Abhyanga – Ayurvedic Massage Therapy
Ayurveda believes in prevention being better than the cure of diseases. The ideal lifestyle mentioned under ideal daily routine / Dincharya stresses upon Abhyanga, along with other preventive components. Massage consists of different types of touch and pressure techniques and can bring about dramatic changes in the health of the body and mind. Ayurvedic massage is an ancient Indian art, which has adapted these techniques for healing, relaxation and treating ailments.
Massage is the oldest healing system. The history of massage dates back several centuries and has been practiced in all ancient cultures as the Indian, Chinese, Greek, and Roman. The use of Massage for the purpose of healing had great importance in ancient cultures as it was one of the few treatments available. This therapy is described in the ancient Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata as a means of ensuring good health. The Kamasutra mentions massage among other foreplay practices for enhancing vitality and sexual attraction between partners.
Ayurvedic massage methods
Ayurvedic massage has always been an important part of overall Ayurvedic treatment. The aim of Ayurvedic massage is to prevent / excrete build up of toxic substances and restore the balance of energies Vata, Pitta & Kapha inside the body. In order to achieve this, the Ayurvedic massage uses various medicated oils and powdered herbs. The use of these substances varies according to:
- The needs of the patient (his/her constitution, age, psyche etc)
- The ailment (the imbalance among the Doshas)
- A Massage should be done when the stomach is empty.
- It should never be given immediately after a meal.
- The massage room should be warm and relaxing to control Vata.
- Massage can be done either on the massage table, which is about the height of one’ s waist, or it can be on the floor. The table should be properly covered with clean cloth, so that the patient is mentally comfortable during the massage. For other procedures like head massage and oil drip on the head, a special type of table should be used which facilitates recovery of the massage oil from the body of the patient.
- The masseur should be healthy. He should not be suffering from any contagious skin disease and should cut all his nails properly so that during massage they will not harm the patient.
- The oil to be used for massage should be warm; aroma can be added.
Massage & the body Constitution
There are three Doshas which define the constitution: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. We are made up of a combination of these Doshas, a balance in the three means good health. If they are out of balance they can be brought back into our individual natural balance, completely or partially through massage specific to your constitution.
Massage for People with a Vata Constitution
People belonging to Vata constitution are dry and unstable by nature. Hence, oily massage should be given in the morning or before a warm bath in the evening. This kind of oil massage lubricates dry skin and protects the joints. Vata people are very sensitive to touch so warm oil should be used. Sesame oil is best for alleviation of dryness, coldness, stiffness and pain. Important medicated oils are Dashamula oil, Mahanarayana oil, Vishagarbha oil etc. A physician should be consulted for best results. Generally, for people of Vata constitution, herbs / oils that have a ‘ hot potency’ such as ginger, basil, camphor, jatamansi and eucalyptus are used.
Massage for People with a Pitta Constitution
The people of Pitta constitution have a rapid metabolism and tendency for fever and inflammatory diseases. Their skin is sensitive and easily gets rashes or gets inflamed. For Pitta constitution, cooling massage oil should be used. Coconut and sandalwood oil is most suitable for such people. Both these oils calm the mind and cool the body. Sunflower oil is useful for inflamed skin. Medicated oils can also be used. Essential oils include lemongrass, lavender, jasmine and sandalwood, which have cooling effects.
Massage for People with a Kapha Constitution
These people have thick and oily skin. They need massage to improve their circulation and lymph drainage. As far as possible, oil should not be used for persons with this constitution. For the best massage, powdered herbs should be used. These are dry and have hot potency. A small amount of oil can also be used. These oils should have hot potency like mustard oil or sesame oil. The massage should be vigorous and deep. For people of the Kapha constitution, the essential oils for massage are basil, ginger, clove, and eucalyptus.
The additional release of Endorphin Hormones from hypothalamus gland is responsible for most physical & psychological benefits of massage. Massage therapy improves functioning of the circulatory, lymphatic, muscular, skeletal, and nervous systems and may improve the rate at which the body recovers from injury and illness. Massage involves holding, causing movement of soft tissue, and/or applying pressure to the body. Below are the benefits of various massage:
- Nourishes the Body – The massage increases the muscle tone and improves stamina, vitality, and virility. It also helps activate digestion and the elimination of the body’ s waste like sweat, urine, stool etc. Promotes Longevity – The function of vital organs and tissues as well as the life span can be enhanced. Induces Proper Sleep – Physical and mental well-being, nourishment, strength, sexual ability, capacity to perceive knowledge, depends upon proper sleep. Massage is a powerful agent, which induces sound sleep.
- Increases Strength of the Skin – The massage increases the resisting power against physical and mental pressure, stress and strain, agonies, sorrows and anxiety. Improves general tolerance and patience. Overcomes fatigue – Fatigue due to routine work, mental stress, strain can be corrected by regular massage.
- Helps relieve muscle tension and stiffness as removes accumulated Lactic Acid- reduces fatigue. Fosters faster healing of strained muscles and sprained ligaments; reduces pain and swelling; reduces formation of excessive scar tissue.
- Reduces muscle spasms.
- Provides greater joint flexibility and range of motion.
- Enhances athletic performance.
- Promotes deeper and easier breathing.
- Improves circulation of blood and movement of lymph fluids.
- Reduces blood pressure.
- Helps relieve tension-related headaches.
- Effects of eye-strain.
- Enhances the health and nourishment of skin.
- Improves posture.
- Increases production of WBC – better immunity.
- Stimulates production of Synovial fluid.
- Assists in venous flow to heart, decreases load.
- Helps relieve mental stress.
- Improves ability to monitor stress signals and respond appropriately.
- Enhances capacity for calm thinking and creativity.
- Satisfies needs for caring – nurturing touch.
- Generates a feeling of well-being.
- Reduces levels of anxiety.
- Increases awareness of mind-body connection.
People find that therapeutic massage can help with a wide range of medical conditions, including:
- Chronic pains
- Circulatory problems
- Anxiety and stress
- Asthma and bronchitis
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Frozen Shoulder
- Sports injuries
Massage therapy can stimulate weak, inactive muscles and, thus, partially compensate for the lack of exercise and inactivity resulting from illness or injury. It also can hasten and lead to a more complete recovery from exercise or injury. Contra-indications Therapeutic massage may not be recommended in some cases, such as in people with:
- Acute fevers
- Conditions with Ama toxins & anorexia
- Acute Inflammation
- Infectious diseases
- Certain forms of cancer
- Certain skin conditions
- Certain cardiac problems
- Diabetes – only dry massages
If you have one of these or some other diagnosed medical condition, always check with your doctor before seeking a massage.
Research on the effects of massage therapy has been ongoing for more than 120 years. A surge in research over the past 20 years has resulted in more than 2,500 published studies.
Among research findings, the important ones are:
- Massage increases activity level of the body’ s natural “killer cells”, boosting the immune system.
- Office workers massaged regularly were more alert, performed better and were less stressed than those who weren’t massaged.
- Massage therapy decreased the effects of anxiety, tension, depression, pain, and itching in burn patients. Abdominal surgery patients recovered more quickly after massage. Premature infants who were massaged gained more weight and fared better than those who weren’ t. Autistic children showed less erratic behavior after massage therapy.
- Helps fast weight gain for preterm infants.
We notice that Abhyanga Massage is a very useful, non invasive, humane & personal approach to health and assists natural healing capacities. One can easily adapt this as a lifestyle practice on a weekly basis or a brief massage just before a shower & derive all the aforesaid benefits.