One of my very favourite rituals I like to share with clients and students this time of year is the practice of self-massage. Autumn is such a great time of year to develop this habit because this is the time of year when the energetic quality of vata increases. This practice is also helpful if you spend a lot of time flying, traveling, or you feel you don't have much routine or regularity in your life.
What is vata? Simply put, vata is a cold, dry, mobile, rough, and erratic quality. These qualities exist in natural forces and in our body and mind. Vata can make us feel like we're moving in a million different directions at once with no sense of grounding or stability. This season can aggravate these qualities leading to greater stress, dry skin and hair, insomnia and anxiety. In particular, if you have a vata constitution (tend toward feeling scattered, dry, and/or cold) this practice can be especially helpful.
The Ultimate Self Care Practice
Taking time to check in with oneself is deeply healing. With the addition of soothing breath and medicinal oils we increase the benefits of this ancient practice. The practice of self massage is based on the Ayurvedic practice of abhyanga. During abhyanga, warm medicated oil is massaged into the body as a way to nourish and protect the whole system. This practice is quick and easy to do and can be used every day, once a week, or however often you're able to use it.
Rubbing oil all over creates a feeling of grounding and settling, and working the oil into the skin gives us a chance to become more familiar with the curves and crevices of our beautiful body. In addition, the massage helps to rid the body of wastes and helps promote health. It helps to protect and preserve the immune system by creating insulation for the Wei Qi (protective Qi) as well as nourishing the skin, and increasing lymphatic flow.
Pick Your Oils
When beginning your self massage practice you'll need to pick what type of oil to use. Our skin and body loves the healing benefits of natural oil so be sure to use oil not lotion. There are many oils available but be sure to use natural, organic (if possible) oils. Do not use mineral oil or oils with synthetic scents or colours. And remember just because it says "natural" on the bottle doesn't mean it is! Be sure to read the ingredients - the only ingredient you should see is the name of the oil. For example "organic sesame oil". Some oils have a small amount of vitamin E or other natural ingredients but no other ingredients should be added.
You can choose your oil based on your constitution or your imbalance. You can also add herbs to the oils for further benefits (look out for more herbal posts coming soon). Here are a few guidelines:
warming oil (cold climate or if feeling cold): sesame or mustard oil
cooling oil (hot climate or if feeling hot): coconut, olive oil, coco butter, avocado
neutral oil (in between seasons or when you're not sure): almond oil
Especially this time of year, or when I'm traveling a lot, I like to spend at least one afternoon a week in a warm room sitting out on a towel slowly working the oil into my body. I usually play music or a talk from an inspiring teacher while I work the oil in. Sometimes I sit in silence enjoying the quiet time. Bathing (without soap) in a warm or hot shower after the oil massage is done traditionally to encourage the oil to sink in more deeply.
The most important factor is that you work the practice into your life. If you find it easier to just do a quick foot massage and then pop on some socks before bed to help with insomnia, do that to begin. If you find oiling your body before a shower is too messy and time consuming, try using the oil after your shower in place of body lotion. This is your time. See what works for you.
If you'd like to try the full practice of showering after you've applied the oil, designate a few towels you don't mind getting a little oily and be sure to clean your bathtub regularly to avoid slippery accidents and drain clogging.
As you rub your whole body in your chosen oil focus on places that feel tender or feel like they need extra attention. You could also use acupressure points for added benefit. Use long sweeping strokes, and circular movements at the joints, going in the direction of the distal parts of your body (hands and feet) to the centre of the body. Once you have completed your massage, get in the shower and only use soap on the places you absolutely need. The hot water will help the oil to absorb. When you get out of the shower pat yourself dry and move through the rest of your day with greater grounding and a deep sense of nourishment!
I truly hope you enjoy this practice. Please let me know in the comments below if you tried it and any questions you have.