Ayurvedic massage is one of the oldest and highly evolved massage techniques. Owing to its effectiveness and simplicity, massage has been incorporated into the ideal daily routine or Dinacharya in Ayurveda (routines followed every day to ensure optimum health). Ayurvedic massages are trending fast and getting widely popular across the globe. Although we are being introduced to massage as merely a means for relaxation, de-stressing, occasional self-pampering or even a recreational therapy; there is a lot more to this versatile, intricate and one of the most effective Ayurvedic therapies!
Ayurvedic massage is a broad name given to several intricate therapies which involve massaging, rubbing, pooling or pouring of medicated oils, ghee, herbal pastes, rice bolus dipped in milk etc. Photo from Flickr
What is Ayurvedic Massage?
Skin being the largest organ of our body, employing techniques to enhance health via the skin-route seems logical. Skin is not merely a sheath covering us, but an organ which affects our health status more than any other organ. Not only is skin receptive to the therapies that are applied or massaged on to it; effects are achieved faster, better and in a more profound manner. Blood circulation, state of mind, fertility, digestion, sleep, tissue metabolism, immunity and detoxification are some of the functions that can be directly affected by our skin.
Ayurvedic massage is a broad name given to several intricate therapies which involve massaging, rubbing, pooling or pouring of medicated oils, ghee, herbal pastes, rice bolus dipped in milk etc. The commonly practiced Ayurvedic massage is a type of external oleation or Bahya Snehana. Some Ayurvedic massages are called Gharshana/udvartana in which herb pastes or dry herb powders are massaged over the body. The modern day Ayurvedic massage also includes some methods of fomentation or external sudations in which hot decoctions; bolus of wild rice or herb pastes is massaged over the body in a specialized manner.
Why should you consider Ayurvedic Massage therapy?
Ayurvedic massage helps in balancing all the three doshas- Vata, Pitta and Kapha. It also promotes the flow of life energy or prana through the body. Massage in form of Abhyanga has been mentioned as a must do regimen in Ayurveda’s daily routine guidelines (Dinacharya) for maintaining health. It has also been incorporated as an essential therapy in various health conditions ranging from psychological disturbances to obesity.
Ayurveda advises daily massage and oil application especially for head, ears and feet. It improves circulation of blood and lymph. Also, Ayurvedic massage helps the skin and the entire body to eliminate toxins and metabolic waste out of the body. Regular practice of massage has a milieu of benefits like
- Improves the vitality of all the body tissues,
- Preserves youth
- Promotes good lifespan
- Strengthens immunity
- Promotes good sleep
- Improves skin Health
- Promotes good eyesight
- Takes away fatigue, tiredness and emotional stress 1, 2
Ayurvedic massage is also a must post-partum or post-delivery routine in Indian culture for the mother as well as the newborn baby. Ayurvedic massage after delivery helps mothers to cope with the physical strain and stress of labor and birthing. It helps to tone up muscles and brings back the balance of Vata dosha (which is often imbalanced and aggravated after the labor process). In babies, massage promotes good sleep, digestion, optimum growth and development.
Apart from its benefits for maintaining health, Ayurvedic Massages are useful in the therapy of many health conditions. It is especially beneficial for improving mobility and quality of life in patients with disorders of nervous system. Disorders with imbalance of Vata e.g. joint and muscle pains, sprains, myalgia, paralysis, weakness in limbs, low back pain, neck pain, lack of sleep, degenerative disorders of the nervous system 3, premature aging, stress related imbalances, Vata dominant depression etc. are benefitted by Ayurvedic Massage. It is ideal in skin diseases like eczema, psoriasis etc. for soothing itching and dryness.
Disorders like obesity, chronic inflammatory disorders (e.g. PCOS), heart diseases, hair loss, premature graying of hair, asthma etc. have been advised Ayurvedic massage as a therapy. In children Ayurvedic massage is beneficial in promoting growth and development in children with delayed growth and development. It also helps in reducing spasticity, muscle stiffness and improves mobility in children with CNS disorders like cerebral palsy. Ayurvedic massages have also been used successful in reducing hyperactivity (ADHD) and in helping children cope with various learning disabilities.
What should we look for while going in for a massage?
Choosing the right kind of massage for your body type (Prakriti) and health conditions is the key to the success of this therapy. Haphazardly done massage can lead to many adverse effects like worsening of symptoms, muscle and soft tissue injury or no benefits at all. Also, assessing your physical state and status of digestion during each massage is essential. It is ideal to consult a trained and qualified Ayurvedic physician for choosing the right kind of Ayurvedic massage suitable for you. Massage has been advised only after you have felt hungry- a sign that your previously eaten meal has been digested well and no undigested toxic metabolites/Ama are present in the body.Early morning hours and late evening hours are ideal for taking Ayurvedic massage. Afternoon time should be avoided, unless specifically advised by your physician.
