keeping the wind at bay

pacify vata all year long with daily abhyanga

Vata is the name given to the energy of movement in our physical and mental bodies. Its qualities are cold, dry, light and mobile. The more we do that increases coldness, dryness, lightness and mobility, the more we will experience the negative effects of Vata dosha. When Vata is out of balance we experience more worry, fear and anxiety in our minds and more dryness and pain in our physical bodies. Insomnia and digestive irregularities are common complaints.

Autumn is the start of Vata season – cold, dry and light weather that exacerbates these same qualities within us. Our lives are mobile all year round, but in autumn and early winter, this mobility drives us to distraction. Vata-pacifying daily routines will help to minimize the negative impact of the season and balance Vata energy. The use of oils internally and externally is especially beneficial this time of year. Taking in good quality oils through food is essential to keep the body moisturized and protected. External oiling through abhyanga, a daily full body self-massage, is an essential part of the daily routine during the fall and early winter.  

Abhyanga literally means “anointing the body with oil”. The skin is the largest organ of the body and its functions are diverse. Abhyanga facilitates these functions by stimulating circulation and absorption at the outer layers of the skin. The physical benefits of abhyanga include pacification to the nervous system, increased lymphatic flow, improved circulation and softer, suppler skin. Improved sleep is often reported along with increased mental alertness, well-being, mood stability and tolerance to daily stressors.

To begin a daily practice of abhyanga, gather supplies and enhance your environment. Cured sesame oil is best for the abhyanga. You will find sesame oil at any natural foods store. Cure it by heating the oil to 100 degrees centigrade and store it until needed. Use cured oil within six months. You may put small amounts of oil in a plastic squeeze bottle or glass dispenser for daily use. Other supplies include the towels or mats you will use during abhyanga. These will become saturated with oil and should not be mixed with your other towels.  They are best line-dried after washing and should never be left in a dryer as they might self-combust. The environment for abhyanga should be warm and comfortable. A smallroom heater might be necessary to improve your experience. Any sounds should be calming, nurturing and conducive to self-care.  

Stand on a mat or towel and apply warmed oil to the body. Warm the oil by placing your oil container in hot water until a comfortable temperature is reached. Apply a light coating of oil over the whole body. A typical abhyanga will use between 1/2 and 2 ounces of oil depending on the dryness of the individual’s skin. After the entire body is oiled, massage the oil in more deeply all over. This is best done with the whole hand, applying slightly greater pressure as the strokes go toward the heart. Straight strokes are used on the long bones and circular strokes at the joints, abdomen, hips and head.  Use the back of the hand on areas of the back that are difficult to reach.

When done, relax for 10-15 minutes. This is a good time for the other morning cleansing routines such as shaving or brushing teeth. This allows time for the oil to be absorbed more deeply into the skin. The longer the oil is on, the deeper it will penetrate into the skin and the greater the benefit. If time is short, you may step into the shower and continue the massage for a few minutes before washing.  You might want to use a towel or washcloth to wipe off any excess oil. Because sesame oil is naturally cleansing, avoid washing with soap unless necessary. A good quality, non-slip bath mat is essential.  To keep your tub free of oil, use baking soda to absorb the oils and then wipe the tub down. Periodically cleaning the drains with baking soda and vinegar will keep them clear. The benefits of this practice increase with the frequency of its application. You are worth the time this practice takes.  

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