For centuries, Ayurvedic scholars have spoken about the innumerable benefits of oil for the body. Be it for consumption or topical application, the method of oiling has been in practice since Vedic times. Certain oils, known as base or carrier oils, are infused with healing herbs and then applied to the body or consumed.
Abhyanga (self-massage) is the most common method of utilizing ayurvedic oils. But they can sometimes also be ingested for gargling, head massages, Basti (colon cleansing), and Nasya (through the nose).
Regular oiling proves beneficial to mental well-being along with hair and skin health. More importantly, it also plays a role in restoring organ systems and balancing doshas, among other benefits.
However, with so many options available, it is essential to understand the specific uses of these oils to obtain maximum advantage of the same.
Ayurvedic oils have long been a part of the Ayurvedic skincare regimen. In fact, alternative medical practices now encourage using oils for several health advantages.
People enjoyed unadulterated, pure oils in the olden days. Now, mass commercialization has resulted in the mechanical extraction of oils. This practice has left customers with a wide variety to choose from.
As a result, the shelves of stores are flooded with options, leaving customers confused. More specifically, the term cold-pressed oil has become increasingly popular, leaving individuals perplexed about which one to pick.
READ MORE: Ayurvedic Oils and Massage
But what is cold-pressed oil, and how is it different from regular oil? To gain a better understanding of the differences between the two, let us consider the following:
As the name suggests, one of the best-kept secrets of Ayurveda is that cold pressed oils are extracted cold — directly by crushing the plant seed at room temperature.
In fact, historical references point towards the extraction of such oils with a long cylindrical tube — known as a Ghani or a mortar and pestle — aided by the use of cattle like cows and buffaloes right from early civilization. This labor-intensive process rendered small amounts of unadulterated oil.
Also known as ‘extra virgin,' 'Chekku,' 'Ghani,' and 'Kolhu' oil, this technique leaves us with the purest form of the oil. The plant seeds are continuously rotated and crushed until all the oil is extracted.
The cold pressing process relies on pressure for extraction. In such procedures, the oil recovery stands at a mere 40%, making it labor-intense and, therefore, more expensive.
On the other hand, modern-day oil extraction involves treating plant seeds with chemicals, heat, and machines to extract oil. Most commercially available cooking oils are treated with this process and utilize food-grade hexane for oil extraction.
As Chekku or Ghani oil is extracted by pressure or natural methods, no heat or additional chemicals are required. Therefore, the result/product is one of the healthiest forms of oil that retains its original flavor, taste, aroma, and nutritional value.
Loaded with bioactive substances, healthy fats, vitamins, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds, they benefit the body in numerous ways.Countless studies have emphasized the nutritional benefits of cold-pressed oils. Benefits range from promoting brain and heart health, reducing stress, and improving skin and overall health.
Not just Ayurveda, but research shows that cultures around the world advocate oils produced by such processes.
In contrast, studies highlight that various chemical and heat treatments neutralize the good fatty acids in refined or regular oils. It makes them nutritionally low and lacking in flavor, aroma, and taste.
Due to the extraction process, Chekku oils contain a certain amount of moisture and traces of volatile compounds, giving them their unique aroma and characteristics.
However, over time, exposure to oxygen causes the compounds in these oils to ferment, making them go rancid when left open for a long time. Thus, cold-pressed oils usually have a short shelf life.
In comparison, regular refined oils are treated with chemicals and, more often than not, undergo a process called hydrogenation. As a result, this process helps increase the product yield during the manufacturing process and the shelf life of such oils to around 2-3 years.
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Ayurveda focuses on creating harmony in the body and mind by balancing the doshas — Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Ayurvedic traditions believe in and rely on the art of abhyanga, or therapeutic oil massages, to achieve this balance within the body.
When inhaled, the oils and the massage impact the skin, body, and mind. The word ‘oil’ in Sanskrit comes from Sneha, which incidentally also means ‘love.’ It is no coincidence that experiencing abhyanga is akin to feeling stability, self-love, and warmth.
