In last month’s blog, I introduced Ayurveda, the holistic medicine from India, with examples of Ayurvedic herbs like Ashwagandha, which are soothing to the body and calming to the nervous system.
This month’s blog is about Ayurvedic massage and Ayurvedic aromatherapy, two additional holistic therapies for a better night’s sleep. Both treatments utilize aromatic oils, introduced to the body through the sense of smell and/or by contact with the skin. These medicated oils, easily produced by soaking medicinal herbs in sesame or coconut oil, have been important in India for thousands of years.
Touch is fundamental to health and wellbeing. When the skin is stimulated by therapeutic massage, the body releases its own natural pharmacy of healing chemicals that have health-promoting effects on the entire body-mind. In addition to feeling good and enhancing connection, regular massage and loving touch improves circulation, calms the mind, and gives the immune system a boost.
Ayurvedic massage is a special form of touch. It is unique because of its use of medicinal oils (essential oils) and its emphasis on the marma points, acupressure points that enhance the flow of healing energy throughout the entire body.
In Ayurveda, basic massage oils like sesame and coconut are infused with essential oils from healing herbs like Shatavari and passionflower. Some of these herbal formulas are calming and soothing, while others are stimulating. When these oils penetrate the skin, their medicinal contents are released into the bloodstream, much like Western pharmaceuticals are absorbed from transdermal patches.
Ayurveda’s Body-Mind Types: The Doshas
Ayurvedic treatments are not “one size fits all.” In Ayurveda, all herbs, whether taken in by mouth, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin, are prescribed based on one’s body-mind type, or dosha: Vata, Pitta or Kapha.
See if you can recognize your body-mind type in the following multiple-choice quiz.
The Dosha Quiz: Are You Vata, Pitta or Kapha?
Select from the following 3 choices the body-mind type that best fits your physical body frame and your mental disposition:
- Vata body types are tall and thin, like Celine Dion. They are cold intolerant and lose weight easily. Vata types have hair that is thin and dry.
- Vata mind types are lively, enthusiastic and love change. Under stress, Vatas become anxious and worried.
- Pitta body types are medium build with good muscles, like Brad Pitt. Pittas can lose weight when they put their mind to it.
- Pitta mind types are purposeful, intense, and like to convince. Under stress, Pitta types become irritable or aggressive.
- Kapha body types are large framed, heat intolerant, and gain weight easily. Kaphas have beautiful thick skin and luxurious hair, like Oprah Winfrey.
- Kapha mind types are easy going, accepting and like to support. Under stress, Kapha types become withdrawn or reclusive.
Does one of these body-mind types sound familiar? In most people, one of these three doshas predominates over the other two.
Here are some examples of commonly prescribed Ayurvedic oils, based on one’s body-mind type:
Vata – Sesame oil base infused with passionflower essential oil
If you’re experiencing a Vata disorder, an imbalance that is contributing to feelings of anxiety and worry, your Ayurvedic massage will focus on relaxation and grounding, using warm sesame oils and soothing massage strokes that will calm your entire mind-body system.
Pitta – Coconut oil base infused with Shatavari oil
A Pitta massage uses cooling herbs that are calming and soothing. It relaxes the tensions associated with Pitta and promotes clear, healthy skin.
Kapha –Almond oil base infused with Neem oil
A Kapha massage uses stimulating herbs that promote energy and vitality, invigorating the body and sharpening the mind.
For home use, a daily 10-20 minute self-massage with 1/2 cup warm oil (sesame, coconut or almond) is ideal.
“Aromatherapy is a caring, hands-on therapy which seeks to induce relaxation, to increase energy, to reduce the effects of stress and to restore lost balance to mind, body and soul.”
Essential oils are used not only in healing massage, but also in healing perfumes, the basis for Ayurvedic Aromatherapy. Aromatherapy, also referred to as Essential Oil therapy, can be defined as the art and science of utilizing naturally-extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind, and spirit.
When you smell an essential oil, the scent is carried directly to the area of your brain that influences emotions, memories, desires, and creativity. Here are just a few examples:
- Lavender is an ideal scent for relaxing and calming.
- Jatamansi is a mysterious, dark green Himalayan oil from Nepal, valuable for treating insomnia
- Sandalwood and Frankincense are two sacred oils lovely for meditation as well as for calming anxiety
Summary: How to use essential oils
Bath Oil: 10-20 drops it the bathwater after filling the tub
Body Oil/Massage Oil: 5-10 drops per ounce of base oil (sesame, coconut or almond)
Perfume Oil: Up to 50 drops per ounce of base oil
Note: 100% pure essential oils are powerful substances; use sparingly and with caution. Always dilute essential oils with a base oil before applying them to your skin.
As we have seen in these first two blogs, self-care is a big part of Ayurveda — taking back the power to heal oneself. Ayurvedic massage and Aromatherapy are two wonderful examples, helping the body to relax so better sleep comes naturally.
Next month’s holistic blog will be about meditation, one of the most powerful of all alternative therapies for anxiety, depression and insomnia.