The Ayurvedic Practice of Self-Oleation

oil massage

Self-oleation is one of my favourite ayurvedic self-care practices. Also called sneha (meaning both “oil” and “love”), it is a practice which is believed to have effects similar to being saturated by love : it is deeply healing, nourishing, strengthening and beautifying to all aspects of you.

“By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age”  – Charaka Samhita

The Benefits of Self-Massage (Abhyanga)

  • Promotes softness and luster to the skin;
  • Brings youthfulness & decreases wrinkling
  • Nourishing, grounding and relaxing — calms the nerves
  • Decreases the effects of stress and improves sleep
  • Improves muscle tone and firmness of the body;
  • Lubricates and promotes flexibility of muscles & joints;
  • Moves the lymph, assisting with detoxification of the body.

 

The Practice of Self-Massage

Duration: Approx. 10-15 minutes

You will need: a bottle of unrefined sesame oil; a large bowl or yogurt container; an old towel; a quiet, warm space (e.g. your bathroom); optional: an old housecoat.

Instructions

  1. Fill a large bowl or yogurt container with hot water. Place your bottle of unrefined sesame oil bottle inside the container to let it warm for 3-5 minutes.
  2. Choose a space in your home that is warm and where you do not have to worry about making a mess (e.g. in the bathroom). Sit on a large towel.
  3. Take some oil into your hands and start by rubbing oil into the bottoms of your feet and toes. Take your time here, as your feet are considered to be one of the most important areas of the body to massage.
  4. Slowly work your way up to your ankles, calves, knees, thighs and hips. When you are massaging joints (ankles, knees), rub in a circular, clockwise motion.  When you are massaging long bones (e.g. legs, arms), rub the oil in an up and down motion. Rub vigorously with a medium amount of pressure so that the oil really penetrates the tissues.
  5. Work your way up to your lower back and abdomen. At the lower back, you can rub in a circular motion at the base of the spine. When you are massaging the abdomen, try to follow the bowel pattern, starting from the right lower part of the abdomen, moving in a clockwise motion to the left lower part. You may also want to massage the second and third chakra in a clockwise motion.
  6. Move your way to massage your breasts and shoulders, then hands, fingers, wrists, arms, elbows and shoulders, and neck, using the same technique as above, using a circular, clockwise motion for joints and breasts and an up and down motion for long bones (e.g. arms).
  7. You can also place a light amount of oil on your face (patting it in lightly) and top of the head (tapping on the crown chakra).
  8. Return to any area of your body that you feel needs extra care, such as cracking joints or any areas where you have pain.
  9. Optional: Put on an old house coat and do other chores for 10-20 minutes, to allow the oil to sink more deeply into the tissues.
  10. Before you shower, you may wish to wipe off any excess oil with a towel (to avoid clogging the drain).
  11. Shower with warm to hot water. Stay in for at least 5 minutes to allow the water’s warmth to help the oil to penetrate more deeply.
  12. Enjoy the benefits throughout your day.

 

Counter-Indications

Avoid oleation if you are menstruating, suffering from slow digestion, constipation, fever or high kapha symptoms (e.g spring time, nasal or lung congestion).

 

Self-Oleation For Your Constitution

Your self-massage can be done daily or several times a week, depending on your doshas: vatas benefit from daily massage, pittas from a massage 3-4x per week and kaphas, 1-2x per week.

All types benefit from this nourishing treatment during periods of stress, and in the Canadian fall and winter.

Oil Selection: Most doshas will benefit by using unrefined sesame oil. For those living in Canada, I don’t usually recommend coconut oil unless it’s the summertime and you are pitta dosha.

Word of Caution: To avoid risk of fire, keep any towels associated with your oil massage or showering out of the dryer.