Abhyanga (pouring oil on the body) is one of the Panchakarma. Other aspects of Pancha karma include shiro dhara (hot oil poured on the head), meridian cleansing, and marma balancing (applying oil on sensitive points). Here among five other karma only Abhyanga is described.
More than 2,000 years ago in India, oils were found that not only healed illness, but also prevented future imbalances. These therapies were traditionally given (to oneself or to others) on a daily basis. Oil was poured onto the entire body (also called Abhyanga), head (shiro bhyanga and shiro dhara), ears (karna purana), feet (pada bhyanga), or specific sites that required attention (marma bhyanga).
Abhyanga for Lymphatic System: One important benefit from Abhyanga is the stimulation of the lymphatic system. The lymph system is pervasive throughout the body, except in the brain, bone marrow, and deep skeletal muscle (though some scientists believe they may extend there as well). The role of this system is to carry nutrients to and remove toxins from the cells. Some cells in the nodes destroy bacteria, viruses, and other potential harmful particles. Other vessels send fresh fluids from the other side of the node to the heart.
Lymph contains about half the concentration of proteins in the plasma, and returns the serum proteins to the blood. Thus, this is a sort of self-feeding, system that means the body prepares its own food and feeds itself. Additionally, it contains many white blood cells that help maintain the body’s resistance to immune disorders, forming these infection-fighting cells in the nodes.
This system contains various amino acids. One amino acid called tryptophan is needed for producing energy and balancing the hormonal and nervous systems. Melatonin a brain hormone synthesized from tryptophan within the pineal gland, is believed to be related to the thyroid, adrenals, and gonads. It has been found to help calm excess mental activity. Dopamine beta hydroxylase, is an enzyme believed to be related to schizophrenia and other mental disorders. Histaminase, another enzyme, breaks down histamine. If histamine is in excess, it may cause gastric acidity, lethargy, itching, headaches, pain in muscles and nodes; and allergies. Thus, Abhyanga may help the body produce its own natural antihistamines. Lymphs also play a role in the various forms of edema.
The lymph system is Kapha in nature. Sleshaka Kapha is a mixture of lymph and synovial fluid found in the joints and also runs through the nervous system. Lymph provides the nerves with receiving and transmitting signals. It also helps develop antibodies that are important for the immune system.
By rubbing the joints in a circular motion, circulation is enhanced and rubbing the joints in a circular motion secretes fluid secreted from the lymph nodes. This causes more protein, glucose, minerals oxygen, and antibodies, involved with the lymphatic system, to circulate in the blood.
Benefits of Abhyanga:
The Astanga Hridayam, one of the triad of the classical Ayurvedic texts, suggests Abhyanga be given on a daily basis to prevent and heal illness. Many benefits arise from daily Abhyanga. Let us look at each benefit individually.
1. Reverses/prevents aging and increases longevity
2. Removes fatigue and stress from work and life overall
3. Heals and prevents nervous system disorders
4. Promotes good vision
5. Nourishes the body and promotes sturdiness
6. Remedies insomnia
7. Creates an electrochemical balance in the body.
8. Oil rubbed into the skin prevents dehydration and strengthens the nerves.
9. Oil helps the electromagnetic field of the body.
10. Stimulates antibody production, thusstrengthening the immune system.
Avyanga is found useful in Aging (Jara), Fatigue (shrama), Nervous disorders (Vayu Roga), Eye (Drishti), Nourishing (Pushti, Sturdiness (Dardhya), Sleep (Swapna)
Aging (Jaraa) is a natural process of the body, and surely death is one of life’s certainties. Nevertheless, the diseases caused in the aging process are removed through Abhyanga. Symptoms of aging include gray hair and wrinkles; loss of sleep, teeth, impairment of sight and hearing; weakened digestion and elimination; and brittle bones (osteoporosis, arthritis, weakened spine, calcification, stiffness, etc.). Other signs of aging include pains, giddiness, Parkinson’s disease, heart, artery, and blood pressure problems; decreased mental function (memory, concentration, etc.), and diseases of the various organs. Through daily Abhyanga life is maintained and people can live a normal life span (longevity or Aayush).
