“Abhyanga: the ayurvedic therapeutic massage”
abhyanga, an ancient ayurvedic therapeutic massage technique, is a time-honored practice with a rich history. This is different than other massages as Spa massage, Dai massage, Thai massage. It is the Indian therapeutic massage.
this method involves the skillful application of snehadravyas, which are specially formulated oils, using gentle yet precise pressure in specific directions.
abhyanga can be tailored to address the entire body or target specific areas in need of attention.
remarkably, many contemporary massage techniques draw inspiration from abhyanga, having been influenced by traditions such as keraliya kalari chikitsa, kathakali massage, and martial arts.
the world of massage therapy encompasses various types, each designed to serve distinct purposes in the realms of wellness and healthcare, including hygienic massage, sports massage, and therapeutic massage.
Importance of abhyanga:
स्नेहाभ्यङ्गाद्यथा कुम्भश्चर्म स्नेहविमर्दनात्|
भवत्युपाङ्गादक्षश्च दृढः क्लेशसहो यथा||८५||
तथा शरीरमभ्यङ्गाद्दृढं सुत्वक् च जायते|
Just as a cart’s pot, leather, and axle become STURDIER AND MORE EFFICIENT with regular oiling, the human body also gains strength and resilience through the practice of abhyanga. This ayurvedic technique not only nourishes the skin, giving it a firm and healthy quality when oils are applied regularly but also serves to pacify vata dosha. By doing so, abhyanga helps the body withstand fatigue and physical exertion more effectively.
सुस्पर्शोपचिताङ्गश्च बलवान् प्रियदर्शनः|
भवत्यभ्यङ्गनित्यत्वान्नरोऽल्पजर एव च||८९|| च.सू.५ -८९
Someone who consistently engages in abhyanga, the practice of oil massage, enjoys the benefits of well-nourished skin, a robust and appealing appearance, and a more gradual aging process.
Special effects of abhyanga:
न खालित्यं न पालित्यं न केशाः प्रपतन्ति च||८१||
बलं शिरःकपालानां विशेषेणाभिवर्धते|
दृढमूलाश्च दीर्घाश्च कृष्णाः केशा भवन्ति च||८२||
इन्द्रियाणि प्रसीदन्ति सुत्वग्भवति चाननम्  |
निद्रालाभः सुखं च स्यान्मूर्ध्नि तैलनिषेवणात्||८३||
Applying oil to the head yields numerous benefits, including the prevention of Gray hair and hair loss. It also strengthens the head and skull, promotes firm-rooted, long, and black hair, enhances sensory faculties, and contributes to a more youthful appearance. Additionally, it facilitates better sleep and brings about a sense of happiness and well-being.
Benefits of abhyanga:
अभ्यङ्गमाचरेन्नित्यं, स जराश्रमवातहा|
दृष्टिप्रसादपुष्ट्यायुःस्वप्नसुत्वक्त्वदार्ढ्यकृत्||८|| अ.हृ.सु २-८
Incorporating abhyanga into your daily routine is highly advisable due to the multitude of benefits it offers, which include:
- Slowing down the aging process, reducing physical exertion, and soothing vata dosha.
- Boosting vision and maintaining eye health.
- Providing essential nourishment to the body, fostering overall well-being.
- Contributing to increased longevity.
- Enhancing the quality of sleep.
- Cultivating healthy and radiant skin, leading to an improved complexion and increased firmness.
- Enhancing physical fitness and vitality.
Sushruta’s benefits of abhyanga:
अभ्यङ्गो मार्दवकरः कफवातनिरोधनः |
धातूनां पुष्टिजननो मृजावर्णबलप्रदः ||३०|| su.chi.24/30
Massage nurtures the body, instills suppleness, appeases both kapha and vata, nourishes the tissues, and bestows a complexion that is not only healthy but also exudes softness and radiance.
Special sites for abhyanga:
शिरःश्रवणपादेषु तं विशेषेण शीलयेत्| अ.हृ.सू २-९|
Daily self-massage, or abhyanga, is crucial for maintaining the well-being of the head, ears, and feet. When it comes to shiroabhyanga (head massage), the benefits include:
शिरोगतांस्तथा रोगाञ्छिरोभङ्गोऽपकर्षति |
केशानां मार्दवं दैर्ध्यं बहुत्वं स्निग्धकृष्णताम् ||२५||
करोति शिरसस्तृप्तिं सुत्वक्कमपि चाननम् |
सन्तर्पणं चेन्द्रियाणां शिरसः प्रतिपूरणम् ||२६|| su.chi.24/25-26
Shiroabhyanga offers a range of advantages:
– it serves as a preventative measure against head-related ailments.
