Abhyanga ~ Lymphatic System Support
Updated: Sep 24
In Ayurveda, performing a daily self-massage, called abhyanga, is an essential daily ritual for overall health and well-being. Abhyanga is typically performed by a certified Ayurvedic Practitioner and Massage Therapist, but it's also something you can do in the comfort of your own home.
One of the goals of abhyanga is to get the oil deeply into the body through the skin. Warm Ayurvedic oil is applied and rubbed into the skin to nourish and cleanse the tissues. Warmth is key for absorption. The skin is considered an organ of digestion, and the herbs decocted in traditionally-made Ayurvedic oils aid in the digestion of the oil through the skin. The oil helps drive the herbs deeper into the tissues, enhancing the medicinal properties of the herbs and the healing properties of the massage.
There are several health-enhancing benefits to this daily ritual, but one of the prime benefits of abhyanga is the stimulation of the Lymphatic System.
Two very critical jobs of the Lymphatic System: maintaining fluid balance by collecting excess liquid, waste, and particulates, and providing immunity by distributing special disease-fighting cells called lymphocytes. Think of the Lymphatic System as the major drainage system of your body moving out waste and toxins, like the pipes to your plumbing system.
The Lymphatic system does not have a pump to move it along, so it needs stimulation to keep it flowing. Lymphatic blockage or congestion leads to swelling, edema, and the buildup of metabolic byproducts/toxins called ama, which causes all sorts of imbalances that can affect almost any part of the body.
The techniques and oils used in abhyanga enhance lymphatic flow and loosen toxins in the body, acting as a powerful treatment to aid in detoxification.
Abhyanga has many other healing properties including:
deeply moisturizes all layers of the skin
improves skin health (increases blood flow, reduces wrinkles)
decreases the effects of aging
reduces muscle stiffness
lubricates the joints
proliferates the production of estrogen in the skin
invigorates internal organs
lowers blood pressure, reduces stress
supports deep, restful sleep
profoundly calms & nourishes the nervous system
stimulates Agni (digestive fire)
Steps to perform abhyanga (self-massage)
1. Warm your oil – place your oil jar in a pot of hot water, or rub the oil between your palms.
Oils can be selected based on individual constitution, imbalances, and influences of the season. Traditionally, sesame and coconut oil have been used in India for thousands of years for daily abhyanga. Always use organic oil.
Traditional Ayurvedic oils have decocted healing herbs into the oil for increased benefits. The blend of herbs in the oil may benefit a particular Ayurvedic constitution or address specific imbalances. In general:
Coconut oil is fundamentally cooling to the system and is best for late spring, summer, and early fall days, as well as individuals with excess heat in the system.
Sesame oil is fundamentally warming to the system and is best for late fall, winter and, early spring days, as well as individuals with excess cold in the system.
2. Gently but firmly, massage your body all over: begin with the scalp, working your way down to your feet. Use long strokes for limbs and circular strokes for joints. (On days you want to avoid an oily scalp, you can start with your neck).
*Don’t forget fingers and toes, and pay extra attention to the soles of your feet, as they contain all the nerve endings and important marma points, or conjunctions of prana.
*If your constitution is dominant in Kapha dosha, it is best to dry brush right before abhyanga to remove dead skin from its surface to prepare the skin’s pores for receiving the oil.
4. Rub the oil in for at least 5-10 minutes, letting it soak in. Don’t skip this step, as abhyanga’s deeper benefits depend on the body’s absorption of the oil and herbs. It takes a few minutes for the oil to penetrate the deepest layers of the skin, and another several minutes for it to penetrate the tissues of the internal body. This is an excellent time to gently stretch and/or practice some deep breathing.
5. Take a warm bath or shower to remove excess oil. The warm water will further open your pores and act as a final push for the oil to penetrate deep into your skin.
Alternate #5 - Traditionally, abhyanga is followed by a bath or shower so as to rinse off any excess oil. Given concerns of plumbing issues with oil down the drain, there is also an option to perform abhyanga without taking a shower afterward, and instead use a dedicated towel to fully wipe off any excess oil. The oil should be fully soaked into your skin after about 20 minutes. This could be a good option for some.
When I'm feeling more anxious or feeling particularly ungrounded, I perform abhyanga at night right before bed and it helps me sleep like a baby!
Want to experience getting an abhyanga from a professional? Do your Lymphatic System a solid and come see me for a Total Bliss which is my personal version of an abhyanga. It will leave you feeling thoroughly nurtured and deeply peaceful.