthy hair

  • calms the nervous system and sense organs

  • pacifies vata dosha

  • increases ojas (immunity), energy, and vitality

  • reduces pain in muscles and joints

  • promotes longevity

  • balances secretions of hormones and neurotransmitters

It is recommended to do abhyanga daily in a warm environment with an oil that is balancing for your constitution and present condition. Use an old towel or sheet to prevent oil from staining the floor.

For Vata: Sesame Oil, Ashwagandha Bala Oil, or Vata Massage Oil. Coconut Oil is okay during summer season, but too cooling for year-round use.

If you're unsure of your constitution, this tridoshic Daily Massage Oil is suitable for all doshas. It may be helpful to consult with an Ayurvedic Practitioner to determine your constitution and present imbalances.

"Abhyanga should be resorted to daily. It wards off old age, exertion and aggravation of vata."

— Ashtanga Hrdayam

How to do Self-Abhyanga

Warm approximately ½ cup of oil. Slowly and thoughtfully apply the oil to your entire body in the following manner:

  1. Begin at the top of the head and massage oil into the roots of the hair.

  2. Oil the face including the nostrils and ears, but avoiding the area around the eyes.

  3. Next massage oil into the extremities and work your way toward the center of the body. Use long strokes on the limbs and circular strokes around the joints. Massage the abdomen and chest in broad, clockwise circular strokes.

  4. Be sure to thoroughly massage your hands and feet.

  5. Let the oil penetrate for approximately 20-30 minutes.

  6. Be very careful when entering the shower or bathtub as your feet may be slippery from the oil.

  7. Rinse off in a warm shower or bath (using minimal soap only where needed).

  8. To wash the oil out of your hair, it may help to apply shampoo before wetting your head. Depending on the thickness of your hair, it may require 2 applications of shampoo to remove oil.

  9. Use a special towel for drying off after bathing, as it will slowly accumulate oil.

Clean-up and Maintenance

Oil may accumulate in your bathtub or shower drain over time. A couple of times each month, pour approximately ¼ cup dishwashing detergent into the drain, followed by 2-3 cups of boiling water. Let it sit for 15 minutes. Then run hot water down the drain for 2-3 minutes to flush the residue.

To clean the oiled towels and/or clothing, wash with your chosen laundry detergent and add approximately 1 cup of rubbing alcohol, or approximately ¼ cup diswhasher detergent with a full load. Experiment as needed.


Do not do abhyanga during: acute flu, fever, chills, common cold, diarrhea, heavily coated tongue, moderate to severe indigestion, immediately after taking emetics or purgatives, without doctor's consent (if you are under doctor's care), pregnancy, menstruation, open or infected lesions, morbid obesity, edema, blood clots or bleeding disorders, alcohol toxicity, extreme emotion, acute hypoglycemia, insulin-dependent diabetes, severe dehydration, chemotherapy.

"The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much, even if subjected to accidental injuries or strenuous work. By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts, and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age."

Charaka Samhita


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