If you delve a little deeper into Ayurveda, you’ll soon find out that self care is one of the most important factors in keeping body, mind, and soul in balance. In this blog you’ll read:
- The what and why of self care
- About Ayurvedic self-massage as a self care tool
- How do you do a self-massage?
The what and why of self care
What exactly is self care? You can think of self care as creating time and space to step out of everyday life. In society, we are so focused on doing and performing that consciously relaxing is often neglected. Fortunately, it is becoming increasingly clear and evident that relaxation is very important for your health at all levels. If you allow yourself a deep rest and relaxation without having any other specific purpose in mind, you give your nervous system a signal that it can relax and activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
The parasympathetic nervous system is the part of the autonomic nervous system that affects the organs in such a way that the body can enter a state of rest and recovery. When this system is activated, your muscles are relaxed, your digestive system works optimally, your heart beats calmly, and your breathing is deepened. Your body can recover and cleanse and the immune system can function optimally.
The parasympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system connects and coordinates all essential and unconscious processes and tasks. In addition to the parasympathetic nervous system, the autonomic nervous system consists of the sympathetic nervous system. They are, as it were, two branches of the autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for the fight-or-flight response. In other words, you can think of one system as a brake pedal, which provides relaxation, rest, lust, and recovery and the other as the accelerator pedal, which provides action and vigilance.
You might imagine that we are by nature mostly in rest and recovery mode, except when there’s danger and we need to be vigilant and active for a reason. Nowadays, we’re having a continuous presence of stress in our lives, simply caused by having full agendas and all sorts of obligations. As a result, we are far too often in the activated state. Fortunately, Ayurveda has very fine tools to help ourselves get into that deep state of relaxation, so your body may recover, cleanse, and balance.
One of the most famous self care tools within Ayurveda is self-massage. We call this abhyanga in Sanskrit. It consists of applying warm oil to your body and leaving it for 20-30 minutes before showering it off. By doing this regularly you’re not only giving your body peace at that moment, but also making it easier to get into rest and recovery mode in everyday life. This is because you teach your body to fall back into relaxation mode when there is no real danger. As a result, it makes you more relaxed in general. The Sanskrit term for oleation is’Snehana’, which also means love and tenderness. The effects of oiling the body are similar to the effects of love. Abhyanga is an act of love and tenderness towards yourself. One of Ayurveda’s oldest writings says that a daily oil massage will make you strong and charming and will make you age less quickly. It provides a feeling of stability, confidence, and comfort. Reason enough to give it a try!
How do you do an Abhyanga?
Choose an oil that is suitable for your body type. Organic cold-pressed sesame oil or almond oil are a good choice for everyone, especially in autumn and winter. Heat the oil in a glass put in boiled water until the oil is around 38-40 degrees Celsius. Abhyanga only has to last a few minutes. If you have a little more time, take a little more time. At least massage with attention, which means being aware of the touches of every piece of your body. This is healthy for bodily awareness and for your bond with your own body.
Place an old towel on the floor (e.g. in your bathroom) and stand or sit on it. If you have a stool, you can use that instead.
Start with your head (don’t forget your ears!) and massage your whole body piece by piece, until you’ve reached your toes. If you don’t want to wash your hair, skip the scalp. Otherwise, include the scalp as well.
Make long strokes over your limbs and circular movements over your joints.
Massage your chest and abdomen clockwise. Also, don’t forget to include the breasts and armpits.
At the lower abdomen, follow the direction of the colon, from top right to the middle and finish with the lower part of your abdomen.
Massage lower legs and feet well and put on thick socks.
Put on old clothes and make sure you don’t get cold.
Leave the oil on the skin for 20-30 minutes, then shower the oil off your body with warm water. If a thin layer of oil remains on your skin, that’s not a big deal.
During the time you let the oil retract, it’s particularly nice to relax. Consider reading a nice book, doing some yoga exercises or doing nothing at all. Ultimate relaxation!