Abhyanga Massage: Actively Stimulating Self-Healing And Achieving Deep Relaxation

Most people who are interested in Ayurveda have heard of “Abhyanga massages” before. But what does it actually mean? Today we would like to share some insight into what exactly Abhyanga is and what kind of effects this form of massage can leave on body and mind. Following this, we have added a small do-it-yourself tutorial for an effective and totally relaxing Abhyanga self-massage.

Definition: What is Abhyanga?

The term “Abhyanga” comes from Sanskrit and can be translated as “anointing”, “ointment”, “oil” or “oiling”. Abhyanga is described as the activity of pouring on or rubbing someone with oil. There are also various oils that can be used for an Abhyanga massage.

In Ayurveda, Abhyanga is described as a traditional massage technique with the use of selected oils. These oils are tailor-made to the individual’s constitution (prakriti). Abhyanga massages can be applied to the entire body or just to individual body parts, e.g. with more focus on the feet and legs or just the back.

The massage can be performed by one or two therapists or applied on our own in the form of a self-massage.

Why take an Abhyanga massage?

Anyone who has been massaged before knows that massage can bring absolute relaxation as well as the release of happiness hormones.

In the Ayurvedic tradition, however, there is much more behind it. According to the Ayurvedic view, an oil massage has the ability to open the so-called “srotas”. These are channels through which the “Ama” (what is undigested) can be transported out of the body. There is mental as well as physical Ama whose accumulation in the body, from the Ayurvedic point of view, can lead to illnesses.

An Abhyanga massage not only serves as a relaxation method but also includes numerous health-promoting aspects.

Possible benefits of an Abhyanga massage:

  • Tissue structures cleansed and strengthened
  • Muscular strength increased
  • Fatigue reduced
  • Joint and muscle problems reduced
  • Joints suppleness increased
  • Immune system and protection against diseases improved
  • Sleep quality improved
  • Ageing process slowed down
  • By reducing toxin accumulation, skin looks can be greatly improved and skin becomes more resistant to infections

The Abhyanga self-massage: instructions and helpful tips

With an experienced and professional therapist, an Abhyanga massage is guaranteed to create a feeling of cleansing and relaxation.

However, if you only have a short amount of time and just want to relax and calm down, especially during stressful periods, you can also do an Abhyanga self-massage. It helps balance the doshas, remove toxins from the body, and maintain a youthful and vital charisma. We’ve put together a simple and quick reference guide that anyone can customise and do at home.

Before starting a self-massage your own constitution should be considered.
If you do not know your body constitution, you can make an appointment with our Ayurveda therapist. Dates and cities can be found on our website.
(Ayurveda recommends different oils for the head and hair – see below)
VATA constitution type* can use warm sesame oil. In this case, it is best to use plenty of oil. Apply only gentle to medium pressure, then massage in a gentle flow of movements.

PITTA constitution type*, in hot weather, warm coconut oil is recommended. In cold weather, moderately warm sesame oil is better. Using a medium amount of oil and medium pressure massage movements at a medium speed without putting the hands down. Attention: Sesame oil can increase Pitta even more, so pay particular attention to how the body and mind react to the oil and possibly change to coconut oil.

KAPHA constitution type* can use warm mustard oil or sesame oil. Using a moderate amount of oil, the massage can be done with a firm but pleasant pressure and in rapid and even movements without settling the hands.
Attention: For the head and hair, different oils are recommended. We do not recommend sesame oil to be used on the head. Standard oils for the head and hair are coconut oil, almond oil, Brahmi oil or Bringaraj oil.
For the body, the head and the hair preferably use organic oils.

* These are general recommendations. It is always important to observe your own body and mind, how the body and mind react to the massage and the oils and, if necessary, adjust the amount of oil, temperature or even pressure.

Tip: An ayurvedic expert (Vaidya) can determine the personal constitution and any current imbalances based on Ayurvedic pulse diagnosis and recommend special herbal oils that are most recommended for your current state.

Let’s do it!

When doing a self-massage, we start with the head. With the fingers positioned to be flat, we first massage and relax our scalp. Then the ears are gently massaged. The fingers then move slowly and evenly over the face and neck. Here, we can already notice how we increasingly relax and let go.
Now we move on to the limbs: It should be noted at this point that women should start massaging the left side first, starting from the arm, and men start from the right arm. By using long movements, like in painting, you move up and down the arms. The joints and hands are then massaged extensively with circular movements.

The breast can be massaged with circular or straight movements. The abdomen is massaged clockwise (from the outside perspective) along the lines of the colon. After that, dedicate to the back, whatever feels comfortable. Self-massage is not about pressing all sorts of energy points, but about doing something pleasant and relaxing. Therefore, a self-massage on the back should be done with no effort.

The hips, knees and ankles are massaged in a circular motion while the legs are slowly stroked in long movements. Again, you should remember that women should start with the left leg and men with the right. At the very end we do the feet: Using flat fingers for the large areas and then massage the toes and in between.

What time of day should I do an Abhyanga self-massage?

Basically, an Abhyanga self-massage can be done at any time. However, a massage in the evening is less recommended as the body prepares for the night after sunset and the metabolism is gradually slowing down. For an optimal effect, we recommend a self-massage before the morning shower. The body is most active at that time with increased metabolic activity, so an optimal effect can be achieved.

Contraindications: When you should not perform Abhyanga (as a self-massage, or by a therapist)

  • Less than three hours after meals
  • In case of Kapha disorder, indigestion and immediately after a Panchakarma detox
  • In case of fever, acute diarrhea or infections
  • In more severe diseases of the heart and respiratory system
  • For women: during the menstrual cycle

“The body of a person who uses regular oil massages is not prone to accidental injury or hard work. With a daily oil massage, the body is presented with a pleasant touch, well-groomed body areas and [it] becomes strong, more lovable and least affected by old age.”

Charaka Samhita Volume 1, V: 88-89

Ashtanga Hridaya (from Vagbhata)


Athena Theel

Athena studies Chinese & Economics at the University of Cologne. Having spent many years in China and Japan, she has developed an interest in holistic medicine. Based on her interest, Athena joined Sri Sri Tattva as a content writer, social media manager and translator.
Connect with Athena: info@srisriayurveda.de | Read more posts from Athena.