– promotes the growth of luxuriously soft, long, thick, glossy, and deeply colored hair.
– bestows a profound sense of contentment and relaxation to the head.
– contributes to the reduction of facial wrinkles.
– nourishes the sensory organs, thereby enhancing overall head vitality.
Selection of oil for abhyangas
involves considering various factors, such as dosha imbalances and specific health conditions. Here are the oils commonly used:
- According to dosha:
- For vata dosha:
– prabhanjan vimardana taila
– vatashanai taila
– dhanvantar taila
– narayana taila
– maha narayana taila
– dashamula taila
– nirgundi taila
- For pitta dosha:
– kheerbala taila
– pinda taila
– chandan bala lakshadi taila
– Nalpamaradi Taila
– Pinda taila
iii. For kapha dosha:
– kottamchukadi taila
– sahacharadi taila
– dhanwantara taila
– saindhvadi taila
- According to vyadhi (specific health conditions):
- amavata: brihat saindhavadi taila, saindhvadi taila, narayan taila
- sandhivata: mahanarayan taila, panchaguna taila, dashamula taila
- kitibha: ayappal kera taila, eladi kera taila, marichadi taila, 777 oil
- pakshaghata: mahamasha taila, vishagarbha taila, prasharini taila
- mamsa kshaya: bala taila, niramisa masha taila
- Sutika roga: Ksheerabala taila, Dhanwantharam taila
- Bala roga: Vatashani taila, Chandan Bala Lakshadi taila
Selection of sneha for abhyanga:
तैलं घृतं वा मतिमान् युञ्ज्यादभ्यङ्गसेकयोः ||३४|| सु.चि.२४/३४
In the context of body constitution, season, time of day, and location potentially influenced by imbalances, the choice between using oil or ghee is advisable for abhyanga practice.
– oil/medicated oil: 100-150 ml
– container: 200 ml capacity
– tissue paper/soft towel
– green gram powder/medicated snana choorna/medicated soap
– masseurs: two for full-body massage, one for localized (single part) massage, and one for children under 10 years.
Directions for abhyanga/massage:
– abhyanga encompasses a range of techniques, including kneading, rubbing, tapping, and squeezing (mardanam, ardanam, masrshanam, sparshanam, champanam, kampanam, ladanam, peedanam).
– for optimal results, it is vital to follow specific guidelines during the massage:
– the patient should lie supine on the massage table.
– the massage of the head, neck, and face is conducted with the patient in a seated position.
– the massage should commence from the soles of the feet and progress towards the heart, facilitating the circulation of impure blood back to the heart.
– in cases of neurological disorders, massage should be applied from the central to peripheral regions, typically following the direction of hair growth.
– abhyanga can be performed in various positions, including sitting, supine, right lateral, left lateral, or, in some instances, the prone position.
– mild spinal massage is administered when the patient assumes the prone position.
It encompasses a sequence of expertly crafted techniques aimed at inducing relaxation, boosting circulation, and elevating overall well-being. Below, we outline the steps that define this comprehensive massage experience:
Massage for the head and neck:
- Cervical spine massage- the therapist commences by placing their palms on both sides of the patient’s neck, aligning their thumbs along the spine’s midline. They apply upward pressure with their thumbs while moving towards the occiput, ensuring consistent pressure is maintained.
- Lateral neck massage- in a seated position, the therapist stands behind the patient, positioning their palms on either side of the patient’s head. They then move their palms downward towards the shoulders, applying firm pressure. Circular motions are incorporated while massaging the shoulders.
- Linear forehead massage- the therapist places their thumbs at the center of the patient’s forehead, gently moving them outward while maintaining a firm yet gentle pressure. The right thumb moves to the right, and the left thumb to the left.
- Linear brow massage- using both thumbs, they position them at the inner ends of the patient’s eyebrows, with their tips facing each other. Firm pressure is applied while sliding their thumbs towards the temples.
