Abhyanga: The Ayurvedic Self-Massage Practice that Saved Me

Abhyanga is the process of self-massage using oil.  This is the Ayurvedic practice that has saved me.

I have spent a lifetime on the run.  Ive never actually asked, but it’s likely I started running in the womb.  I was everywhere, running down the block, running around the grocery store, running from friend’s house to friend’s house, running away from home.  I thought that as long as I could run, I would be safe.  I would be successful.  As I transitioned to adulthood, this was an asset, I thought.  I could do 8 million things at once, and most of them pretty well.  You shouldn’t take 22 credits in one semester?  I can.   With a baby and a full-time job? Sure. You can’t move to NYC by yourself with a first-grader.  Sure I can.  You can’t own a car in the city.  Oh, yes, I can.  Because without a car, I can’t run.  Without having 12 responsibilities, 3 book clubs, 4 happy hours, three dinners, two evening classes, and then teaching and parenting, I would have to stop.  I would have to sit and breathe and think about the direction my life was going in.  I thought that as long as it was going; I wasn’t dead, my son wasn’t a drug addict or a teenage father – I was a success story.  I was a queen in my brownstone castle.  I was running, I was (kinda) paying my bills, but I was exhausted.  I was physically and mentally depleted by the time I was 37, and I had absolutely no idea how that had happened.  I was, after all, “successful.”  I had never, ever stopped running.

In Ayurveda, the practice of Abyhanga, or self-massage, is an essential self-care practice.  It forces you to stop.  You can’t run while you are practicing Abyhanga.  For 5 or 10 or 20 minutes, you are forced to sit in one place and take care of your body.  Your skin is your largest organ, and there is no better way to love yourself than to nurture your skin.  In the process of Abyhanga, you are loving your body by massaging out toxins and massaging in essential oils that aim to calm and protect the skin, and both directly and indirectly, your soul.  If you practice no other self-care, try this practice.  Massage your body with a massage oil appropriate for your dosha, before you go to bed at night.  Massage in one direction, (rather than back and forth), towards the heart.  You can leave the oil on for 15 minutes while you take time to rest – maybe laying naked on a towel and staring at the ceiling – and then showering.  You can also do what I do; put on crappy long-sleeved shirts and pants that you don’t care about, and sleep with your oils absorbing into your skin.  Either way, the time you take for self-care forces you to stop running, and Abyhanga is my most important and valuable self-care practice.