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October 13, 2008


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!


Anonymous said...

Fabulous. I love an oil massage. I must admit that I do it a little less full on than you. I keep a pump bottle with oil in it and will massage it into my skin whenever I can. Because the amount I use acts more like a body moisturiser, the oil is often absorbed into my skin, leaving just a lovely sheen (I am vata, so my skin just LOVES it when I use oil). It also means that when I am working in the kitchen, I can rub some oil (usually coconut in the kitchen) into my hands and arms, maybe the lower parts of my legs, and if I am alone, my face, while cooking lunch or dinner. Or just tidying up. I love oil massages a lot.

Oh and Rosemary oil is great for cold feet in winter.

Anonymous said...

As you promised!! Lovely post. Didnt know about the 40 minute rule - I was thinking longer the better. Good tip. I havent done abhyanga in a long time! Started out once a week and now its back to nothing. Should get back to it. And yes who wouldnt want to do it everyday.. :)


ANJALI J. said...

U have a nice blog.. So much information to read.. I love reading all ur posts.

Julia said...

vegeyum-I agree,isn't it just the most wonderful thing! I rub olive oil into my hands whilst I'm cooking too! And yes, best to do my face when no ones looking! I usually oil my face everyday. I'll have to try rosemary cause my feet do get cold.

Anu, the 40 minute rule is quite contested, in fact after you said that I changed it to an hour. Some just leave the oil on, but I find my skin feels a bit yucky after awhile. It also depends on how dry your skin is and whether you use a heavy oil (like sesame) or a lighter oil (like coconut). Yes, if I were rich I'd have someone massage me every day...

Nice to hear from you Anjali, I'm glad you enjoy my blog!

Anonymous said...

I just love oil massage.I do it once or twice a week.I've been taking oil bath as long as I remember.Generally we use sesame oil,but for the past few months I've been using olive oil.It works great.Massaging the oil with grandma and catching up with family stories while soaking and washing with ground shikakai (with fenugreek,rose petals,hisbiscus flowers and leaves) and rinsing with fresh starch(natural hair conditioner) and drying hair in the terrace.Does it sound like spa treatment ?Yes ,it sure was.
I do agree that cleaning the bathtub is sure a small price to pay for the spa treatment.
Thanks Julia for bringing back memories of childhood days with your beautiful post.

Julia said...

Swapna, that really sounds so wonderful, especially doing it together.

I have been using olive oil lately too, cause I have run out of sesame. And I eep reading about shikakai, but am yet to find it here in Melbourne. I'll have to do a good scout of all the Indian grocery stores.

lothi said...

Nice post julia! Oil massage is great everytime. That's the time to relax ur body & your mind. I used to do once a week but now i have left...have to continue...

Julia said...

Yes Lothi, it is so relaxing! But a real discipline to keep up...good luck.

Melissa said...

Hi! I've got a bit of the abhyanga blues b/c of this horrible sticky residue all over my 1960's porcelain tub!! And my vata skin is displeased with the mention a couple things: first mung flour...what purpose does this serve and where can I get it? Second: pouring bicarb down the drain...can you elaborate a bit for me? I'd greatly appreciate it!

Also: I'm a big fan of getting this Ayurwhat thing to the people, too...look forward to looking into the rest of your blog!

Cheers~ Mel

Julia said...

Hi Melissa, mung flour is traditionally used as soap. It's quite nice for it's gentle scrubbing action and doesn't dry out your skin like soap does (isn't that an ad?) In Ayurveda we believe you shouldn't use anything on your skin that you wouldn't eat. It's a bit hard to find but some Indian grocery stores sell it, in the food section, not with toiletries! You can use besan flour (chickpea) which is a bit easier to find but a bit drier so depends on your skin type if this matters to you or not.

As for the bicarb, Greenpeace explain it best:

Pour 1/4 cup bicarb down the drain. Follow with 1/2 cup vinegar and plug the drain until fizzing stops. Flush with 4 litres of boiling water. If you have two sinks, plug one side before commencing the procedure. Also try this method if a clog does happen.

Do a google search if you want to know more about the natural cleaning, there's too much info to write here.

Melissa said...

Fabulous suggestions...thank you! Oil bath for this Vata is needed soon :)