I’ve been lucky enough to experience quite a few different types of massage in my life – from lava rock massages in Hawaii to Swedish massages in swanky hotels, but none is as healing and luxurious as an Ayurvedic oil-massage in India. The oil massage is based on concepts of our overall health and its connections to nature that few have observed in the western world, but that give us a lightness of being and a connection to the earth as you wouldn’t guess from simply rubbing some oils into the muscles and bones of the body.
An Ayurdevic massage differs from others in that it assumes the physical, mental, and spiritual selves must be attended to. This is done by incorporating attention to the five elements of our bodies and the universe, intimately intertwined in the same way that our bodies are made of star dust – over 40% of our bodies contain the same elements that are in the periodic table – the evidence of our universal origins. The five elements are called pancha mahabhutas, and stand for there (akasha), water (jala), wind (vayu), fire (agni), and earth (prithvi). If one of these elements is out of balance, then so are we. An oil massage aims at restoring this balance.
An Indian massage also is given with the understanding that prana, the ‘breath’ of the body, and also of the Universe must be revitalized by opening the subtle channels of pranic flow in the body – these cahnnels called nadis – are encouraged through movement and the carefully crafted oils used in the massage session – to open the flow for Prana to move without impediment.
Traditional massage is called abhyanga used primarily for detoxification and rejuvination, and the practice of panchakrama is practiced by rhythmically massaging all of the body with warm Ayurvedic oils, which also aid in removing toxins (or pranic blocks) from the body. This practice has been used for centuries, and sages like Chakra, Sushruta and Vagbhata assigned oil massage to warriors to help their abilities in historical times.
The making of the oils used in Ayurvedic massage are just as important as the massage itself, as the plants have their own vital forces to offer in the restoration of the five elements of the body and mind. Plants are selected with care and during specific harvesting times designated throughout the year. These times are chosen with an acute awareness of the healing abilities of each plant and the time of harvesting is in alignment with a cosmic understanding of the cycles of life, death and rebirth. There is a vast amount of knowledge and integrity that is used in cultivating these plants for the making of oils and great respect given to nature as a healer. The oil itself is called thailam. It is usually a concoction of many different plants or a few key flowers, seeds or roots, which will deliver therapeutic healing. Only the highest quality plants are used, and chosen for their medicinal value.
Once chosen, the plants are then decocted and made into a paste. The decoction usually consists of 16 parts water to 1 part plant (either leaf, root, flower, etc.) It is brewed down for many hours until it is concentrated to merely 4 parts liquid. This is then added to black sesame, coconut or other beneficial oils meant as a carrier of the plants’ medicine. The ‘paste’ that is created from this mixture is first sticky and wax like, and sometimes used in a practice called nasya (nasal oil), then it forms a ball-like substance, sometimes used for enemas, and finally, it is the consistency of a fine sand-like oil, used in ayurveic massage.
Ayurvedic massage feels incredible, but it also stimulates the life force. You can enjoy better hormonal balance, detoxification of the body’s organs and a reduction of the effects of stress, such as reduced anxiety and depression, better skin, more energy, and a calmer mind. This type of massage improves your overall vitality, and according to Hindu philosophy, can even prolong your life.
I received several Ayurvedic massages while visiting several different cities in India, and I felt an incredible sense of well being after each one. You can feel the oils and their beneficial properties melting into your skin, and since this is one of our biggest organs, it seems appropriate that no place be left untouched – aside from keeping on my undergarments, an adroit massage therapist of the female persuasion made sure that even my armpits, stomach and chest were well-massaged, along with my larger extremities. The price was almost a joke, especially for most western travelers, and when I return to India I plan to schedule one for every single day!
The ‘salons’ in which I received my massages were not swanky by western standards, but massages themselves were incredible. Who needs shiny floors and expensive artwork, anyway when you are lying on a table with your eyes closed, floating in and out of consciousness and blessed out as hundreds of plant medicines are being gently rhythmically pressed into your skin? Since the processes of making the oils for this type of massage make the oil molecule particularly small, it is also more readily absorbed into the skin.
Ayurvedic massage has been known to cure all of these ailments, or boost these bodily functions, too:
- A negative outlook
- Improved nervous system reactions
- A balanced hormonal system
- A more vital brain and cognitive functioning
- Less stress
- Back Pain
- Muscle pain
- Joint Pain
- Headaches, including migrains
- Reverse poor circulation
- Increase lymphatic flow
- Tones muscles
- Increases a sense of well being
If you cannot find a way to get an Ayurvedic massage by a professional, you can also perform self-massage, called abhyanga, in order to maintain your own well-being. This practice is in Sanskrit texts dating more than 5000 years old. It is a therapy, which should be utilized every day, according to these ancient teachings. With the effects of stress as prominent as ever, Indian oil massage may be an answer to greater peace of mind, and increased health in the most pleasant way possible.