The growing trend of chronic diseases in United States calls for creative approaches to delivering medicine to the whole body. For such creativity, my tendency is to always look at what has worked in the past, then improve on it. For this reason, I studied Ayurveda, a 5000 year old system of medicine, and sought to integrate it with the modern approach of Naturopathic medicine. Today’s blog will focus on Abhyanga, a full-body oil therapy.
Ayurvedic Abhyanga is one of the most commonly used therapies at our clinic. It is popular because it can be applied to vast variety conditions. Like many Ayurvedic therapies, it can be customized to meet the needs of the individual. Abhyanga looks similar to a massage in application; however, the strokes, the pressure on the body, and the herbal oil is changed based on the effect we seek from the treatment.*
The beneficial effect of Abhyanga:
1) Pain management: Abhyanga helps reduce pain associated with chronic conditions like Fibromyalgia and Arthritis. In one study, just 6 treatments helped to reduce fibromyalgia pain by 54%. Abhyanga also reduced depression associated with chronic illness by 40%.1 The mechanism of benefit is achieved by delivering medicine to the fibrous tissue in the whole body, allowing it to detoxify and heal… resulting in lower inflammation and improve anti-oxidant function. In cases of osteoarthritis, a study found 88% improvement Abhyanga combined with steam and manual traction.2 Patients reported improvement in joint movement and reduction in joint swelling with oil applications.
2) Abhyanga for Sleep: Abhyanga, as a snehana treatment, introduces the moist, heavy and lubricating qualities of kapha to the body… Helping to calm the body, inducing the mind to follow. As part of home care, application of oil to head and feet helps to calm the vata/pitta (air/fire elements). Thus, reducing stimulation. One study demonstrated that doing head and feet massage as daily routine helped double sleep time and sleep quality, while reducing over 75% of symptoms of insomnia in the course of just 15 days.3 In another study, 15-20 minutes of feet massage, 2 hour before bed reduced time to fall asleep by 68% and increased total sleep time by 32%.4 People who practiced for whole 28 day experiment reported they had improved sleep quality and fewer awakenings at night.
3) Abhyanga for health and longevity: oil application is a common practice in India. It is believed to add suppleness and strength to the body. A review of studies on Abhyanga demonstrate 1) improve weight in pre-term babies 2) reduces pain and inflammation in arthritic individuals 3) enhances attention 4) reduces depression, and 5) regenerates the immune system, including cancer seeking “natural killer cells”.5 The combination of these studies demonstrates that Abhyanga is an effect preventive medicine for all ages and all stages of health.
While studies give us some ideas about the how Abhyanga may be used and how effective it can be… Reduction of pain and improvement of sleep are great benefit for daily quality of life. These are transformative changes that can help individuals feel like themselves again. These allow us to feel free and energetic. Additionally, Oil application nourishes the entire body and every cell… most of which are made out of fatty acid. Medicated oils, cleanse and help rebuild the body from cellular level.
In clinical practice, we are capable getting better results because treatments are individually designed. Clients also receive additional medicines in the form of diet, daily routines and herbs. Additionally, Self-abhyanga can be easily adopted as a self-care routine. If doing self abhyanga is appealing, you can go here to watch a short video of how to best prepare the oils.
1) Meneguzzi P, et al. “The Ayurveda’s Abhyanga Massage for Improving the Quality of Life, Pain and Depression in Patients with Fibromyalgia.” Rev Bras Terap e Saúde, 1(2):65-74, 2011.
2) Rajorio K, et al. “Clinical study on Laksha Guggulu, Snehana, Swedana & Traction in Osteoarthritis (Knee joint).” Ayu. 2010 Jan-Mar; 31(1): 80–87.
3) Misar SD and Kuchewar V. “A Comparative Study of Efficacy of Jatamansi Vati and Abhyanga in Management of Anidra with Special Reference of Insomnia.” IAMJ: Volume 4; Issue 07; July- 2016.
4) Yeragi VS, Kurle DG, and Maske AH. “Study of effect of Padabhyanga (foot massage) with tila taila (sesame oil) in elderly patients suffering from nidra bransha (insomnia). MedPulse – International Medical Journal. November 2016; 3(11): 911-914.
5) Raskar S and Rajagopala S. “Abhyanga in new born baby and neonatal massage – a review”, IJAPR, Vol. 3(6), June 2015.