- Linear nasal bridge massage- a single thumb is placed at the base of the nasal bridge and gently moved towards the nose’s tip. This is alternated with the other thumb, providing a soothing experience.
- Linear nose sides massage- both thumbs are positioned on either side of the base of the nose and moved towards the nostrils using a combination of gentle and firm pressure.
- Linear upper lip massage- the therapist utilizes their right and left thumbs to apply adequate pressure while moving them simultaneously or alternately along the entire length of the upper lip.
- Maxillary massage- starting from the base of the nasal bridge, the thumbs glide laterally over the maxillary bone, reaching up to the temporal region. This process is then repeated for the lower portion of the maxillary area.
- Cheek massage- the therapist employs the thenar eminences of their hands to massage the cheeks, applying appropriate pressure as they move their palms towards the chin area.
- Chin massage- both thumbs are positioned at the center of the chin, facing each other. Firm pressure is applied as the thumbs move laterally over the mandible, with the left thumb covering the left side and the right thumb the right side.
Trunk massage- abhyanga is performed in four positions: supine, prone, left lateral, and right lateral. The abdomen and chest are massaged in the supine position, the back in the prone position, and the sides of the trunk in the lateral positions.
– linear maneuver- the therapist, standing on one side of the patient and facing the head end, uses the flat of their palm to begin at the sacral region and move upward along the spine.
– elbow tip maneuver- the therapist positions their elbow tip directly on the spine, performing circular motions along the entire length of the spine.
– thumb maneuver- utilizing both thumbs, the therapist moves them longitudinally along the spine and then in a half-circle motion around each other to cover the entire spine.
Finishing touch- the excess oil is gently wiped off the body using tissue paper or towels at the end of the procedure.
Duration:-typically, abhyanga lasts for 45-60 minutes.
Following the abhyanga session, the recommended post-massage routine includes:
1.rest: – after abhyanga, it’s advisable for the patient to recline comfortably and rest for about 15 minutes.
- -lukewarm bath:- subsequently, the patient can take a soothing bath using lukewarm water and an appropriate medicated soap or cleansing herbal powder, known as snana choorna.
- -application of rasnadi choorna:- after the bath, it is beneficial to apply rasnadi choorna to the head. This traditional herbal mixture contributes to enhanced well-being.
- -light nourishment:- depending on the individual’s specific health condition, digestive capacity, and dietary suitability (satmya), the patient can partake in a light meal. This meal should align with their overall wellness goals.
- -optional sweating therapy (swedana):- if swedana, a therapeutic sweating procedure, is deemed suitable and part of the treatment plan, it should be performed immediately after abhyanga and before bathing. Swedana complements the overall therapy process.
This post-abhyanga routine helps optimize the benefits of the massage and supports the patient’s overall health and wellness journey.
Benefits of ayurvedic massage:
Massage through abhyanga offers a wide range of positive effects on the body, mind, and spirit:
- enhanced immune response:- abhyanga has the potential to bolster the immune system by promoting the production of white blood cells and antibodies. This, in turn, strengthens the body’s defense mechanisms against viruses and diseases.
- musculoskeletal fortification:- this practice plays a significant role in fortifying the musculoskeletal system. It enhances blood circulation and facilitates efficient nerve conduction, contributing to the overall health of the body.
- alleviation of heaviness and stiffness:- abhyanga is particularly effective in alleviating sensations of heaviness and stiffness in the body. It imparts a feeling of lightness and flexibility, enhancing overall comfort.
- holistic well-being:- whether utilized as a means of maintaining health or as a therapeutic intervention for various illnesses, abhyanga is instrumental in achieving holistic well-being. It addresses physical, mental, and even spiritual aspects of health, offering comprehensive benefits.
Incorporating abhyanga into your wellness routine can be a transformative experience, positively impacting multiple facets of your health and vitality.
Padabhyanga (foot massage)-
The application of oil to the feet, followed by a massage, is commonly referred to as “padabhyanga,” and it holds great significance in promoting overall health. The feet play a pivotal role in our body, as they serve as the termination point for numerous nerves originating from various organs. Through padabhyanga, these nerves are strengthened, and health is restored to various parts of the body.
During this practice, vital points known as “gulpha marma” are massaged with care. This not only brings balance to your dosha constitution but also offers significant benefits to individuals dealing with issues such as insomnia, fatigue, and muscle cramps. Padabhyanga, by nourishing and rejuvenating these vital points, contributes to overall well-being and vitality.
