Most people are familiar with the word ‘Ayurveda’, which is the ancient system of holistic healing that originated in India. Ayurvedic medicine emphasises the use of natural ingredients and discourages artificially-manufactured food and medicine. There is also a massage component to Ayurvedic techniques – it is called ‘Abhyanga’.
The Essentials of Ayurvedic Massage
Abhyanga is a massage performed by a single person or two or more masseuses. It is unique in that multiple masseuses are the norm. Another unique element of the practice is the copious amounts of oils used.
The term Abhyanga is a combination of two Sanskrit words, ‘abhi’, which means ‘towards’ and ‘anga’, which means ‘movement’. This is a reference to the way an Abhyanga masseuse directs the application of pressure – in the direction that follows the flow of the body’s arterial blood.
While a qualified practitioner is familiar with the circulatory system of the human body, a layperson can also tell which direction this is because it is generally the direction in which hair grows on the body.
The aim of this directional massage is to assist the flow of blood to the extremities and regions which typically do not receive as good a supply of oxygenated blood at other times. The result is:
- better removal of toxins;
- an enhanced glow to the skin;
- an overall sense of pleasure and well-being.
No actual records of the techniques were written down in the ancient Hindu texts. Instead, the practice was taught by masters directly to their apprentices. What the texts do make clear is that Abhyanga manipulation is generally applied through the pads of the fingers and thumbs, using both rubbing and squeezing.
The texts do focus extensively on the oils used, and different combinations in different ratios are as essential as the physical massage itself in promoting the positive effects possible with this massage.
Specialised Ayurvedic Massage
While the Abhyanga massage is generally focused on specific parts of the body like the head (Shiro Abhyanga) the feet (Pad Abhyanga) or pressure points (Marma Abhyanga), there is also an all-body Ayurvedic massage (Sarvanaga Abhyanga). Apart from these there are specific techniques developed specifically for post-natal care of mothers and also for newborns.
One of the best things about Abhyanga is that it can be self-applied. The ancient texts spell out the exact parts of the body that have to be massaged with great precision, and the order and duration for which they must be stimulated.