Moisturizing is a form of kindness. According to the Indian tradition of Ayurveda, the practice of abhyanga, or warm-oil massage, is considered not only an act of love, but a tenet of good health. Anointing the body with lightly heated oils is believed to counteract dryness, lubricate the joints, slough the skin, strengthen the muscles, nourish the nerves and reduce pain and inflammation.
Not to mention how incredibly good it feels—especially in winter—to massage warmed oil into parched skin. The massage, plus the heat, enhances the oil’s penetrating quality. The overall lubrication effect grounds and balances both mind and body. It’s the perfect antidote to the frazzled mien that for many of us has become like a second skin.
Done consistently, abhyanga’s cumulative effect is to improve circulation, elimination and digestion. But the role of oiling goes beyond mere functionality. Rubbing oil into one’s skin has a profoundly nurturing quality. In fact, the word sneha in Sanskrit not only means ‘oil,’ it also means ‘love.’ Self-massage and self-love go hand in hand.
Want to improve your health, make your skin radiant and calm your nerves? Here’s a few tips to get you started.
Create a calm environment
Give yourself extra time for the self-massage so that it doesn’t feel like a chore. Wipe down your bathroom, light a candle, and even put some flowers out to bring beauty into the experience.
As a self-care treatment, it's traditionally done in the morning, before bathing. Before you start your Ayurvedic self-massage, take a moment to quiet your mind. Make contact with a deep source of awareness and give your full attention to each stroke. Think of the practice as saturating yourself with love. The more intention you deliver with each stroke, the more powerful the results.
Make it a self-care ritual
Try silently repeating an empowering mantra while massaging oil into your skin or sore muscles.
Choose your oil
You don’t need a beauty-specific oil. In fact, it’s best to use the highest quality food-grade oils—something you would eat—on your ultra-absorbent skin whenever possible.
According to Yoga International, an organization devoted to all things yoga:
For dry skin (vata): Use a warm, heavy oil such as sesame, almond, avocado or bhringaraj.
For sensitive or overheated skin (pitta): Use a cooling or neutral oil such as olive, sunflower, coconut, castor or ghee (clarified butter).
For oily skin (kapha): Use a stimulating oil like mustard, or a light oil such as flaxseed, corn, canola or safflower.
Heat it up
To heat up the oil, put about ¼-½ cup oil in a glass jar that can withstand heat, such as Mason jar. Place the bottle of oil in a pan of hot water until the oil is pleasantly warm.
Oil before bathing
Plan to spend at least 10 minutes applying oil massaging the entire body after coating it in oil, and then resting for at least 10 minutes before washing the oil off. The oil also works as a protective shield, protecting you from any chemicals in the water.
Give your towels some TLC
Using oil on your body before you shower means that over time, your towels will absorb the oil residue and become a bit oily. To fortify your usual laundry detergent to remove the grease, add 1 ounce of natural, plant-based dish soap to your wash load of towels. You may need to replace them more often too.