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balancing mindbody, calming self-care massage: Abhyanga

Ever wake up feeling scattered and totally disconnected, like your mind is floating somewhere in outer space? In today’s high tech world, we often reach for our phones first thing in the morning, searching emails, daily calendars and the weather forecast in an attempt to quickly pull ourselves together by app. While all this connectivity might seem like a super efficient way to ground your mind and get yourself moving, it’s really just a temporary fix and can actually create even more imbalance as time goes on.

Abhyanga is a simple Ayurvedic tool for bringing more balance to our bodymind.

Ayurveda teaches that the senses are the gateways to our inner healers and that the sense of touch provides one of the simplest ways to re-balance the doshas, especially an accumulation of Vata. During the self-massage practice known as Abhyanga, nurturing oils such as jojoba, sesame or sweet almond are applied to the entire body, starting with the head and face and ending with the feet. This loving, self-care ritual promotes harmony, ease and tranquility by calming the nervous system through the ever-present "feedback loop" between body and mind. The Sanskrit word Snehacan be translated as both “oil” and “love” and it’s said the effects of Abhyanga are similar to those received when one is saturated with love.

Along with all these “good vibes,” Abhyanga has been shown to provide significant health benefits including increased circulation, detoxification through lymphatic drainage, and improvements in sleep to name just a few.

Enhance your Abhyanga practice with aromatherapy. Along with touch, the sense of smell is another powerful tool within our inner pharmacy which can cultivate greater balance and harmony within the mind. As part of the primordial limbic system, the olfactory system is linked to our emotions, behaviors and memories, and serves as an integral pathway to healing through the mind-body connection. Adding a few drops of essential oils such as lavender, rose or citrus to your Abhyanga oil base will help to relieve stress and anxiety, calm the nervous system and boost mood and creativity.

Plus, if you find yourself feeling nervous, upset, flighty or experiencing an overactive mind throughout the day, the lingering scent from a morning Abhyanga massage can help restore feelings of peace and a sense that “all is well.”

How to perform a 10-minute Abhyanga self-massage:

  • Using 3-4 tablespoons of warmed oil for the entire body, start your massage by pouring approximately one tablespoon on your scalp. Using your fingertips, massage vigorously in circular strokes as if shampooing your hair. (If you do not want to put oil in your hair, simply begin with a dry massage on your scalp.)
  • Continue to your forehead and massage side to side with your palms, moving to your face and gently massaging temples and backs of the ears with fingertips.
  • Apply a small amount of oil to your hands and massage your neck and shoulders with the flat of your palms and fingers. Vigorously massage your arms using circular motions at the joints and back-and-forth motions along the muscles. Pay special attention to any areas that feel tired or overworked like your wrists and hands.
  • Moving down to your chest, use a straight up-and-down motion over the breastbone, and then very gentle clockwise circular motions on the stomach and lower abdomen.
  • Apply more oil to your hands, and without straining or overreaching, massage your back and spine with up-and-down motions as best you can.
  • Continue by vigorously massaging legs with back-and-forth motions along the muscles and circular motions over the knees and ankles.
  • With any remaining oil, massage the soles of your feet, focusing on points of tension, and then massage your toes, taking time to create space between them with your fingers.

According to Ayurveda, the oil should then be gently showered off with warm water and mild soap, leaving a thin film of oil on the body to help tone and rejuvenate the skin, and calm the nervous system. Wash your hair as normal, or consider leaving a small amount of oil in the hair for extra moisture and shine!

The calming ritual of Abhyanga allows us to start each day with a powerful connection to selfthrough present moment awareness, introspection and intention-setting for how we want to show up in the world.

About Susan Fickinger

Susan spent more than fifteen years sharing holistic lifestyle approaches through her New Jersey pilates practice. Since relocating to the Bay Area in 2013, she’s embarked on a dedicated path of Ayurvedic living, focusing on yoga, meditation, nutrition and realigning with the rhythms of nature through daily dinacharya​ routines. Susan completed  comprehensive Ayurveda teacher training at the Chopra Center. With private consultations and group workshops, Susan empowers her students to get in touch with their inner healers and to make incremental lifestyle shifts for optimal mind-body balance using the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda.  www.wisesoulayurveda.com

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