The Art of Abhyanga
We’re hearing so much about ‘self care’ these days, it’s easy for anyone in the who follows natural beauty to assume these concepts are a part of everyday vernacular by everyday people. I often forget that we’re a new generation of women who have the luxury of thinking in such terms. A Beauty Heroes subscriber and friend who is in her 60’s recently said: “I have a hard enough time with self care…now you want me to learn how to “Abhyanga?”. She was half-kidding, but it made me realize how far we’ve come, and at the same time how much opportunity there still is, to educate on the myriad benefits of proper and intentional self-care.
I’m lucky. I learned about traditional self care practices like Abhyanga early in my spa career. My first experience was a four-handed oil massage in which two therapists vigorously massaged me with copious amounts of oil to increase circulation and detoxification. It was highly effective, stimulating and a bit of a tease… for years, I thought Abhyanga was always four-handed when in fact, Abhyanga simply translates to ‘oil massage.” Whether it’s done to you, or by you, four hands or just two, this is a traditional Ayurvedic practice that is recommended to balance your dosha.
Abyhanga is prescribed as a daily self care practice for clients to do at home, sometimes with a plain oil like sesame, olive or coconut, or with herbal infused oils. While using oils in massage isn’t a novel idea, Abhyanga suggests that after ‘oiling the body’, you massage it with long warming strokes to stimulate circulation so the oils penetrate the skin and move lymph, blood and tissues. The use of excess oil and vigorous massage helps release toxins from the tissues and eliminate from the body more easily. This daily practice is luxurious, but there’s more to it than that.
Kristi Blustein, founder of KHUS KHUS, recommends Abhyanga self-massage daily to build up ojas, immunity, and creates a balanced resistance to stress. She also feels strongly that the practice cultivates self-love through a daily practice of self-care. Intentional, non-sexual contact with our skin helps build a loving foundation with the self, and this is the foundation upon which every relationship is built.
So how exactly do you Abhyanga? To me, it depends if you are performing the massage before or after you shower. Traditionally, Abhyanga is done before a shower, sweat treatment or bath. If you are interested in learning how to do a traditional Abhyanga, this video will show you exactly how to perform that:
I take a more modern twist on Abhyanga, massaging oil into damp skin after a warm shower and it can take me anywhere from three to ten minutes, and here’s how I do it:
- After a shower, towel dry from head to feet, intentionally leaving your skin damp. Place a towel under your feet.
- Warm a generous amount of your favorite scented or unscented body oil, body butter or KHUS KHUS Bleu Body Wax between your hands and begin massaging into the skin over the neck, shoulders, and chest, always in the direction of the heart.
- Warm more oil and massage the arms from hand to shoulder, firmly, generating some warmth. Keep massaging always in the direction of the heart.
- Massage the abdomen, counter clockwise and then from the lower back to the front of the abdomen and towards the heart.
- Massage the legs, just as you massaged the arms, from ankle to hip, warming the extremities and helping the oil to absorb deeply.
- Sit on a stool – or if you’re like me with a small bathroom, sit on a towel using the toilet as a chair – and massage the feet, from ankle all the way to the toes. This is my favorite part. Finish by wiping the bottoms of your feet with a towel to remove any excess oil.
For Abyhanga, I will choose the body oil I use based on the time of day and my mood. In the morning, I will go with Max and Me’s Circle of Protection or KHUS KHUS’s Worship Body Serum. Both of these oils are scented beautifully and set up me up for a positive day. At night, I will go with Osmia Night Body Oil, KHUS KHUS Bleu Body Wax or Bleu Body Serum, all of which are guaranteed to get me to sleep quickly.
Morning or night, four-handed or two, in treatment or as a self-care practice, Abyhanga is perhaps the most primitive and most personal ritual we have. Like meditation and prayer, it’s available to us at any moment; a simple act that brings into balance our body, mind and spirit.