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The Amazing Healing Benefits of Abhyanga

By Erin Casperson, Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health


Instagram: @kripalucenter |


The ancient practice of abhyanga—self massage using oil—is a simple and powerful antidote for today’s stressful lifestyle. According to the classical Ayurveda text known as the Charaka Samhita, abhyanga makes the body strong, the skin smooth and the system more resistant to disease and exhaustion. Which oil should you use? It depends on the season. In cool weather, use sesame oil, almond oil or an herb-infused oil. In hot weather, use cooling coconut oil. Keep your oil in a bottle or jar in your bathroom. You can apply it at room temperature or warm it by soaking the bottle in warm water in the sink. Practice abhyanga in the morning or the evening (preferably on an empty stomach) for as few as five minutes or as long as an hour.

Benefits of Abhyanga:

-Increases circulation

-Moves stagnant lymph

-Moisturizes the skin

-Soothes the nervous system

-Balances the digestive system

-Promotes a healthy immune system

Abhyanga Step-by-Step:

1) Lay out a towel on the floor of a warm room.

2) Warm about ¼ cup of oil.

3) Beginning at the head, massage a small amount of oil into the scalp.

4) Massage a small amount of oil on the face, paying particular attention to the scalp, temples and jaw.

5) Arms: Massage in circles at the joints and use long strokes on the long bones, working from the shoulders down to the fingers.

6) Torso: Pay special attention to the breast tissue and under the arms for breast health; it’s really important to move the lymph in this location.

7) Belly: Use circular motions to regulate the digestive system.

8) Legs: Massage in circles at the hips/joints and use long strokes on the long bones.

9) Finish by massaging the feet and toes.

10) Follow with a warm shower or bath. Don’t soap off; allow the heat of the water to open the pores, so your skin can deeply absorb the oil.

No time for a long self-massage? Do it in the shower! Keep a squeeze bottle of oil in the shower and use it to massage the entire body at the end of your shower. You can skip the scalp so you don’t have oily hair, and skip the feet so you don’t slip. You’ll step out with smooth, protected skin and a healthy start to the day.

Erin Casperson, Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, is an Ayurvedic Health Counselor and 500-Hour Kripalu Yoga teacher.

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