February Health Genie: Oil Massage - the Key to Hydration and Warmth
Note: This article is not meant as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult with your medical practitioner before using any type of remedy, herbal or otherwise.
For many, winter is a time filled with itchy dry skin, flaking scalp, cracked finger tips, and low immunity. There is a simple, cheap, and enjoyable solution to these common problems: oil massage. This technique, also known as Abhyanga, has been used for centuries and has many therapeutic applications.
It is a great practice to pick up now, in the middle of the winter, as it is very hydrating. Most soaps and body washes strip the skin of its natural oils and leave the skin bare and scaly. Performing oil massage on a daily basis keeps the skin hydrated and protected.
A layer of oil also acts a barrier to pathogens and microbes. The skin is the body’s largest organ, plays a crucial role in the detoxification process, and has the most amount of contact with the outside world. Therefore, protecting this organ by helping create a physical barrier supports a healthy immune system. Some oils, like sesame oil, can even aid the body in detoxification. Traditionally, yogis have used this oil with the belief that it penetrates the skin, binds with toxins, and eliminates them through the sweat glands.
Sesame oil and olive oil are known for their warming properties. Putting this type oil on in the morning can keep you warm throughout your day. Try and use untoasted, unrefined, organic oils if possible and store them in a cool dry place. In small batches, you can add a few drops of cinnamon or clove essential oil to enhance the warming effect (and create a pleasant aroma). Jojoba oil is also great in the winter as it penetrates the skin and has antibacterial properties. In the summer, or for those who tend to run “hot”, coconut oil is a great choice as it is slightly cooling. Oils can be applied directly out of the bottle or gently heated either by rubbing the oil between the hands before each application, or on the stove at very low heat.
So, how does a self-massage work? It is quite simple and can take as little as one minute (or as long as you’d like!) Work from head-to-toe and include the face (most people with oily faces find it counter-intuitive to put more oil on their face; however, it actually helps the oil glands produce less oil over time). Massage in circular motions around the joints (shoulders, elbows, hips and knees) and in an up and down movement on limbs. Massaging in a clockwise motion over the abdomen will help stimulate bowel movement and massaging in a counterclockwise motion will help reduce loose stools. Apply as much or as little pressure as you’d like. The more vigorous the massage, the more stimulation and detoxification will take place.
Oil massaging is best to do first thing in the morning, before a workout, or after a shower. It is a great way to wake up the body from a night’s sleep and prepare it for the day to come. This gentle stimulation of the skin can increase circulation and calm the nerves (especially if relaxing oils like lavender are used). There have even been reports of increased mental alertness and stamina with daily oil massages. Avoid oil massages during menstrual cycles, during pregnancy, with acute illnesses, after taking laxatives or purgatives, if you have broken, infected skin, or over painful swollen areas.
Have fun experimenting with different combinations of oil bases and essential oils. You can change the type of oil to match the season, your mood, or your scent preference. For an intimate experience, trade oil massages with a loved one and use stimulating essential oils like ylang ylang, patchouli, or rose.
Whether it’s a special occasion, Valentine’s day, or a daily routine, oil massaging is an enjoyable and useful practice to incorporate into your lifestyle. You’ll be amazed at the profound effects produced by this simple technique!
The Health Genie