What the heck is Abhyanga?

Now that it's been a month since Northern Lights Massage opened, our marketing material has made it out into the world, and people are talking. One of the things I've been repeatedly asked after someone looks at the service menu is "What is Abhyanga?" So I thought I'd use this month's blog to explain this unique service.

oil application during abhyanga

Abhyanga is a rhythmic and flowing full body massage that uses light pressure and generous amounts of warm oil. It is often described as being like "a dance of hands on the body". The word "abhyanga" translated from Sanskrit means "to rub limbs".

Although you may not have heard of Abhyanga before, it has been practiced in other parts of the world for thousands of years. It is an Ayurvedic massage, meaning it has its origins in the healing system of the Indian Subcontinent. Ayurveda means "the science of life", and encompasses far more than massage (you might be familiar with another aspect- yoga). It is an entire system of wellness, with many specialties, just like the Western system of medicine. However, Ayurveda takes a holistic approach, working in harmony with an individual, the environment, and the seasons.

In Ayurveda, each individual has a body type or constitution known as a dosha. This is a combination of elements unique to each person. There are three doshas- vata, pitta, kapha. An individual can have a singular dosha as their dominant type, or they can have a combination of two types, or be fairly well split between all three. Knowing your dosha type before your abhyanga massage is helpful because the oils used during the massage can be customized to your dosha. To figure out your dosha, you can take this quiz from the Chopra Center. https://chopra.com/sites/default/files/DoshaQuiz.pdf This quiz also gives more detail about each dosha type, and suggestions for each dosha.

So why would you want to have an abhyanga massage instead of a Swedish or Deep Tissue, or whatever your favorite treatment is? It is a great treatment for people who do not like deep pressure, or who bruise easily. It is very gentle. It calms the nervous system and distracts the mind with its rhythmic flow, making it easy to relax. The generous amount of oil nourishes the skin, and leaves you glowing. The light pressure moves lymph and blood, so it boosts immunity and circulation, and gently detoxifies. Perhaps one of these reasons applies to you, or maybe you just want to try something new.

When you come in for an abhyanga massage, what you can expect is either a conversation or quiz to determine your dosha in order to customize the massage oils for your treatment. I typically use coconut or sesame oil, depending on the season and dosha. Essential oils are added as well, based on your dosha. The oil is applied warm, and the draping is minimal, but all the important parts are covered! This aids in the flow and dance-like quality of the massage. The treatment begins with a scalp massage in a seated position. It then moves on to a facial massage, followed by neck, chest, and stomach, then arms and legs. The treatment ends with a back massage, and a cleanse with warm towels to remove any excess oil still remaining on your skin.

While abhyanga is a lovely and soothing treatment on its own, it is recommended to be done with another Ayurvedic treatment called garshana. Garshana is a dry exfoliation with raw silk gloves. It follows a similar rhythmic pattern as abhyanga. It is meant to prepare the skin for the oil application of abhyanga, and it improves the texture and appearance of the skin. Garshana is suitable for all dosha types, but is especially good for kapha types. Garshana is not for folks who have sensitive skin.

I hope this post answers the question "What is abhyanga?", and leaves you wanting to try it, and also to learn more about Ayurveda. For more info on Ayurveda, I would recommend reading the book "Ayurveda for Dummies" by Angela Hope-Murray.

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