In Sanskrit the word for oil also means love. That's how important oil massage is.
In an ideal world I would practice abhyanga daily, self massage of a very oily variety. But the truth is it happens once a week, or less in winter. Partly because of the mess it makes, and mostly because of the cold. Maybe when I move to Freo (in just a few weeks!) I will be warm enough to do it more often. Not sure what to do about the mess, except to remember it really is worth it.
Abhayanga moves quickly up my list of priorities when my body is under pressure, for example when I have a rash or my weight is low. It is especially important in times of great change, when pregnant and breastfeeding, in old age and when emotional or stressed.
Choose an oil that works for you. There are many specially formulated oils on the market with herbs and oil blends appropriate for specific conditions. I just use sesame oil because it is the simplest, unless I have a rash, in which case my doctor gives me a disgusting brown sludge with neem in it, which works a treat.
Sesame oil is warm and lubricating and has the rare quality of penetrating all seven tissues. In cases of high Pitta (acne, rash, redness, itching, burning) coconut oil is better, because it is cooling. For oily skin, blocked pores, white or black heads you may prefer to use mustard oil, or simply dry brush your skin instead. Massage is excellent for Kapha because it is stimulating, or you could try exfoliating your whole body with a paste of besan flour and water. Choose organic oil if you can afford it.
Curing the oil helps it to penetrate deeper and also makes it wash off easier (from you, your clothes and your towels!) To cure your oil pour it into a heavy based saucepan over a medium heat. Sprinkle a few drops of water on top of the oil and when the water evaporates the oil is ready. Let it cool and then pour into an appropriate container. Cure about a months worth at a time, use cured oil within six months.
Some like to store their oil in plastic shampoo bottle. This has the advantage of being easy to warm up before use by placing whole bottle (with the lid tightly closed) in hot water for a few minutes. It also makes for convenient for application by choosing a squeezy bottle with top that limits the flow. Others prefer to store oil in dark coloured glass or stainless steel because plastic can leech into the oil and affect the quality. Whatever you choose make sure it is stored in a cool dark place away from direct sunlight.
Now for the messy bit. It is, of course, best to do oil massage daily. But I completely understand if modern life gets the better of you! It's best done in the morning, and must be on an empty stomach. You will actually 'digest' some of the oil so it is important that you don't overload your digestive system.
First warm up some oil, it depends on how much skin you have and how oily you like it, but about half a cup should be plenty. If you use a plastic bottle to store your oil place it hot water for a few minutes. Alternatively pour the oil into a small bowl and place the bowl in a shallow saucepan of water and heat it up like a double boiler. However you warm your oil it should be just warmer than you are, so don't let it get too hot and keep testing it with your finger until it is warm to touch.
You'll need to have a few old towels and cothes handy that you don't mind ruining. Buy a few from the opshop and chuck them out when they are ruined. Sit on an old towel on the floor and make sure the air is warm to your skin. Take off all your clothes.
There are many different methods for applying the oil. But I believe that the oil itself is the important bit, rather than the massage, so just slather it on. As a general rule start with your scalp, and end with your feet. Use your palms (not your fingers) to work in clockwise circular motions and strokes towards the heart. You don't need to apply to much pressure, but just make sure you cover every centremetre of your body with oil.
How long to leave the oil on varies depending on who you ask. Anywhere from ten minutes to an hour. Your skin will have absorbed as much as it can by then so any oil left on your skin may block pores or attract dirt. I tend to leave oil on for about half an hour. You can put on a baggy old tshirt and socks and do the dishes or prepare breakfast for after your shower. Or you can take this time to do some yoga (in the nude if your game!). Or you can just lie out on a towel and enjoy soaking in the love.
To wash it off I stand in the shower and rub mung flour over my body and then have a warm (not hot) shower or, better still, a bath with epsom salts (after washing off the mung dahl in the shower!). It's OK to leave a thin film of oil on your skin. Don't use a harsh soap or very hot water or you will dry out your skin. You can give the mung flour a miss and just give your skin a good rub with a flannel if you prefer-just remember, anything that touches the oil will be ruined!
If you've oiled your scalp (which is very beneficial, but again, I understand if you don't) it may take a couple of washes to get the oil out.
Finally dry yourself off with another daggy old towel and your done.
You may like pour a bit of vinegar and bicarb down your drains every now and then to prevent sticky residue. And please don't be a dufus and burn yourself or start a fire whilst curing or warming your oil!