खरत्वं स्तब्धता रौक्ष्यं श्रमः सुप्तिश्च पादयोः|
सद्य एवोपशाम्यन्ति पादाभ्यङ्गनिषेवणात्||९०||
जायते सौकुमार्यं च बलं स्थैर्यं च पादयोः|
दृष्टिः प्रसादं लभते मारुतश्चोपशाम्यति||९१||
न च स्याद्गृध्रसीवातः पादयोः स्फुटनं न च|
न सिरास्नायुसङ्कोचः पादाभ्यङ्गेन पादयोः||९२|| च.सू.५/९०-९२
Foot massage, also known as pada abhyanga, offers rapid relief from common discomforts such as leg roughness, stiffness, dryness, fatigue, and numbness. This practice is dedicated to nurturing supple, resilient, and well-balanced legs while also contributing to enhanced visual clarity. Pada abhyanga is especially effective in regulating the vata dosha and holds specific benefits for conditions like gridhrasi (sciatica).
Additionally, pada abhyanga serves as a preventive measure against issues such as leg cracks and the constriction of blood vessels and nerves in the legs. By incorporating this practice into your routine, you can maintain the health and vitality of your legs while experiencing increased comfort and overall well-being.
निद्राकरो देहसुखश्चक्षुष्यः श्रमसुप्तिनुत् ||७०||
पादत्वङ्मृदुकारी च पादाभ्यङ्गः सदा हितः |७१|su.chi.24/70-71
foot massage is always beneficial, as it induces sleep, brings comfort to the body, alleviates eye strain, and relieves fatigue.
Duration: the treatment is continued for 7 to 14 days for 30 minutes.
Shiro abhyanga (head massage)-
Shiroabhyanga is a specialized technique that involves the application of oil to the head. It starts by gently applying oil to the central region of the head and then using delicate cross movements of the palms and fingers to evenly spread the oil across the entire scalp. This technique places particular emphasis on massaging key marma points, including adhipati, seemanta, sthapani, utkshepa, and shankha.
When working with these marma points, it is recommended to employ both clockwise and counterclockwise motions for maximum effectiveness. Throughout the head massage, you can also incorporate regular movements such as fist kneading, clapping, and thumping to further enhance the benefits of this practice.
Benefits of shiroabhyanga-
न खालित्यं न पालित्यं न केशाः प्रपतन्ति च||८१||
बलं शिरःकपालानां विशेषेणाभिवर्धते|
दृढमूलाश्च दीर्घाश्च कृष्णाः केशा भवन्ति च||८२||
इन्द्रियाणि प्रसीदन्ति सुत्वग्भवति चाननम्  |
निद्रालाभः सुखं च स्यान्मूर्ध्नि तैलनिषेवणात्||८३|| cha.su.5/81-83
Shiroabhyanga, the art of head massage, offers a range of benefits that contribute to overall well-being. It promotes restful sleep, providing relief from headaches, stress, and tension, thus offering a soothing respite to the head. This practice also aids in diminishing worry lines, nourishing the hair, and effectively reducing hair fall.
Furthermore, shiroabhyanga enhances the efficiency of the senses of vision, hearing, smell, and taste following a rejuvenating head massage. It’s a holistic approach to both relaxation and sensory rejuvenation.
