The How & Why of Oil Baths
I’d always heard of oil baths (abhyanga) from hardcore Ashtangis, but I never actually did one until I traveled to India. We were in conference one afternoon and Sharath spoke about the benefits of weekly oil baths, especially for daily yoga practitioners. So I went to the Ayurvedic shop on my way home and picked up some castor oil, and that night I had my very first oil bath. All I could think the whole time was, “Ahhhh. This is perfect for moms,” but really it's perfect for everyone! It’s such a great, simple form of self care!
Abhyanga, literally translated as "massaging of the limbs," is a traditional Ayurvedic oil massage that heals and recharges the body and mind. It's recommended by many to practice abhyanga daily, first thing in the morning before your yoga practice or work day, but others say 1-3 times a week, day or night, is ultra beneficial too, of course. Sharath recommends taking an oil bath every Sunday, which is rest day in Mysore.
Oil is so amazing for your body, inside and out. By giving yourself regular oil baths you keep the whole body healthy and in peak condition, sort of like changing the oil in your car.
The Benefits of Oil Bath>>
-anti-inflammatory, reduces pain/swelling in joints and muscles
-strengthens the immune system
-improves blood circulation
-removes toxins and tension from the body
-calms and relaxes the nervous system
-softens, moisturizes, and nourishes skin
-improves stamina and mental alertness
Here’s what you do>>
1. Get yourself some good oil.
It can be castor, coconut, sesame, whatever floats your boat, but it's a good idea to use an oil that correlates with you dosha type. If you don't know your dosha, you can take a quiz online or see an Ayurvedic consultant.
2. Heat the oil.
I just filled a bucket with very hot water and let the bottle of oil sit in it for about five minutes. The oil should be warm, but not too hot.
3. Lather up.
Massage the oil into your entire body, starting with the scalp and working your way down to your toes. Give every inch of your body a sweet oily massage. You can go deep into the tissue or be as gentle as you’d like. It’s your self-massage. Regardless of your pressure preference, this part of the process should take a good amount of time. Give yourself the attention you deserve. Allow your body to soften and release with the oil.
4. Sit with it.
Once you’ve finished your self-massage, keep the oil on your body for roughly 5-30 minutes. You can wrap a towel, robe, or blanket around you or relax around the house in your birthday suit. If it’s daytime, consider going outside to sunbathe with the oil on your skin.
5. Wash it off.
Submerse yourself in a nice hot bath or take a steamy hot shower. I personally love taking long hot baths so that’s what I would recommend. You’ll want to use shikakai powder to effectively get the oil out of your hair. You can use a loofah, a washcloth, or your hands to softly massage the oil off. Use the same technique you did to put the oil on: start with the scalp, take your time, enjoy the process. Relax in the bath or shower as long as you want.
Ta-da! That’s an oil bath (abhyanga). For further relaxation and self-care, rub lavender essential oil into the soles of your feet, put some comfy socks on, curl up with a glass of wine and a good book and you’ve got yourself a pretty fabulous Friday night if you ask me.
Have you given yourself an oil bath? How did it go? What oil did you use?