Are you plagued by chronic health problems? Maybe you often have random aches and pains. Perhaps you have ongoing stress, depression, or anxiety. For most of us, conventional medicine offers some great quick fixes but doesn’t address the underlying cause.
If you think it’s time to look at your health in a new light, why not try a complementary approach? In this guide, you’ll receive an introduction to Ayurvedic massage and learn how it can quickly restore your wellbeing.
What is Ayurvedic massage?
Ayurvedic massage is rooted in Ayurveda, which refers to a set of lifestyle and medical practices rather than a specific treatment. In Sanskrit, it means “knowledge of life” or “life science.”
Ayurveda has a history stretching back around 5,000 years. For a long time, it was an oral tradition, but the principles were written down around 1,200 years ago. These texts, known as the Veda texts, contain a comprehensive overview of human health and wellbeing. Practitioners still base their work on these writings today.
Ayurveda is grounded in the theory that everyone is made up of five elements – water, air, fire, space, and earth. When combined, they produce the three vital forces. These are Kapha (water and earth), Vata (air and space), and Pitta (water and fire). Collectively, these forces are called “Doshas.”
According to Ayurvedic practitioners, everyone has their own Dosha makeup. This makeup is both inherited from our parents and shaped by environmental factors. When a person suffers a physical or psychological problem, it is usually caused by a Dosha imbalance. Therefore, the goal of Ayurveda practices is to balance the Doshas.
For example, if someone has too much Kapha, they may become sluggish and lethargic. If they have too much Vata, they are liable to periods of stress and anxiety. Ayurvedic therapists believe that tension in the body accumulates as we encounter stressful situations. This can result in imbalances. To restore normal functioning, this tension must be released.
What techniques are used in Ayurvedic massage?
Before the massage begins, the therapist may say a brief prayer or engage in meditation. This is to help them focus on their client and create a strong energy connection. During the massage, they may deliberately synchronize their breathing to match that of the client.
The first stage of an Ayurvedic treatment is an oil massage. These oils are believed to detoxify the body. The therapist chooses the type of oil to be used based on the client’s self-reported problems. For example, someone reporting lethargy would benefit from a stimulating scent like cinnamon or citrus.
Essential oils are the basis of an ancient treatment called Shirodhara. During this process, a therapist allows oil to slowly drip onto a client’s forehead. In Ayurveda, this is the location of the Third Eye chakra. The oils contain herbs that are thought to have a healing effect. The most common include gotu kola, guduchi, and rosemary.
During treatment, the therapist will apply pressure to the client’s marmas and chakras. A marma is a point within the body that attracts energy. When these are manipulated, life energy (“prana”) can flow more freely. There are 107 marma that are manipulated during therapy, but the body contains hundreds more.
Of these marmas, seven are especially important. These are the “seven great marmas” and can be thought of as the body’s key energy junctions. They are located over the thymus, pineal gland, pancreas, gonads, pituitary gland, adrenal glands, and thyroid. Using massage and oils, a therapist can move energy through these centers.
The three types of movements
According to naturopath Caroline Robertson, therapeutic Ayurveda massage comprises of three main types of movement. A therapist may use active pressure, which simply consists of apply strong force to the body. They may use passive movement, which is akin to light stroking. Finally, they might use persuasive movements – pinching, rolling, and kneading.
Your therapist may use firm pressure, but massage should never be uncomfortable or painful. Let them know if you need or prefer a lighter touch.
Music can also promote healing in the massage room. There are 72 Ragas, or melodies, in common use. When played, they naturally coordinate with the client’s biorhythms and rebalance the body’s functioning. They are chosen to suit an individual client’s needs in much the same way as the massage oils.
Finally, the therapist will end the massage with an ubtan scrub. They will apply a paste made of flour or ground up beans to this skin as an exfoliant. Exfoliation promotes good circulation, removes any residual oil, and improves the skin’s appearance.
What are the benefits of Ayurvedic massage?
1. It is relaxing.
Although Ayurvedic massage is part of a wider medicinal system, it can also be enjoyed as a spa treatment. It is a good choice for anyone with stress, depression, or anxiety. Lower levels of tension can also help reduce or eliminate headaches, including migraines.
2. It can help treat frozen shoulder.
As the name implies, frozen shoulder is an injury that makes normal shoulder movement impossible. Fortunately, Ayurvedic massage can soften the hard tissue that forms around the shoulder. According to Ayurvedic practitioners, reducing the levels of Vata in the body reduces the stiffness and pain.
3. It can help treat pain and arthritis.
A clinical trial in 2011 showed that Ayurvedic treatments are just as effective as conventional treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. Other research suggests that turmeric and frankincense, both commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, have anti-inflammatory properties. This means they can reduce joint swelling and pain.
Rubbing painful knees with sesame massage oil has been shown to reduce overall pain levels in people with osteoarthritis. Ayurvedic treatments also enhance muscle function. In a study with children diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, it emerged that six months of treatment increased flexibility.
4. It can encourage hair regrowth.
According to Dr. V. L. Shyam, hair loss is caused by an excess of Pitta. Therefore, herbs and massage that reduce and rebalance this Dosha will limit hair loss and promote regrowth. A therapist will usually recommend massaging the head with herbal oils several times each week.