Textual indications of abhyanga:
Adharniya vega (mutra, mala, shukra,nidra)- cha.su.7/5-9
Pittaja gulma: cha.chi.5/131
Scorpion bite: cha.chi.23/173
Vataja hridroga- cha.chi.26/82
Atiyoga of vamana – cha.chi.17/86
Healthy and diseased
Before swedana and shodhana
Who excessively indulge in alcohol, exercise, mental stress and sex
Old age, children, debilitated, emaciated
Contra-indications of abhyanga:
वर्ज्योऽभ्यङ्गः कफग्रस्तकृतसंशुद्ध्यजीर्णिभिः||९|| अ.हृ.सू.२-९
केवलं सामदोषेषु न कथञ्चन योजयेत् |
तरुणज्वर्यजीर्णी च नाभ्यक्तव्यौ कथञ्चन ||३५||
तथा विरिक्तो वान्तश्च निरूढो यश्च मानवः |
पूर्वयोः कृच्छ्रता व्याधेरसाध्यत्वमथापि वा ||३६||
शेषाणां तदहः प्रोक्ता अग्निमान्द्यादयो गदाः |
सन्तर्पणसमुत्थानां रोगाणां नैव कारयेत् ||३७|| सु.चि.२४ अध्याय
Kapha predominant diseased
Who undergone shodhana- vamana, virechana, niruha
Suffering from indigestion
Suffering with disease of excessive nutrition (santarpanottha vyadhi)
अभ्यङ्ग इत्यादि| अभ्यङ्गोऽत्र सकलदेहस्य  स्नेहाभ्यङ्गः| मृजा शुद्धप्रभा, वर्णो गौरादिः| स्नेहस्य सिरामुखादिभिः शरीरसन्तर्पणकालं केचिदत्र पठन्ति- “रोमान्तेष्वनु देहस्य स्थित्वा मात्राशतत्रयम्| ततः प्रविशति स्नेहश्चतुर्भिर्गच्छति त्वचम्||रक्तं गच्छति मात्राणां शतैः पञ्चभिरेव तु| षड्भिर्मांसं प्रपद्येत मेदः सप्तभिरेव च||शतैरष्टाभिरस्थीनि मज्जानं नवभिर्व्रजेत्| तत्रस्थाञ्छमयेद्रोगान् वातपित्तकफात्मकान्” इति||३०|| सु.चि.२४-३०
Romant (external skin)- 300 matra=95sec
Twak (skin)- 400 matra=127 sec
Rakta (blood)- 500 matra= 159 sec
Mamsa (muscles)- 600 matra= 190 sec
Meda (fat)- 700 matra=220 sec
Asthi (bones)- 800 matra= 254 sec
Majja (bone marrow)- 900 matra= 285 sec ~ 5 minutes
Here are 10 multiple-choice questions with answers related to abhyanga: the ayurvedic therapeutic massage:
- What is abhyanga?
- A traditional indian dance
- An ancient ayurvedic therapeutic massage technique
- A type of yoga practice
- A form of meditation
- Which substances are applied during abhyanga?
- Herbal powders
- Oils (snehadravyas)
- Sandalwood paste
- What is the importance of abhyanga, according to ayurveda?
- It helps lose weight
- It pacifies vata dosha and enhances endurance
- It cures respiratory diseases
- It improves eyesight
- According to ayurveda, what special effect does abhyanga have on hair?
- It makes hair grow faster
- It turns hair black
- It prevents hair from turning gray and falling
- It makes hair curly
- How long should abhyanga typically last?
- 15-20 minutes
- 30-45 minutes
- 60-90 minutes
- 2-3 hours
- What is the purpose of applying specific oils in abhyanga?
- To make the body slippery
- To add fragrance to the massage
- To address individual dosha imbalances
- To make the massage more enjoyable
- What is the primary direction of massage during abhyanga?
- From head to toe
- From toe to head
- In a circular motion
- Against the direction of hair growth
- Which body part should be massaged while the patient is in a prone position during abhyanga?
- Head and neck
- Feet and legs
- Abdomen and chest
- What should be applied on the head after a shiroabhyanga (head massage)?
- Medicated soap
- Lukewarm water
- Rasnadi choorna
- What is the purpose of padabhyanga (foot massage) in ayurveda?
- To make the feet slippery
- To improve digestion
- To strengthen the nerves and promote overall health
- To relieve shoulder pain
1.Agnivesha, Charaka, Charaka Samhita with commentary of Chakrapani Datta, edited by Vaidya Yadavaji Trikamji Acharya, published by Chaukhamba Krishnadas Academy, Varanasi, Reprint 2010
2.Sushruta, Sushruta Samhita with commentary of Sri Dalhanacharya edited by Aryan Ram Acharya “Kavyatirtha”, published by Chaukhamba Orientalia, Varanasi, Reprint 2009
3.Vagbhata, Ashtanga Hridya with the commentaries Sarvangasundara of Arundatta and Ayurveda Rasayana of Hemadri, edited by Pandit Hari Sadasiva Sastri Paradakara Bhisagacarya; Chaukhamba rientalia,Varanasi, Reprint -2011.
4.Dravyaguna Vijnana by Dr. J. L. N Shastri, Vol. 2, 3rd Edition, Chaukhamba Orientalia, Varanasi, 2008