As a yoga teacher, touch can be a… touchy subject. You see it in every class, the person who completely tenses up as you step into the crowd of students, looking for someone who might need close attention. You feel it too, because not everyone wants to be touched.
The truth is, we all need touch. The stress relieving, mood enhancing, and healing results of even just a few minutes of massage have been shown to boost immunity, lower blood pressure, and activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest functions of the body).
The right kind of touch conveys security, care, comfort, and connection—all of which signal to the mind and the body that all is well.
An Ounce of Prevention
Ayurveda is a system of health and healing that emphasizes the prevention of disease. For those in our Western culture who subscribe to the “wait ‘til something goes wrong” approach to health and wellness, taking steps to prevent disease can present the ultimate challenge.
This is partly because it requires us to love ourselves enough to take action before we feel or experience any pain, discomfort, or symptoms of disease.
Ayurveda recognizes the critical role that massage plays in our experience of ease, stability, and happiness. When we’re on the receiving end of healing touch, this communicates that we're valued, loved, and worthy of wellness.
This is why Abhyanga or self-massage is a key part of the recommended daily Ayurvedic routine.
The Magic of Touch
“Touch nourishes life just as surely as food does.”– Pratima Raichur
Self-massage is a health and wellness therapy you can do for and by yourself. It can be done every day and is considered part of the Ayurvedic approach known as Snehana or oiling, which in Sanskrit translates to “loving your own body.”
Self-massage really is self-love. And self-love is necessary if you want to be truly happy, be your best self, and make and experience the most out of your life. Here are some other great reasons to practice self-massage.
- Relieves pain
- Tones the muscles and tissues
- Lubricates the joints
- Increases circulation
- Moves the lymph, boosting immune function and aiding detoxification
- Stimulates the internal organs and digestion
- Calms the nerves
- Softens and moisturizes skin
- Balances the doshas or the three energies governing physiological activity in the body
- Nourishes the entire body—decreases the effects of aging
Love Is Oily
In Ayurveda, everything we experience is characterized by a set of qualities. Most oils are considered heavy, unctuous (think wet or gooey in a good way), liquid, and warm. These correspond to nourishing, building, and nurturing actions.
The qualities of love are similar—makes sense, doesn't it?
When choosing oils for massage, you'll want to consider a few things, including your primary dosha, your state of imbalance, and the time of year. Here are some suggestions for oils based on those things.
- For vata dosha – Vata imbalance or vata time of year (autumn), choose sesame oil or almond oil
- For kapha dosha – Kapha imbalance or kapha time of year (late winter/spring), choose sesame oil or sunflower oil
- For pitta dosha – Pitta imbalance or pitta time of year (summer) choose coconut oil or sunflower oil
And for a few tips on self-massage technique using oil, check out this video below.
I realize that not everyone is a fan of massage or being touched, but it's important to consider that touch is a basic human need. It carries the message of love, health, happiness, and connection, and all this starts with us caring enough about ourselves to care for our bodies and minds.
I invite you to make Ayurvedic self-massage a part of your daily system of support, especially during the colder months, when it might make the difference between an okay day and an amazing day (try it and you'll know what I mean!).
Create a habit of giving your body some daily attention, and notice how it makes you feel when you show yourself a little love.