All three principal texts of Ayurveda, the Charak Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, and the Ashtanga Hridaya, highlight the importance of abhyanga and the benefits of Ayurvedic massage.
What The Ancient Texts Say
According to the Charak Samhita, abhyanga is one of 24 different methods of vicharana, or ways an oily substance may be used to produce oiliness (oleation) or snehan in the body.1
Oil applied to the body assists in a variety of health conditions which may stem from dryness or lack of lubrication.
Sushruta, a great proponent of Ayurvedic surgery and a great physician as well, says that the human body is unctuous by nature and its vitality depends on this. He says the body can be cured of diseases through the application of oily materials.2Abhyanga provides this oleation or unctuousness to the body. It is considered an indispensable part of one’s Ayurvedic daily routine and can be performed on a daily basis.
The Charak Samhita states that one who does oil massage regularly will not be affected much by injuries or strenuous work. Rather they will be endowed with supple skin and a nourished, strong and well formed body. One who performs regular oil massage becomes pleasing and young looking.
Sushruta says in the Sushruta Samhita:
“Anointing the body imparts a glossy softness to the skin, guards against the aggravation of vata and kapha, improves color and strength and gives nourishment to the tissues of the body.”
He also says that oily substances like oil and ghee when effused on the human body nourish its tissues in the same manner as water nourishes the roots of a sapling.3
Vagbhatta, the author of Ashtanga Hridaya says:
“Abhyanga should be resorted to daily; it wards off old age, exertion and increase of Vata; bestows good vision, nourishment to the body, long life, good sleep, and good quality skin.”4
Benefits of Ayurvedic Massage
So the benefits of Abhyanga mentioned in these classical texts of Ayurveda can be summarized as follows.
Ayurvedic massage imparts softness, strength and luster to the body. It decreases the effects of aging and makes one look youthful. It bestows good vision. It nourishes the body and the tissues of the body. It increases longevity. It supports regular sleep patterns. It benefits the skin. It strengthens the body’s tolerance to exercise and physical work. It pacifies Vata and Kapha dosha.
As mentioned earlier, Ayurveda lays special emphasis on massaging the head and the feet. Here are the benefits of head and foot massage (shiro abhyanga and pada abhyanga) as mentioned in the ancient classical texts on Ayurveda.
Benefits of Shiro Abhyanga (Ayurvedic head massage or Indian head massage)
Abhyanga of the head is described in Charaka Sutra sthana chapter 5, verse 81 and Sushruta Chikitsa sthana chapter 24, verses 25-26. They state that Abhyanga of the head, when done regularly, benefits the hair, the sense organs and the quality of sleep. Specifically, Ayurvedic head massage helps hair grow, darkens hair, softens and thickens hair, prevents hair loss and graying. It gives a shine or glow to the face, nourishes the sense organs and induces better and deeper sleep at night. It also may help relieve headaches.
The head should be given an exclusive Ayurvedic head massage twice a week. You can do this yourself by learning these simple steps to an authentic Ayurvedic head massage. Bhringaraj oil is an excellent oil for Ayurvedic head massage as the cooling herbs and blend of oils calms both Vata and Pitta dosha in the mind.
Benefits of Pada Abhyanga (Ayurvedic Foot Massage)
The benefits of massaging the feet have also been described by all three Ayurvedic texts.5
• Decreases roughness of the foot • Relieves stiffness of the foot • Removes dryness of the foot • Relieves tired or fatigued feet • Decreases numbness and tingling of the foot and leg • Increases softness and attractiveness of the foot • Strengthens the joints and soft tissues of the foot • Increases stability in the foot • Improves and maintains good vision* • Helps to control and balance Vata dosha • May prevent and relieve sciatica pain • Prevents and heals cracked heels and fissures • Improves blood circulation to the feet, assisting with constriction of blood vessels • Relieves stiffness and constriction of ligaments and tendons of the feet
Nadi Darpana, an ancient manuscript on the art of Ayurvedic pulse reading, has enumerated ten nadis or energy channels situated in the head. Gandhari is related to the left eye and hasti-jihva is related to the right eye. Gandhari surrounds the left ida nadi and extends from the feet all the way to the left eye. The ida nadi is the left energy channel extending from the the tail bone and running along the left side of the spinal cord. Hasti-jivha surrounds the pingala nadi and similarly extends from the feet all the way to the right eye. The pingala nadi is the right-sided energy channel extending from the tail bone along the right side of spinal cord towards the head. Netraprakasha, an ancient book, has enumerated seven nadi from the foot which in turn joins the ida and pingala nadi and have relation with both the eyes. This relation points to the role of pada abhyanga in the health of the eyes. Routine abhyanga of the feet will help to strengthen vision.6
Similarly Sushruta, says that massaging the feet brings on sleep. It is refreshing and invigorating to the body and the sight, removes all drowsiness and sense of fatigue and softens the skin of the soles of the feet.7
Vaghbhata, in his creation, Ashtang Hridaya, insists that even if someone has lack of time, one should massage the head and the feet and also put some oil in the ears daily.8