Ayurvedic self-massage is one of the daily practices that Ayurveda says will lead to a longer, healthier, and more joyful life. You can find articles detailing the daily practices at marciarandalldebard.com. Just click “Ayurveda” under “Categories” on the right side bar.
Ayurvedic self-massage is called “Self-Abhyanga” or “self-abhy”. “Abhy” means “movement” in Sanskrit, and “anga” means “body”. It refers to moving toxins toward the center of the body where they can be flushed away with sweat, urine or feces. It’s also very soothing, working with the nervous system to relax the body and calm the mind.
In Sanskrit, the word “sneha” (oil) also means “love”. When we take the time to provide ourselves with love and appreciation through self-abhy, we affirm a positive relationship with our bodies. It’s wonderful to replace those worn-out messages of criticism about this or that body part with self-affirming messages during self-abhy!
Self-abhy strengthens the body, increases stamina, and tones muscles. It smoothes the skin, prevents wrinkles, and improves the sense of touch. It calms the mind and helps promote sound sleep. It pacifies the doshas if correct oils are used. The oil creates a protective layer between us and the environmental toxins we encounter, and it promotes faster healing of the body and psychology.
The best oils to use depend on our dosha, the time of year, the season of our lives, and our overall health at the moment. A general rule of thumb is that cool Vata benefits from sesame oil, hot Pitta benefits from coconut oil, and cold Kapha benefits from olive oil.
The skin is the largest organ on the body, and during oil massage we are literally feeding ourselves through our skin. Products that we use on our skin will find their way to every cell in our body. Therefore, buy the best quality organic oil you can afford.
Ayurvedic massage strokes are upward/inward, toward the heart. In addition, attention is paid to the external side of the limbs first, and then to the inside. Use long strokes on the long bones and circular strokes on the joints.
Abhy doesn’t just relax the muscles, it assists the lymphatic system as it brings nutrients and moves toxins. There are several places on the body where the lymph tends to be stored. These include the front of the armpits, the front of the groin, and the back of the knees.
Abhy also works with the nervous system, soothing both mind and body.
Self-Abhy is best done in the morning. Warm the oil and begin at the head. Rub a little bit of oil at the “murdha”, or soft spot (found by touching the thumb to the nose and stretching the middle finger to the top of the head). Follow that by using circular motions on the scalp.
Second, massage the feet. Women begin with the left foot and men begin with the right. Rub the soles of the feet and then work your way around and between the toes and the top of the foot. Using finger pressure, awaken the arch of the foot. Do both feet before moving onward.
Next, move back up to the ears, putting a bit of oil into the ears and nose. Massage the neck, shoulders, chest, and breasts. Breasts can be storehouses for stuck lymph. So, use circular strokes and then “dump” the lymph into the armpits.
As you massage your hands, wrists, lower arms, elbows, and upper arms, you move the lymph up to where you’ll “dump” it into the armpit.
Return to the ankles, lower legs, and knees, moving the lymph to the backs of the knees. Continue on the thighs and hips, dumping the lymph into the groin.
The lower back comes next, followed by the stomach. Put a little oil into the navel and spiral outward (clockwise) from it using larger and larger spirals, and then dump that lymph into the groin.
Now, sit/lie down for about 10 minutes while the oil absorbs.
Then, step into the shower. Soap only hair, armpits, and privates. Everywhere else, just let the warm water wash over you, rinsing off the excess oil. Pat dry and dress. Just the right amount of oil will remain on your body. Once you’re doing abhy regularly, it takes only a few teaspoons of oil to massage your whole body.
For years, I didn’t do my self-abhy in the morning. I would have said that I prefer an evening shower to “wash off my stressful day” and relax before bed. My skin was too dry to wash both morning and evening.
Then, I committed for 28 days to try morning self-abhy and shower. Now I love this habit! Beginning the day affirming my relationship with my body is wonderful. I start the day feeling relaxed and invigorated and refreshed, which sets the tone for the whole day ahead. It’s well worth getting up a little earlier!
At the end of the day I can take another shower or bath, because my skin isn’t overly dry anymore. And, since my day gets off on such a positive foot, I’m not having as many of those stressful days I need to “wash off”.
