An Ayurvedic Practice that Will Change Your Life: Abhyanga


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 Vol. 1, V: 88-89

One of the easiest and most powerful traditional Ayurvedic practices we can do on our own is Abhyanga (warm oil massage). Our teacher, Dr. Lad says that “a dry body, like a dry stick, breaks easily.” When we apply oil, the body becomes more flexible, and able to bend with the challenges of life. We feel nourished, grounded and supple. This is an amazing practice for women before pregnancy, during pregnancy with modifications (see below), and especially important postpartum!

Benefits Of Abhayanga

  • Enhances health of the skin, makes it strong, soft & lustrous
  • Produces softness, strength and color in the body
  • Decreases the effects of aging & increases longevity
  • Bestows good vision
  • Promotes healthy appetite & strong digestion
  • Nourishes the body by removing toxins & providing nutrients to tissues
  • Supports restful sleep patterns
  • Strengthens the immunity, energy & vitality
  • Imparts a firmness to the limbs
  • Imparts tone and vigor to the dhatus (tissues) of the body
  • Maintains optimal body chemistry, including hormones & neurotransmitters
  • Calms the nervous system & sense organs
  • Reduces pain
  • Stimulates the internal organs of the body, including circulation
  • Balances elimination processes
  • Reduces coarseness, stiffness, roughness, fatigue and numbness
  • Nurtures & supports positive feelings & emotions
  • Benefits local veins & ligaments
  • Helps sciatica
  • Oiling the face removes facial wrinkles
  • Oiling the scalp causes hair to grow luxuriantly, thick, soft and glossy

 Abhyanga for Vata Sesame is considered to be the best choice of oil for vata because it is inherently warming (get it here). Almond Oil and mustard oil are also good choices because they are also warming. Vata massage oil (oil infused with special herbs) is especially good if vata is high in your Vikruti (get it here). Vata massage oil can be used alone or added to sesame, almond or mustard oils. *For increasing strength and stamina try Ashwagandha/Bala oil, get it here. *If you're pregnant, we recommend sesame or almond oil.

Abhyanga for Pitta Applying Bhringaraj Oil or Brahmi Oil to the scalp and soles of feet at bedtime may reduce pitta and encourage sound sleep. Herbal/Medicated “Pitta Massage Oil” from Banyan Botanicals is our choice, get it here. Sunflower and coconut oil are also good choices for pitta. If you spend a lot of time in the sun, you may want to add some Neem Oil to whatever your basic abhyanga oil is, because it is said to reduce pitta in the skin (get it here). *If you're pregnant, we recommend sunflower or coconut oil.

Abhyanga for Kapha Sesame, corn and mustard oils are all helpful for kapha because they are warming, but herbal oils are an even better choice for Kapha, as they add more Kapha pacifying properties to the oil. Banyan's “Kapha Massage Oil” is a great choice, get it here. *If you're pregnant, we recommend sesame oil.

Abhyanga in 2nd and 3rd trimesters of Pregnancy

  • Follow the directions below, only DO NOT massage the oil in, simply spread it over your skin.
  • Allow the oil to soak in, and follow with a warm shower.
  • Do not do if there is any sign that the pregnancy is threatened in any way
  • Not recommended for the first trimester

Abhyanga Routine

  • Put about ½ cup oil in an 8 oz. glass bottle. Make sure the oil smells fresh and isn't rancid.
  • Place the bottle of oil in a pan of hot water until the oil is warm.
  • Sit or stand in a warm room, on an older towel (one you don't mind ruining with oil accumulation). Make sure you're protected from drafts.
  • Apply the oil to your entire body, and use a generous amount - 1/4-1/2 cup.
  • Massage the oil into your entire body, beginning at the extremities and working toward the middle of the body. Use long strokes on the limbs and circular strokes on the joints. Massage the abdomen and chest in broad, clockwise, circular motions. On the abdomen, follow the path of the large intestine; moving up on the right side of the abdomen, then across, then down on the left side. Massage the body for 5-20 minutes, with love and patience. Don't rush this process.
  • Give a little extra time and attention to massaging the oil into your scalp, ears and feet, at least once a week.
  • Apply oil to the crown of your head and work slowly out from there in circular strokes. Put a couple drops of warm oil on the tip of your little finger and apply to the opening of the ear canal. (If there is any current or chronic discomfort in the ears don't do this without the recommendation of your health care practitioner).
  • When you massage your feet, be sure to wash them first when you shower, so you don't slip.
  • Enjoy a warm/hot bath or shower. You can use a mild soap on the "strategic" areas, but it's best not to soap the oil off your skin. Enough will soak in and then rinse off that you shouldn't need to use soap.
  • When you get out of the bath, towel dry. Keep a special towel for drying off after your Abhyanga because it can eventually get ruined, due to the accumulation of oil.
  • Put on a pair of cotton socks to protect your floors/carpets from the residual oil on your feet.
  • If you like, apply a dosha-appropriate essential oil to your wrists and neck.

Clean-up and Maintenance Oil can accumulate in your tub and drain over time. A couple of times each month, pour approx. ¼ cup dish soap into the drain, then pour 2-3 cups of boiling water into the drain. Let sit for 15 min. Run hot water down the drain for a couple of minutes to flush out the residue. For laundering oily towels, add ¼ cup grease-cutting dish soap along with your regular laundry detergent. Let sit in very hot water for at least 30 minutes, then wash. You may need to repeat this. Experiment as needed. Caution: do not dry oily towels in a hot dryer as they are easily combustible and may catch fire. Oil towels stored together can build up internal heat in warm environments to the point of catching fire. Be sure to store them in well-ventilated, cool areas. Never store them in your vehicle trunk.

Contraindications for Abhyanga:

  • After eating and if there's indigestion
  • Acute conditions such as fever, chills, common cold, diarrhea, flu
  • Chronic high systemic ama. This can show as a heavily coated tongue.
  • Immediately after taking emetics or purgatives
  • Under a doctor’s care for medical condition
  • During pregnancy without consulting health care practitioner or in threatened miscarriage
  • During menstrual cycle
  • Infected or open lesions
  • Edema (swelling)
  • Blood clots or bleeding disorders
  • Hangover
  • Extreme emotions
  • Acute hypoglycemia
  • Insulin-dependent diabetes
  • Dehydration
  • During chemo therapy

References: Welch, Dr. Claudia. (2009). Lad, Vasant. (2005) “Abhyanga: Ayurvedic Oil Massage”