Perhaps, we should love ourselves so fiercely, that when others see us they know exactly how it should be done.
I’ve done a lot of things in the name of self-care. I’ve stopped my work to meditate. I’ve happily gone to 6am yoga classes on vacation. I’ve said no to cakes and venti lattes and foods I know would leave me feeling awful for hours if not days.
But I’ve also used self-care as a reason to retreat. As a reason to meticulously count the number of almonds I was eating. To say no to a party where I’d have to explain too many times why I wasn’t partaking in the cheese dip. To “protect” my energy rather than give it – not realizing that in the right cases, energy is multiplied, not diminished, by it’s use.
My instagram is full of proclamations of #selfcare, self-care Saturday, and treat yo’self. Awesome. Cool. YES. We need to take time and space to care for our most precious body and mind.
And yet, as I teach Ayurveda to others- I worry. About the obsession with food lists. The do’s and don’t. The rules that we try to follow in order to find more self-care. I fell into that trap when I first discovered Ayurveda. I thought that it was like a rule book I should follow for ultimate health and vitality. 11 years on – my view has shifted. Yes, I think about the foods, but I also think about the energy. Yes, I’ll choose my dinner order based on Ayurveda, but yes, I’ll also take time to do Ayurvedic self-massage, meditation, and practices that nourish and aren’t simply rules.
In Ayurveda, sneha, the word for oil, also means love. Oil in our food helps lubricate our digestive system and actually makes certain micronutrients more bioavailable. Oil in our bodies lubricate our joints, protecting us from injury. And oil on our skin protects us from toxins in the world.
Abhyanga, or Ayurvedic self-massage, is a practice of love. Putting oil on your body before taking a shower (or if you really need to add some love to your life, you can sleep with it on) seals the water inside your body, nourishes your skin, and stimulates lymph as you rub the oil into your muscles.
Abhyanga is an Ayurvedic practice that took me a long time to adopt – trying to follow the rules was easier than taking 5 minutes for true self-love.
Now, Abhyanga is a few minutes in my day where I remind myself of the love I can give to myself. I remember that self-care is not about getting rigid but is about truly listening to your body and acting accordingly.
There are tons of Abhyanga tutorials on the web, and you can make this as simple or as complicated as you like. I tend towards the simple, so I thought I’d share the little tips and tricks that I use to make this an easy, not-messy part of your day.
- Choose an oil based on your dosha. Make sure this oil is cold-pressed (unrefined) and organic. Your skin will be soaking this up!
- Vata: Sesame oil
- Kapha: Sesame or almond oil
- Pitta: Coconut oil
- I keep a bottle of oil directly in my bathroom, but you may prefer to pour out about 1/4 cup oil into a dish or ramekin for each time you do abhyanga.
- In the bathroom, with a towel underneath you if you’re worried about spilling or staining, undress and take about 2 tbsp oil in your hands.
- Rub your hands together to start to warm the oil, and start to rub the oil on your body.
- Here’s the sequence of massage (taking more oil as you need).
- Scalp: rub some of the oil into your scalp, making circles all around your skull (note: this is optional for your daily abhyanga, especially if this will really mess with your hair. Feel free to do the massage *without* oil, because head rubs feel so good).
- Arms: rub the oil up your arms, using long strokes towards your heart. Make circles around your elbows and shoulder joints.
- Chest and back: rub oil into your chest and back, again rubbing oil towards your heart.
- Belly: Rub oil up the right side of your abdomen, across the top, and down the left, making circles in this clockwise motion.
- Buttocks: Don’t forget to give some love to the hips and butt.
- Legs: rub the oil up your legs, using long strokes towards your heart. Make circles around your knee and ankle joints.
This should take 3-5 minutes total. You can stay and let the oil soak in for a few minutes, or hop right into the shower. If you do choose to keep the oil on and go to bed – be aware that the oil could stain your sheets/clothing, so choose your clothing accordingly!
Note: you can use some pressure! It’s the pressure that will stimulate your blood and lymph circulation for the best benefit.
Abhyanga pros: Feel free to put some essential oils or herbs in your oil for extra benefit.
Whether or not you’re going to start doing Abhyanga – I invite you to think about a way you can invite more self-love into your self-care.
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day,
Samantha Attard, PhD, is the founder of Happy Healthy Human. Sam is a performance coach and yoga instructor who helps people eat, move, and live with intention. Learn more here.