5. It can help treat digestive disorders.
Ayurvedic massage incorporates abdominal massage. This stimulates the bowel, helping the body eliminate waste products. It can restore normal bowel movements in people who suffer constipation or diarrhea.
6. It can improve wellbeing during pregnancy and menopause.
Pregnancy and menopause can be physically and emotionally stressful. Ayurvedic medicine can help relieve physical symptoms and promote general wellbeing.
For example, Ayurvedic treatments can reduce anxiety, stress, and leg pain in pregnant women. Not only that, but Ayurvedic massage reduces the chances of premature delivery. Menopausal women, who are prone to hot flushes and mood swings, can benefit from massage and herbal treatments. Research has shown that it also promotes better sleep.
How Ayurvedic massage can help with weight loss
Ayurvedic practitioners use several types of specialized massage routines that help reduce levels of body fat. For instance, Udvartana, or Ayurvedic Powder Massage, is a technique said to speed up weight loss.
During Udvartana, the therapist applies a powder made of finely ground herbs whilst massaging the body. This technique emphasizes firm, upward strokes over the whole body. This breaks down cellulite beneath the skin, removes toxins from the body, and improves bodily strength.
These treatments make use of herbs that are thought to promote fat breakdown. Indian Gooseberry, black pepper, soap nut, and dried ginger are just a few herbs used in these treatments. The therapist will tailor the balance of herbs based on the client’s constitution and Doshas. Herbs can also be applied to the skin as a medicated oil.
Ayurvedic practitioners can also recommend herbal preparations that can be taken internally as liquids or tablets. For example, triphala is a common herb used in weight loss. It is made up of three native Indian fruits – bibhitaki, amalaki, and hairtaki. If you choose to ingest herbal remedies, always follow the directions of an experienced practitioner.
How to give yourself an Ayurvedic massage
In India, Ayurvedic medicine is often used in place of, or in addition to, Western approaches. Most people grow up assuming that massage is part of everyday life. Self-massage is seen as a normal health practice.
All you need is a small amount of massage oil, a towel, and some privacy. Start by massaging your head, and then work your way down. Using circular, long, and short strokes, you can stimulate your circulation and promote lymphatic drainage. Plain sesame massage oil is fine, or you can buy oils specially formulated for your body type.
You can watch this video to see a demonstration of Ayurvedic self-massage:
This massage only requires 15 minutes, and ideally should become a daily habit. You could also learn how to give your partner a massage. This will not only benefit their health but can also increase the intimacy in your relationship.
How massaging yourself with a silk glove promotes weight loss
Garshana is a style of massage traditionally used to break down excess fluid and fat in the body. If you suffer fluid retention or weight fluctuations, this massage will help you clear out unwanted fluids and feel more comfortable. It is also great for aching, stiff joints.
This treatment is carried out using raw silk gloves. You can buy a pair of Garshana gloves online for around $30 or use a firm brush with natural bristles. The treatment does not require any oil, so there’s no messy clean-up.
According to Dr. Kulreet Chaudhury, you need to massage your arms, stomach, and legs to clear your lymphatic system and support your metabolism. Start by massaging from your shoulder down towards your wrists, using brisk circular movements. Don’t forget your hands – massage your fingers and the spaces between them.
Next, massage your abdomen. Always use clockwise strokes, as this stimulates the natural path of digestion. Using both hands at the same time, apply firm horizontal strokes in opposite directions. Rub your hands up and down along your sides.
Finally, massage your legs. Apply pressure to your buttocks and hips, using circular movements. Using both hands, make back-and-forth movements with firm strokes on your thighs. Massage your lower legs and ankles. Don’t forget to massage the soles of your feet and the space between your toes.
Getting advice from an Ayurvedic practitioner
Ayurvedic massage is just one practice within Ayurvedic medicine as a whole. Your therapist will probably be willing and able to provide guidance on other lifestyle matters. For instance, they may tell you the best food and drink for your body type. They may be able to give advice on stress reduction, exercise, and herbal remedies.
For example, suppose you are suffering from acne. Your practitioner may recommend a combination of oils, dietary changes alongside massage. They may show you how to prepare and apply a topical lotion made of basil leaves and tell you how often to apply it. With regards to diet, they may tell you to avoid sour, oily, processed and spicy foods.
Are Ayurvedic treatments safe?
These treatments are safe for most people. However, if you have a medical condition or are taking any form of medication, it’s best to check with your doctor first. Under no circumstances should you stop taking any prescribed medication unless under medical supervision.
Most Western people with an interest in Ayurveda use it alongside conventional treatments. Mainstream practitioners are becoming increasingly accepting of complementary medicine when used responsibly.
A responsible Ayurvedic practitioner will never urge you to abandon Western medicine entirely. In most cases, they will advise lifestyle changes that are in alignment with conventional medicine. For instance, they usually advocate a diet rich in whole foods alongside an active lifestyle.
Some of the herbs and oils used during treatment can be toxic if applied in the wrong quantities. Although they are natural, it is possible to have an allergic reaction to medicinal herbs. Your therapist should always do a patch test before applying a medicated oil to your whole body.