Regular practice of abhyangacan help restore good health and promote wellness. Countless studies highlight the numerous benefits of abhyanga. These benefits include:
Purification of the body and lymph nodes by eliminating ama (toxins)
Improving muscle tone of the body’s dhatus
Stimulating the body’s internal organs
Managing blood pressure
The art of abhyanga also improves skin tone, eyesight, stamina, and hair quality while reducing stress.
Like every person has a unique fingerprint, they also have a unique biological composition. The body is composed of the elements Vayu (air), Jala (water), Prithvi (earth), Aakash(space), and Teja (fire). They determine a body's usable energy in the form of doshas, Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.While all three are present in different compositions in our bodies, one is usually more dominant than the other two.
Seasons, climate, lifestyle choices, and other environmental factors impact the dosha levels. They affect a person’s energy levels, mood, and overall health.
Balancing doshas is an important facet that is fundamental to Ayurveda. Therefore, choosing the right ayurvedic oil is essential to help restore well-being and improve Vikritior health imbalances.
Characterized by coldness, lightness, and a dry constitution, earthy oils, warming, grounding, and calming are beneficial for this dosha. Sesame or almond oil is therefore considered a good base oil to balance the Vata.
In addition to this, you can add a combination of essential oils to the carrier oil for added benefits:
Shatavari oil is known for its calming effect and offers strength, nourishment, and rejuvenation.
Ashwagandha oil helps build muscle mass and strengthen weakened muscles.
Clove, ginger, and licorice bring warmth to the naturally dry Vata constitution.
Lavender and sandalwood are known for their grounding nature.
People with Vata dosha should perform abhyanga 4-5 times a week.
Pitta elements are hot and sensitive, and neutral oils that have a cooling effect balance them. Coconut, sunflower, olive, and castor oil are great base oils in this case as they are mild and neutral in nature. These oils help balance the fiery constitution of Pitta.
Essential oils particularly beneficial to those with Pitta imbalance include:
Manjistha andGuduchi oils help cool and soothe the body.
Bhringraj oil provides great hair benefits and is ideal for a scalp massage.
Brahmi oil relaxes the mind.
Neem oil is a known antiseptic, suitable for its intensely cooling effect.
A combination of spearmint rose, and lemon also cools fiery Pitta.
People with Pitta dosha should practice abhyanga 3-4 times a week.
Ayurvedarecommends light oils during abhyanga for this body type, characterized by oily skin and heavy, slow movements. These oils include almond, olive, flaxseed, corn, safflower, and avocado oil as base oils. Herbs beneficial to those with a Kapha constitution include:
Calamus and rosemary are rejuvenating and energizing. They help stimulate circulation and improve lymphatic movement, bringing energy and vitality to the body.
Punarnava promotes balanced fluid levels and encourages optimal joint movements.
Chitrak encourages metabolism and helps with the elimination of toxins.
Cinnamon and ginger boost immunity and work to warm and stimulate the Kapha.
Shadbindu oil used for nasal instillation helps balance the Kapha in the head and neck region.
People with Kapha dosha should practice abhyanga 1-2 times per week.
Ayurvedic practices encourage mixing herbs — by infusing powdered herbs or herbal oils — with cold pressed carrier oils for many benefits to the body, mind, and hair. Some of these benefits include:
Rose oil for aiding cellular rejuvenation and boosting the development of collagen
Bhringraj oil, when massaged into the scalp, strengthens hair health
Mahanarayana oil for the relaxation of sore joints and muscles during an all-body massage
Pinda oil, when used for foot and body massages, provides relief from burning sensations and intense moisturization
Tungdrumadi oil soothes the head and eyes when used during a head massage
Gotu Kola oil helps improve a myriad of skin conditions
Licorice root oil reduces skin rash, redness, and swelling when applied to the skin
Coconut oil, when used for cooking, improves immunity and digestive health
Olive oil is rich in vitamin E and has positive benefits on heart health when consumed
Flaxseed oil has a high content of omega-3 fatty acids and is excellent for maintaining skin suppleness and hydration
Ayurvedic oil massages embrace holistic mind and body wellness. However, do remember that for the maximum benefit of ayurvedic oils and abhyanga, it is highly advisable to use pure, unadulterated, cold-pressed oils. The natural goodness of these oils makes them the best choice for one’s hair, skin, mind, and overall health.
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