Self- massage is the cheapest and ideal way to go when you are looking at adopting Ayurvedic massage as a part of your daily routine. There are a number of good books which explain the fundamental and techniques of Ayurvedic self-massage. However, it is best to get a demo of a customized Ayurvedic self- massage by a qualified Ayurvedic physician before you kick-start your massage routine. This way not only does the physician analyze whether or not you are fit for massage, he/she may also advise you about the right oil/medicated oil which suits your body type and the simple self- massage techniques which will help you.
While choosing the massage center for an Ayurvedic massage, always make sure that the massage therapists have been professionally trained in Ayurvedic massage therapy. Also, if the massage is for a child, enquire about the therapist’s experience in massaging children. This is very important especially when you or your child have been advised to get specialized massage therapies for specific health conditions. It is ideal to have a qualified Ayurvedic physician associated with the massage center to supervise the massage sessions and to monitor your progress.
Who should not take Ayurvedic massage?
Massage especially oil massage is contraindicated in people with Kapha imbalance, fever, those who have recently undergone Ayurvedic detoxification/bio-purification therapies like Vamana (emesis), virechana (purgation); those with indigestion(acute as well as long-standing) and during menstruation. Other conditions in which massage should be avoided are
- Acute inflammation of veins or phlebitis
- Acute skin inflammation
- High blood pressure
- Infectious diseases like flu
- Brittle bones/osteoporosis
- Open wounds, bruises, boils, ulcers etc.
People suffering from high blood pressure, hernia, asthma, skin allergies, diabetes and cancer must consult their Modern physician and Ayurvedic physician before considering massage therapy.
What are the different variations and types of Ayurvedic massages?
- Abhyanga- This simple oil massage can be done at home for everyday health care or by trained therapists for specific diseases.
- Marma Massage- Ayurvedic massage where special attention is given to marma points or energy points of the body. Ayurveda describes 107 marma points which are massaged and stimulated for better physical and mental health.
- Shirodhara- Medicated oils, herbal decoctions, ghee or warm buttermilk are poured slowly in a steady stream over the forehead for 20-30 minutes.
- Shirobasti- Medicated oil/ghee is pooled over the scalp for a stipulated time with the help of a specialized cap.
- Shiropichu- A soft cotton cloth or cotton pad is soaked in warm medicated oils/ghee and applied over the head.
- Shirobhyanga- Head massage with medicated oils.
- Netrabasti- Warm medicated ghee is pooled in the eyes for a stipulated time period. Special goggles or a circular wall constructed with flour dough is used to keep the ghee in.
- Hridbasti- Warm medicated Oil or ghee is pooled over the heart region for a certain time period by constructing a well like structure around the region with flour dough.
- Katibasti- Warm medicated oil is pooled over the back over the spine by constructing a well like structure with flour dough.
- Janubasti- Warm medicated oil is pooled over the knee joint over the spine by constructing a well like structure with flour dough.
- Chakrabasti- Warm medicated oil or ghee is pooled over the umbilicus with the help of a circular well like structure made out of flour dough.
- Greeva/Manya basti- Warm medicated oil or ghee is pooled over the umbilicus with the help of a circular well like structure made out of flour dough.
- Patra pinda sweda- Bolus of coarse paste of fresh herb leaves are sautéed in oil and tied into muslin cloth. It is then dipped into warm oil and massaged in one area or all over the body simultaneously by four therapists.
- Shashtika shali pinda sweda/ Navarakizhi- A bolus of cooked rice of a unique superior variety(Shashtik shali- one which matures in 60 days) is tied into a muslin cloth, dipped in herbal milk and then massaged all over the body by two or four therapists.
- Pizhichil-Medicated milk or oil is slowly poured over the body and then gently massaged.
- Udvartana- A pastes of herbs or dry powder is massaged in a intricate manner all over the body.
- Kashaya seka- warm herb decoction is poured all over the body and massaged following an initial oil massage.
- Padaghata- Massage therapists use their feet instead of hands for this unique deep tissue massage.
- Padabhyanaga- Feet massage with medicated oil or ghee- clarified butter.
- Talam- Herb paste is mixed with oil and applied to the scalp.
These specialized Ayurvedic massages have very specific indications which will be explained in the following articles in this exclusive article series on Ayurvedic Massages here at spiceflair.com.
1. Ashtanga Hridaya, Sutrasthana 2/8
2. Annetrin Jytte Basler. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. May 2011, 17(5): 435-440. doi:10.1089/acm.2010.0281
3. Sriranjini SJ, Pal PK, Devidas KV, Ganpathy S. Improvement of balance in progressive degenerative cerebellar ataxias after Ayurvedic therapy: A preliminary report. Neurol India 2009;57:166-71