by Nancy B. Loughlin
Published in News Press on August 27, 2013
Oiling your own body is a sensual experience.
It’s called abhyanga, and it’s a practice of Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga. As you massage your own body with pure, organic oil, the oil penetrates the skin and offers more than just moisture.
The skin is an open door, so labels on skincare products should be read as carefully as food ingredients. This is a rule: If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin. You’ll be eating it anyway. If you read the labels on your favorite moisturizers, you might get scared or at least confused by pronunciation.
So how can you soothe and protect your skin naturally without absorbing unnecessary and perhaps toxic additives? An organic sesame oil is the perfect choice, according to Joyful Yoga Ayurvedic practitioner Julie Comer.
When massaged into the skin, not only is sesame oil a natural moisturizer, it pacifies the energetic imbalances of anxiety, lethargy and anger. It soothes both the endocrine and central nervous systems, lubricates the joints, and purges the body of ama, the residue of digestion.
This is the pre-shower oiling ritual:
You can choose to use a dry brush or loofah to remove all the dead skin and accumulated toxins from the surface of your skin.
Then, start with a quarter of a cup of oil in a glass cup or jar, and gently heat it in very warm water.
Comer suggests beginning the massage with small circles on your scalp. As your fingertips move down your head, massage your face, ears, neck and shoulders. Use long brushing strokes on your arms and where you can reach on your back. Massage your chest, sending all your energy toward your abdomen.
Once the high body is complete, jump to the low body to massage the soles of the feet (and those thousands of nerve endings), the toes and ankles. Use long strokes on your legs and thighs, and linger over the knees, always heading upward toward the organs that expel what no longer serves you.
Comer’s go-to oil is sesame, but, if you are experiencing an imbalance such as too much fire in your heart, mind and body, coconut oil scented with organic rose essential oil is cooling especially in the summer. If your energy and spirit are low, mustard seed oil is powerfully uplifting. But if the scent is just too intense, use the sesame scented with organic eucalyptus or peppermint essential oils.
Warning: Not all oils are suitable for the skin. Check out and get guidance from natural food stores and yoga studios for the purest organic, herb-infused body and essential oils.
Once your body is oiled and you’re slippery and naked, it’s probably a good time to hang out in the bathroom. (Only you know your household.) After 20 minutes of meditation or reading, take to a warm shower and briskly rub your skin. For Comer, the oil is the soap, but she suggests natural and organic bar soap for “your nooks and crannies.”
Once you discover the benefits of Ayurvedic oils, you may want to experiment with other Ayurvedic practices. Carry a small vial of your special oil to dab on your pressure points during the day to relieve stress and allow scent memory to carry you back to your morning massage.
If you tend to get congested, irrigate your nose with a Neti pot and smear ghee (clarified butter) or a drop or two of sesame oil in both nostrils. This cleans and clears the sinuses. The nose has a direct line to the nervous system and can reduce anxiety, nervousness and insomnia. Even a drop of the oil in each ear can relieve panic attacks and emotional discomfort.
With Shirodhara treatment, you lie on a table for about 45 minutes while sesame oil or even organic milk is drizzled over the scalp and third eye. The treatment is grounding and soothing for mental disorders including depression.
“It’s like giving your mind a massage,” Comer said.
And, if you are really daring, you can step into a more extreme form of Ayurvedic purification known as basti: an herb-infused oil enema. Enemas, effective for flushing toxins from the body, are common in Ayurveda. Basti addresses digestive and elimination disorders, and since the colon is the seat of vata dosha, movement-oriented ailments also get relief: arthritis, spasms, and even headaches. Obviously, seek professional Ayurvedic guidance before attempting this one solo.
Abhyanga is easily incorporated into your daily routine. It imparts emotional serenity and a peaceful relationship with your own body. No wonder so many cultures consider anointing a sacred act.