Dosha-Balancing Ayurvedic Massage: Warm & Calming Self-Abhyanga

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Winter is a time of silence, stillness and cold. It’s when nature goes to sleep and readies itself for the Spring. It’s also a time when stresses run high due to the Holiday seasons and you can find yourself completely exhausted, depleted and miserable if you’re not careful. For some, they chalk up the changes in their mood or mental state to the weather, and Ayurveda offers some sophisticated principles for understanding these changes.

Our doshas, or natures, respond to the changes in the season. There are three doshas, and according to their dominance, the doshas can be mapped onto the season. If your predominant dosha is Vata, Kapha or Pitta, then that dosha’s properties will be heightened during that season.

So, you’ll need to find ways to pacify it instead of aggravating it during that time and vice versa for the alternating seasons. That’s why it’s so important to know your doshas and how you’ll be effected by the changes of the season.

Vata into Kapha

Vata season goes from Fall into the coldest winter months when the season changes over to Kapha. This is why some will say that winter is more Kapha or Vata depending on who you ask and what point in winter you’re talking about. Generally, early winter has more vata-increasing characteristics and late winter has more Kapha energy.

Signs that your Vata dosha is aggravated and needs to be pacified are:

  • Dry skin, eyes, hair or stool.
  • Feelings of anxiety, fear or severe stress.
  • Fatigue coupled with bursts of energy.
  • Light sleep that is often disturbed.
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed and out of control.

Signs that your Kapha dosha is aggravated and needs to be pacified are:

  • Feelings of depression.
  • Weight gain or increased water retention.
  • Feeling lazy or lethargic.
  • Feeling possessive over people or things.
  • Feeling unforgiving or resentful.

If you’re like most people, the above descriptions of an out of balance Kapha and Vata dosha could read like condensed versions of your diary entries every winter.

So, how can we combat these seasonal changes in our energy and make sure that we’re staying grounded and warm this winter season?

Self-Abhyanga

Self-Abhyanga is the practice of massaging yourself with the aid of oils in order to assist in the balancing of your doshas. This is an essential practice in Ayurvedic teachings and can help you get through winter without the usual tension, stress and depression.

Not only is Self-Abhyanga a relaxing exercise that will help put your mind and body at ease, it is also an energizing and stimulating practice that gets your body prepared to perform at its absolute best.

Although there are a whole host of benefits to doing Self-Abhyanga, the three main benefits of the practice are:

  • Nourishment of your entire body which decreases the effects of aging.
  • Stimulation of the internal organs and circulation for increased waste removal and cleansing.
  • Deeper, more restful sleep.

 How to do Self-Abhyanga

1. Get a Warm Room
The first step to doing Self-Abhyanga is to prepare your space for the practice. The goal here is to stimulate your body in a warm environment, so you’ll need to go into a space that’s warmer than usual and where you can sit comfortably, undisturbed for 15-20 minutes.

Preferably, Self-Abhyanga is done in the morning before your daily shower, but can also be practiced at the end of your day if you can’t find the time in the mornings.

2. Warm Your Oil
The next step is to heat the oil you’ll be using to massage your body. To test the temperature of your oil, dip your forefinger into the oil and dab some onto your wrist. The oil should be warm and soothing, not painful. Make sure you don’t overheat the oil.

Although there are specific kinds of oil that will work especially well to stimulate and pacify each dosha, jojoba oil works very well for all three doshas respectively and is readily available at most grocery and health food stores.

3. Begin Your Massage

  • Scalp: Self-Abhyanga starts by taking some of your warm oil and rubbing it in gentle circular motions from the crown of your head outwards to the rest of your scalp. Spend a few minutes gently massaging your entire scalp.
  • Face: Massage your temples, jaw-line, forehead and chin in a gentle circular motion. Make sure that you’re moving in an upward motion when massaging this area of your body. Spend some time massing your ears and ear lobes as well.
  • Chest: When massaging your chest area, move in a large, clockwise, circular motion and cover the entire chest area.
  • Abdomen: For your abdomen, it’s important to massage in the same direction of your large intestine. To do this you should move up the right side in a circular, clockwise motion, across the top of your abdomen and down the left side.
  • Limbs: When you focus on your limbs move down them in long, sweeping strokes. It’s important to also stimulate the joints. So, when you get to your elbows and knees, take some time to massage them in gentle small circles.
  • Feet: Your feet have healing properties that can be stimulated through massage. So, finish off your Self-Abhyanga with a thorough and gentle massage of the tops and bottoms of both of your feet.
  • Absorb: At the end of your massage, simply sit or lay comfortably for 5-10 minutes. This time will allow the oils to get absorbed into the deeper layers of your skin and for the tensions that you just worked out of your body to fully dissipate.
  • Shower: Once you’ve finished relaxing, take a warm, soothing shower. Make sure to not scrub your body vigorously or use too much soap. You’re not trying to completely remove the oils from your skin, just the excess. Keep this in mind when you dry yourself as well. You don’t want to vigorously rub your body dry but blot yourself gently with your towel.

A More Comfortable and Happy Winter

Winter can be a difficult time to cope with. No matter if it’s your relatives, the changes in the weather, going shopping for gifts or keeping weight gain at bay, WebMD reports that over 11 million Americans report feeling severely depressed during the winter months.

But, with the proper tools and knowledge to get you through the winter time, you could change your usual depressed, lethargic, stressful season into one of relaxation, rejuvenation and increased energy.

So, don’t let the winter blues get you down. By following this simple massage routine 2-4 times a week, you’ll be on your way to being able to stay grounded & warm with Self-Abhyanga this winter and beyond.

If you have any questions about Self-Abhyanga or keeping your doshas balanced throughout the year, contact The Art of Living Retreat Center and visit artoflivingretreatcenter.org.

Bess OConnor

Bess OConnor

Bess O'Connor is a Certified Ayurvedic & Holistic Health Practitioner. She's the Marketing & Creative Director for Healing Lifestyles & Spas, founder and Editor-In-Chief at Urban Wellness Magazine and is the President of Well Spirit Collective.
Bess OConnor

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