One surprise: even though my self-abhy and shower are in the morning now, I am sleeping better at night.
If you truly are pressed for time once in awhile, the crucial spots to massage are the top of the head, the feet, and around the navel. Add a little oil into the ears, nose, and navel. Relax while it absorbs and then shower as described above. This can take as little as 10 minutes.
This is the last in a series of three articles on the scientific studies that support meditation. Once again, there was more research than I could include in the last two articles on meditation benefits, so this month I’ll address even more meditation benefits. You can find previous articles by choosing the category “meditation” in the right side bar at marciarandalldebard.com.
In a long-term study over a 5-year period, African Amercian participants who had been diagnosed with coronary heart disease were divided into two groups. The first group was instructed in diet and exercise, and the second were taught meditation. Over the 5-year period, the meditators had 48% fewer heart attacks, strokes, and early death from heart disease. In Time Magazine (November 2012) Robert Schneider, the lead author of the study said, “It’s like discovering a whole new class of medications.” This study was first published in “Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes” (Sept 2012).
In a Massachusetts General Hospital study led by Dr. Randy Zusman, patients being treated unsuccessfully with medications were taught a meditation technique (relaxation response). After the study, 40 of the 60 participants were able to reduce their medication due to their drop in blood pressure. Apparently meditation increases the nitric oxide, which opens up blood vessels and allows blood pressure to drop.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison in conjunction with researchers in Spain and France found rapid reduction in pro-inflammatory genes–the very genes that are being targeted with anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs. Read more: Even More Meditation Benefits
There was more research than I could include in last month’s article on meditation benefits, so this month I’ll address more meditation benefits. You can find last month’s article by choosing the category “meditation” in the right side bar at marciarandalldebard.com.
Last time, we discussed how meditation actually changes our brains, and I referred to Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar, who was one of the first scientists to actually test the anecdotal evidence. She found that longterm meditators have more gray matter in the auditory and sensory cortex areas of the brain. They also have more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is responsible for decision making and working memory. In addition, she found that this additional gray matter in the prefrontal cortex was the same in 50-year-old brains of longterm meditators as it was in 25-year olds!
In Dr. Lazar’s second study, she compared brand-new meditators to long-term meditators. Read more: More Meditation Benefits
People who have just started meditation can begin to see the meditation benefits within just a few weeks–with as little as 20 minutes a day of meditation! Almost immediately they report greater focus, less anxiety, reduced depression, and a greater sense of well being. They find they worry less, feel less stress and more resilience, and begin to have more control over emotional overeating and even smoking. There are improved decision-making and problem-solving skills, and even improved ADHD. In a University of Wisconsin study under neuroscientist Richard Davidson, it was found that even brand-new meditators increased their gamma wave activity. Gamma waves indicate that the neurons are firing in harmony and create the mental environment in which we can attend to what is important and not be distracted by anything else.
A UCLA study demonstrated that meditation strengthens the connections between brain cells. Now, a more recent study shows that it can also increase the gyrification, or “folding” of the cortex, which is correlated with faster information processing. This proves that the brain is Read more: Meditation Benefits
Ghee is a milk-based ingredient in many Ayurvedic recipes and remedies. It is made by clarifying butter, but it’s more than just the “clarified butter” called for in some recipes. It is the very essence of butter with the moisture, milk solids, and impurities removed.
Ghee has been used in India for millennia for digestion, elimination, energy, sexual vitality, skin and eye health, as a lubricant for the joints, and an alkalizer for the blood. It is considered a golden symbol of abundance, health, and longevity. Ayurveda says ghee is “sattvic” (purifying), whereas butter is considered to have a “tamasic” (dulling) effect on the mind and body.
Ghee is considered by Ayurveda to be the best fat we can eat. It has a full spectrum of long-chain, medium-chain, and short-chain fatty acids. One of ghee’s essential short-chain fatty acids is Butyrate, which is a detoxifier, anti-inflammatory, and supports healthy insulin levels. The medium-chain fatty acids act like coconut oil to burn the other fats in our system, which can assist with weight loss. Read more: Ghee For Health