Abhyanga massage is a type of massage therapy which is used by practitioners of Ayurveda to treat their clients. There are several types, based on the region in India where they were developed; the form performed most often in the West is from the Kerala region in the southern part of the country. The massage involves liberally covering the client in oil and then using smooth, gentle movements to rub the oil deeply into the body. Ayurvedic practitioners recommend that people receive such a massage every day to keep the body balanced, healthy, and focused. Some schools in India offer certification in abhyanga massage, and some Western massage schools may offer brief courses which go over abhyanga techniques.
According to the principles of ayurveda, everyone has a specific body type known as a dosha. There are three doshas: pitta, kapha, and vata, and everyone has a specific balance of doshas which must be addressed in ayurvedic therapy. The idea of specific body types appears in many Eastern healing techniques, and it requires practitioners to be extremely flexible, as they must be able to formulate treatments on an individual basis for their clients; in abhyanga massage, your dosha determines what kind of oil should be used, and what sort of ingredients should be added.
Traditionally, this type of massage is performed in the morning, to clarify the mind and stimulate the client for the day. The client lies unclothed on a specially designed table, and the massage therapist pours warmed and specially formulated oil over his or her body. Sesame and coconut oils are commonly used, along with an assortment of herbs. The oil is allowed to soak in for several minutes before the massage therapist begins, using rhythmic, gentle strokes with the whole palm.
In some cases, two massage therapists may work on the same client. This form of massage differs from many Western massage techniques in that it is not deep. It is meant to nourish the body with touch and rich oil, and while it certainly promotes healthy circulation and and joints, it does not deeply penetrate the soft tissues of the body. Abhyanga massage may also be paired with shirodhara, an Ayurvedic treatment which involves dripping warm oil or milk onto the forehead.
An abhyanga massage can last up to an hour. After the massage is over, the client is encouraged wait for 15 minutes or more, then to shower or take a warm bath to encourage absorption of the oil. A regular routine of massage can be very beneficial for the skin. For people who cannot manage a daily massage, practitioners of Ayurveda recommend that people oil their feet, hands, and heads daily with an oil formulated for their dosha.