Think about the last time you received a professional massage: you likely emerged from the room glowing, present, and relaxed afterward. But did you know that it is possible to massage yourself at home?
You don’t have to be interested in “massage spas near Asheville” to be interested in abhyanga. But what is abhyanga, anyway? In this article, we break down everything a beginner might want to know about abhyanga massage, as well as where to enjoy abhyanga style massage in the Asheville area.
Abhyanga is a kind of therapeutic massage in which the entire body is massaged using warm oil. This is performed from your toes to your scalp, as per traditional practice in ancient Ayurvedic Indian medicine. It is thought that the type of oil used is essential to promoting wellbeing in conjunction with the physical tissue massage as well.
While the practice of abhyanga reaches back thousands of years, there are modern clinical studies that validate some of the purported benefits of abhyanga. There’s a reason folks have been practicing its warming, relaxing methods for generation after generation!
In 2011, a study concluded that abhyanga successfully decreased participants’ subjective stress levels, heart rate, and blood pressure while promoting muscle relaxation and lymphatic draining.
While there have not been many conclusive studies on the efficacy of abhyanga, a 2018 study on aromatic, rhythmic massage concluded that this kind of massage brought about long-term heart rate variability, a clear indicator of stress reduction and relaxation. Since aromatic oils and rhythmic massage are both a part of abhyanga, many massage fans believe this is evidence enough of abhyanga’s clinical benefits.
Regular massage may be beneficial to the skin as well. By increasing blood flow in the skin, massage-goers can increase skin softness and smoothness while decreasing wrinkles and hyperpigmentation.
There are many different kinds of oils that may be used for an abhyanga massage. Traditionally, these are chosen based on the participant’s dosha type. (Want to know more about the three different Ayurvedic doshas? Check out our recent article on the topic!)
Because the three doshas account for different kinds of individuals’ constitutions, there are thought to be various oils that would be beneficial to each kind. In this section, we will go over abhyanga massage oils for each dosha.
People who are primarily Vata are said to be composed of ether and air. Here are the recommended oils to pacify Vata dosha types, typically made from almond or sesame oil bases:
- Mahanarayan Oil: Composed of more than twenty Ayurvedic herbs, Mahanarayan oil is perfect for those who are looking for a little extra flexibility in their joints. The stimulating effects of Mahanarayan oil can be furthered by taking a warm bath with baking soda and ground ginger afterward.
- Bala/Ashwagandha Oil: Typically made with a sesame oil base, this type of oil is generally considered best for promoting strong muscles and is recommended for those of athletic builds.
Alternatively, ghee can be used for smaller areas of the body for localized massage.
Pitta doshas are said to be composed of the elements fire and water. For folks of this constitution, the following oil infusions are recommended, typically in coconut or sunflower oil:
- Brahmi/Gotu Kola Oil: Infused with brahmi for mental clarity and peace of mind, Brahmi oil can be created with sesame or coconut for heating or cooling temperatures, respectively.
- Bhringaraj Oil: Perfect for scalp massage, this herb is known in Ayurveda as “the ruler of hair.”
- Neem Oil: Often chosen for those who need to balance the naturally warming properties of their Pitta dosha, this oil uses the cooling herb of neem in a base oil made of sesame, which is considered warming.
Those with Kapha doshas are considered to be a combination of water and earth. Kapha doshas may have a bit more flexibility when it comes to oil choices. For example, Kapha doshas may select a base oil made from sesame, corn, olive, or almond with different infusions added in for extra benefit. Some common herb infusions in either of these three oils are:
You don’t have to outsource your oil infusion to a large-scale operation. In fact, it is possible to infuse your own abhyanga oil in the comfort of your own home. There are two basic methods for making herb-infused massage oil, the hot method and the cool method. The cool method relies on cold extraction of the herbs in oil, which is considered gentler—but it takes more time than the hot method.
This method does not rely on any external heating to infuse the oil, but ideally should be left to infuse at room temperature for up to 6 weeks.
- Fill a large jar with the desired herbs, leaving room at the top of the jar. Pour oil into the jar so that your herbs are covered by about one inch.
- Using a sterile spoon, stir the contents of the jar to remove air bubbles. Seal the jar and roll it back and forth with your hands to further mix everything together, and store it in a dark spot for 4-6 weeks. Shake the jar daily for best results.
- After the allotted time has passed, use a colander covered in a few layers of cheesecloth to strain the herbs out of the oil. It is best to keep the oil in a sunlight-proof container and/or in a dark place for freshness.
There are several different ways to go about using heat to infuse your oil. One simple method is to combine your ingredients in a glass jar and place them in a sunny spot for up to two weeks, turning the jar intermittently.
If you don’t have two weeks to wait for your oil to infuse, try the double boiler method, as follows:
- Place a few inches of water in a large saucepan and bring the water to a boil on the stovetop.
- In a slightly smaller saucepan, combine the herbs and oil and stir until well combined.
- Place the small saucepan over the larger saucepan and allow the water to simmer beneath it for 20-60 minutes at around 130°F.
- If you run out of water in your lower saucepan, carefully add more without contaminating your oil mixture with water.
- When the required time has passed, remove the oil/herb saucepan from the heat and allow the contents to cool. Strain in a cheesecloth-lined colander into a jar and store in a dark place.
Regardless of how you feel about the rest of Ayurvedic practices, abhyanga is a clinically-tested and historically-backed means of lowering stress, blood pressure, and heart rate. This practice can even be done in the form of self-massage at home, dedicating at least 15 minutes to the process for best results.
Looking for massage spas near Asheville where you can get the full abhyanga experience? Book a luxury massage with the Ayurvedic specialists at The Horse Shoe Farm today!