Method: Sesame, mustard, or almond oil, applied to the spine, head, and feet, remove effects of old age and increase longevity.
Fatigue (shrama) results from hard work, stress, poor diet, lack of exercise, not protecting oneself from the environment, etc. These habits weaken the muscles, nerves, and joints. Abhyanga provides a passive exercise, cleanses stress from the muscles, removes toxins from the organs, cells, tissues, and blood; and tones the muscles and nerves.
Method: Rubbing, patting, squeezing of muscles. Add sandalwood oil to the oil mixture. For fatigue caused by straining muscles add a pinch of salt to warm water and soak the limb. Adding a heating oil such as mint, eucalyptus, or mustard helps fatigue due to toxin accumulation.
Nervous disorders (Vayu Roga) occur due to excess air (Vayu), which is the element that regulates sensory-motor skills. It is also the most important element because it regulates the other two doshas (Pitta regulates the metabolism and enzyme and digestive functioning. Kapha regulates the body organs). So, balancing Vayu is necessary; daily Abhyanga achieves this balance.
Method: Mahanarayan oil removes air imbalances that aggravate the nervous system.
Eye (Drishti) sight is weakened by poor lighting, poor posture, reading print that is too small, excessive television, gazing at overly bright or flashing lights, (e.g., the sun, neon, and flashing signs), receiving excess sun, heat, or cold to the head; excess eating and drinking of pungent and oily foods. Additionally, old age causes impairments such as cataracts, near- and farsightedness, night blindness, optic nerve problems, etc. Poor or improper diet creates an inflamed or detached retina, atrophy of the optic nerve, etc. Ayurveda also believes that constipation causes various eye problems. Again, Abhyanga heals these impairments and corrects the visual problems associated with the aging process.
Method: Attending the spine, neck, head, and feet. Before bed a) massage the avel clockwise using sesame or coconut oil. b) foot massage, including pressing between the big and index toes.
Other helpful measures for the eyes include staring at a candle flame (at eye level), massaging the temples, using a neti pot massaging the nostrils with ghee, ingesting triphala each morning, washing the eyes with ghee.
Nourishing (Pushti) the tissues (dhatus, i.e., plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bones, nerves/marrow, reproductive fluid), are affected by poor eating habits, digestion, and metabolic functioning. The result is that foods are not digested and properly eliminated. Undigested foods become toxic waste in the body (ama) and hamper the natural absorption of nutrients. Through Abhyanga wastes are loosened, flow to their sites of elimination, and are expelled as urine, feces, and sweat.
Method: Rubbing, pressing, kneading.
Sturdiness (Dardhya) Stress, trauma, shocks, and accidents diminish the body’s sturdiness. The inability to overcome these blows to the system results in many diseases and impairments. Abhyanga relieves these problems, allowing persons to recover and heal, and prevents further weakening of their system. For those who are physically incapacitated Abhyanga provides a passive form of exercise.
Method: Rubbing, pressing, kneading.
Sleep (Swapna) or rest is needed to recover from the mental, physical, and emotional activities of the day. Persons deprived of sleeping and dreaming develop physical and mental diseases. Some people sleep too much, some sleep too little. Sleeping pills, caffeine, etc. are artificial attempts to balance one’s unhealthy sleeping habits. Bad foods, overeating, drugs, overwork, worry, anger, lethargy, fear, etc. create these situations of insomnia and oversleeping. Abhyanga removes toxins, calms the nerves, brings the body and mind back into balance with nature, and helps the person naturally adjust to daily rhythms.
Method: Rubbing of oils to the feet and tense areas before bed.
Abhyanga is really a great treatments procedure in Ayurveda especially in Panchakarma