Ayurvedic Warm Oil Massage

Healing touch for strength, inner calm & radiance
person being massaged in the background. a tray with a lit candle, bottle of oil and white flower in the foreground
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / [Aleksandrgudenko]

Ayurveda is an ancient South Asian system of healing that dates back over thousands of years. From Sanskrit, ayu (life), and veda (wisdom), Ayurveda is often translated as the knowledge or science of life. The medicine is vast and varied, but throughout its nature-based teachings, emphasis is placed on self-awareness and self-care. Practices that one can do at home are often encouraged for radiant health and longevity, and include nutritional guidelines, breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, and self-massage.

Healing Touch

Ayurveda highlights the value of touch for all ages and stages of life. Loving touch using medicinal plant oils can provide inner calm, strengthen the body, and even delay age-related skin changes. We now see that modern science confirms the benefits of touch to lower cortisol levels, activate oxytocin (also known as the love hormone), and invite a sense of physical and emotional safety. Certainly, self-touch can nurture self-awareness and healing!

Self-massage for self-love

Ayurvedic oil massage is referred to as abhyanga, which works with both the physical and energetic body. While this treatment can be beautiful to receive by two hands or four (sometimes two practitioners will offer a session), self-abhyanga can be an equally satisfying experience. It’s something I enjoy recommending to clients as one way to commit to routine self-care, whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly massages.

Many years ago, when I first heard of self-massage performed on a regular basis, I assumed this was too time-consuming for most people to perform. I wondered about body mobility, and how this may be challenging for folks that have chronic pain. Once I started to give myself daily abhyanga however, I began to understand that modifying the massage based on how you are feeling is a powerful tool for self-awareness, along with the massage itself. For example, take time before you begin to assess where your body might need extra love and attention. Likewise, if it’s too challenging to massage your whole body, you could massage just your feet, hands, or face. While you are massaging, you can also check in with your body, noting how you feel and if there are changes to your skin. What a great way to honour yourself!

Although there are many obvious benefits to self-abhyanga such as stress and pain relief, other documented benefits include:

  • Strengthening immunity and longevity
  • Promoting deeper sleep
  • Protecting skin prone to eczema                                    
  • Nourishing dry skin
  • Improving eyesight
  • Encouraging sturdiness and strength of muscles and organs
  • Improving digestion and detoxification
  • Encouraging the smooth flow of prana, also known as life force energy
  • Promoting self-awareness

Choose the right oil

Within Ayurveda, the oil is a central part of the massage. By applying it to the body, it helps to bring balance to an individual’s dosha or elemental makeup. Ayurveda is a medicine that is individualized depending on the health requirements of the person, so oils are often selected or medicated based on these. An oil that is tri-doshic, or for all constitutions and all seasons, is cold-pressed sesame seed oil (If you are sensitive to nuts or seeds, try jojoba oil). Almond oil is vata (air dosha), pacifying and great in fall and winter. Mustard seed oil is kapha (earth dosha), pacifying and lovely as a warming oil during cold winter months. Coconut oil is pitta (fire dosha), pacifying and welcomed during hotter months as a way to cool down the body.

The Sanskrit term for oil application is snehana, which translates to loving affection. When doing abhyanga we can think of the oil as an extra dose of nourishment and care for our system, so choose oils wisely. Aim for edible oils, organic when possible, and avoid those that are perfumed, rancid, and/or mineral-based.

Self-love step-by-step

  1. Place a bottle, stainless steel cup, or jar of oil in a bowl of hot water, until the oil is pleasantly warm. Avoid heating the oil directly as this changes its properties.
  2. Sit or stand comfortably on a towel in a draft-free, warm room. 
  3. Take a couple of deep breaths and pay attention to where your body might need extra care. Hold the oil in your hands for a few moments, and begin by massaging one of three energy centres: the top of your head, your heart, or your navel.
  4. Using the palm of your hand, massage the oil onto your entire body, starting at the extremities and working towards your heart. Use long strokes on the limbs and circular strokes on the joints. Massage the abdomen in clockwise, circular motions, following the path of the large intestine; moving up on the right side of the abdomen, then across, and then down on the left side.
  5. Once a week, give a little extra time to massage your scalp, ears, and feet. When applying oil to the crown of your head, work slowly out from the centre in circular strokes. 


glass bottle of oil
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / [NatalyaStep23]


Helpful tips

  • If dealing with chronic pain and/or a mobility issue, consider doing daily massage to important energy centres such as the hands, feet, abdomen, or chest, depending on what is accessible within your mobility. This can also bring such a calming feeling!
  • Traditionally abhyanga is performed before bathing as the hot water can help penetrate the oil into the skin. If choosing to perform before a shower, wipe your feet before stepping into the tub, and be careful not to slip! Alternatively, massage after a bath, or before going to sleep can be wonderful and also effective.
  • Use a towel you don’t mind getting oily. It is likely to be soaked in oil after the massage 
  • Take your sensual time and luxuriate in this moment for yourself


Do not perform abhyanga during menstruation, the first trimester of pregnancy, during fever or acute illness, or attempt on skin with open wounds or rashes.


For further reading visit ecoparent.ca/EXTRAS/SPR22 


You May Also Like: Essential Oil Uses and Safety, The Basics of Infant Massage, Ayurveda: The Science of Life.

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