In the Ayurvedic tradition, a full-body oil massage (abhyanga) performed daily is said to work wonders for the body. But in our hectic world, abhyanga can be too time-consuming to do on a regular basis. The next best thing, says Vasant Lad, founder of the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, is to massage your scalp and the soles of the feet with oil, preferably at bedtime. According to Ayurveda, all meridians (nadis) begin in the scalp and end in the soles of the feet. Many neural endings, receptors, and marmas (Ayurvedic pressure points) are also located here. If you perform the following brief massage, Lad says, “you will get the benefits of an entire body massage.”
Choosing an Oil
First, choose a type of oil that is appropriate for your prakriti, or constitution. (Not sure what your dominant dosha is? Take this quiz.) Ayurveda says that organic, cold-pressed oils have stronger healing properties than more processed ones. Choose an oil according to the list below.
for dry skin (vata): use a warm, heavy oil such as sesame, almond, avocado, or bhringaraj
for sensitive or overheated skin (pitta): use a cooling or neutral oil such as olive, sunflower, coconut, castor, or ghee
for oily skin (kapha): use a light oil such as mustard, flaxseed, canola, or safflower
Warm oil is preferable to cold because it is comforting and penetrates the skin more easily. (A clean, quick way to warm the oil is to put the bottle in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes.) It’s also helpful to maintain a nurturing attitude and to focus your attention on the part of your body that you’re massaging to bring yourself into the present moment. Sit in a comfortable chair or on your bed, and keep a pair of cotton socks nearby to put on after you’re done.
First, rub your hands with oil and make small, circular motions along the surface of your scalp, using the flat of your hand and your fingers. Then focus on your feet.
Beginning with your right foot, gently rub oil in small circular motions from the ankle to the toes; then from the ankle to the heels. Gently rub oil in small circular motions on the soles of the feet. Next, press your thumb on the place where the shin meets the top of your foot. Gently, slowly, drag your thumb across the top of your foot to the big toe. Return to the ankle and in the same way drag your thumb toward the second toe. Repeat this motion from the ankle to the third, fourth, and fifth toes. This initial treatment improves circulation and activates important marmas on the feet.
Then cross your right ankle over your left knee and cup the side of your right heel in your left hand. Place your right hand on the top of the foot, lace your fingers between your toes, and push the foot inward, outward, and then in a circular motion. With your right thumb, apply pressure from the big toe to the heel along the inner border of the foot. Then drag your thumb from the root of your fifth toe to the heel. Make a fist with your right hand and press it against the foot, working it along the sole in a circular motion to activate a variety of energy points. Slowly pull each toe away from the foot, as though you are “popping” the joint, to remove stress. Then repeat the entire massage on your left foot. When you’re finished, soak your feet for five to ten minutes in a bucket filled halfway to the top with warm water and one teaspoon of salt to draw the stress and toxins out of your feet.
Shannon Sexton is the Editor at Large of Yoga+ Magazine.