Baby Oil Massage - a first year practice for lifelong health

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Warm oil massage isn’t just for adults, it is a wonderful soothing and calming practice for your baby too. In many cultures a baby is massaged daily around bath time as it’s understood that babies are more content, happy and experience better growth when they are massaged. More recently western research has also supported the beneficial effects of infant massage. One of the leading researchers in the U.S. on infant massage is Dr. Field, who thirty years ago personally saw the the calming and positive weight gain effects of oil massage in her premature baby girl. She became inspired to explore the topic further. Since then, she and dozens of others have researched and written about the powerful effects of massage. Benefits include:

  • Improved sleep-wake patterns
  • Improved emotional bonding
  • Enhanced neuromotor development
  • Reduction in gas pains
  • Relief from daily stress that builds up from new encounters
  • Healing effects on birth trauma by soothing strained or pulled muscles
  • Increased weight gain

The overall method is similar to adults, with the exception of emphasizing use of your palms with gentle pressure more than fingers. The overall sequence moves from the head to the toes. Similar to abhyanga in adults, we use circular movements on the joints and organs, and long strokes on the long bones. Remember to keep the room warm, and calming (no blaring TV or bright lights). Gently warm the oil by placing the oil bottle in a pan or bowl of very warm or hot water, but be sure to test the oil to ensure it is only lukewarm before application. The best oils include organic sesame, coconut, almond, bala, or jojoba. Our personal favorite is Ashvagandha/Bala as it imparts strength and calming, you can get it here. Have fun with with this! Some nights you may be able to get a nice 10 minute massage in, and other nights it might be one minute with a drop of oil. We do our best! photo 2 General Sequence:

  • Scalp:
    • Circle top, back & sides of head with palm (be careful not to press on the fontanel)
    • Massage outer parts of ears up and down
    • Move across the forehead and around the temples & cheeks, sides of the nose, and upper chin
  • Neck & shoulders, arm:
    • Move around the neck and shoulders gently down the torso
    • Make figure eight patterns around the chest
    • Massage the arms using long strokes along the muscles and circular motions at the joints
  • Belly:
    • Massage the belly in a clockwise direction to soothe the stomach
  • Back:
    • Rub the back by running the palms along the spine
  • Legs & Feet :
    • Sweep down the legs with circular strokes at the joints, and long strokes along the muscles
  • Feet:
    • Massage up and down the tendons, heels, and top of the foot
    • Rub the sole of the foot in a long motion with the palm

Optional: After the massage, make a paste of chickpea  or almond flour and warm milk and massage this over baby’s body to absorb excess oil (this will make the bath easier). Then you can fill a regular tub or large sink part way with water and support your baby with one hand, rinsing with your other hand. If your baby is old enough to sit propped in a baby tub or basin simply bathe her/him as usual in this way. You won’t need any soap unless you prefer to soap baby’s bottom  … Resources: 1) 2) Field T., Diego, M., Hernandez-Reif, M. (2010) Preterm Infant Massage Therapy Research: A Review. Infant Behavioral Development 33(2): 115-124. 3) 4) Welch, C., Blossom, S., (2011) Mother Nurture: Yoga and Ayurveda for Postpartum Bliss. 5) Oaks, Y. Sacred Window School.

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”