Abhyanga (अभ्यङ्गम् )

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Abhyanga means therapeutic massage of whole body with oils. In Ayurveda, sesame oil is the commonest oil used for abhyanga. It could be plain or medicated with herbs customized to individual's needs. Abhyanga is one of the important step in dinacharya (daily regimen) making it an integral part of one's daily routine. It is also one of the most popular panchakarma therapy where in by proper consideration of one's bodily imbalances appropriate oil or ghee is selected for abhyanga. Abhyanga is a part of therapeutic as well as preventive healthcare practice recommended in Ayurveda.

Etymology

The word Abhyanga is made up of 2 parts. Viz Abhi and Anga.

  1. “abhi” upasarga (prefix) meaning direction, movement or motion
  2. “Ang” dhatu which means body part

Thus, abhi+ang means movement in different direction on body parts.

Abhyanga as Snehanam

Ayurveda has classified therapeutic activities in 6 types. Snehanam is one of those 6 activities which means oleation therapy. It includes internal administration or external application of unctuous (fatty) substances like oil, ghee etc.

Snehana karma is of two types,

1.   Abhyantara (internal)- where in mediated ghee is administered as a therapy

2.   Bahya (external) – wherein externally oil or ghee is applied to the various body parts.

Abhyanga is believed to be the Bahya or external type of snehanam wherein external application of oil on body parts is done for prevention and treatment of various disorders.

Health Benefits of Abhyanga

Ayurveda recommends daily abhyanga as an important rejuvenating therapy. There are numerous benefits of abhyanga in variety of diseases and even as a  preventive therapy. The massage of oil when done for a sufficient duration of time can even reach deeper dhatus (body building tissues) and can treat even some chronic diseases. The properties of herbs infused in the oil or ghee can determine which imbalance in Doshas, dhatus, rogas can be treated.


Abhyanga is included in dinacharya i.e. daily routine and the health benefits of daily abhyanga are mentioned below.

अभ्यङ्गमाचरेन्नित्यं, स जराश्रमवातहा| दृष्टिप्रसादपुष्ट्यायुःस्वप्नसुत्वक्त्वदार्ढ्यकृत्||८|| (Asht. Hrud. Sutrasthanam 2.8-9)[1]

Meaning: Abhyanga when done daily prevents ageing, helps overcome tiredness or fatigue, prevents and helps manage vata dosha related disorders. It improves vision, nourishes body, promotes longevity, helps improve sleep, enhances skin texture and increases strength. Acharya Sushruta in Sushruta samhita described benefits of abhyanga as below,


अभ्यङ्गो मार्दवकरः कफवातनिरोधनः | धातूनां पुष्टिजननो मृजावर्णबलप्रदः ||३०|| (Sush.chik.24.30)[2]

Meaning: Abhyanga induces softness in the skin, helps prevention of kapha and vata dosha diseases, strengthens dhatus, cleanses and improves complexion of the skin, provides strength.


Acharya Charaka has drawn a comparison to explain the importance of abhyanga, just like anointing or applying oil to an earthen pot makes it strong in a similar way body gains strength and luster by applying oil or abhyanga.

भवत्युपाङ्गादक्षश्च दृढः क्लेशसहो यथा||८५|| तथा शरीरमभ्यङ्गाद्दृढं सुत्वक् च जायते|

प्रशान्तमारुताबाधं क्लेशव्यायामसंसहम्||८६|| स्पर्शनेऽभ्यधिको वायुः स्पर्शनं च त्वगाश्रितम्| त्वच्यश्च परमभ्यङ्गस्तस्मात्तं [२] शीलयेन्नरः||८७|| न चाभिघाताभिहतं गात्रमभ्यङ्गसेविनः| विकारं भजतेऽत्यर्थं बलकर्मणि वा क्वचित्||८८|| सुस्पर्शोपचिताङ्गश्च बलवान् प्रियदर्शनः|

भवत्यभ्यङ्गनित्यत्वान्नरोऽल्पजर एव च||८९|| (char.sutra.5.85-89)[3]

Thus the benefits of abhyanga can be listed as below,

  • Prevents early ageing
  • Helps overcome tiredness or fatigue
  • Improves vision
  • Nourishes an strengthens body
  • Promotes longevity
  • Improves sleep quality
  • Cleanses body parts
  • Helps get rid of unwanted aggravated vata dosha in body parts
  • Imparts softness, improves skin texture and complexion

Contraindications for Abhyanga

Although oil is only externally applied to the body parts in Abhyanga, it does have some contraindications. One should always check the contraindications and only then is appropriate start abhyanga to get maximum benefits without adverse effects. The contraindications for Abhyanga given in Ashtanga Hrudayam samhita are as below,

वर्ज्योऽभ्यङ्गः कफग्रस्तकृतसंशुद्ध्यजीर्णिभिः||९|| (vagbhata. Sutra. 2.9)[4]

Meaning; Those who are suffering from kapha related disorders, who have undergone panchakarma (detoxification) procedures, and who are suffering with digestive disorders must not undergo abhyanga procedure.

Abhyanga being the most used panchakarma therapy has it disadvantages if done without proper considerations and knowledge. Thus, consider yourself unfit for abyanga if,

  • You are suffering from kapha related disorders e.g. excess cough and cold, cardiac or respiratory system related certain conditions etc. (However, under the supervision of a trained and experienced Vaidya, specific abhyanga can be performed in such conditions)
  • You have just undergone panchakarma procedures
  • You are suffering from indigestion , hyperacidity, gastric troubles, loss of appetite etc.

Consideration and procedure of Abhyanga

Abhyanga is not merely a massage. It is way beyond that since Ayurveda has included it not only under wellness and preventive category but also as a therapeutic procedure as an important part of Panchakarma which is popularly known as Detoxification. Thus, there are certain considerations before starting an abhyanga as a preventive or as a therapeutic procedure which are mentioned in brief below.

Considerations for Abhayanga as a daily routine

Abhyanga is a part of daily routine for an healthy individual. When Abhyanga is performed as a part of daily routine one should ensure the following things.

  • The individual is healthy and free from any diseases beacause that might alter the final effects of abhyanga.
  • One who considers himself healthy is devoid of any contraindications for abhyanga described in previous section.
  • Use warm sesame oil
  • Abhyanga should be performed on empty stomach and when the bowel and bladder is evacuated and clean.
  • Preferably is should be performed along with all other steps described under dinacharya. e.g Snanam (bath) is performed after abhyanga as a dinacharya (daily routine). Vyayama and udwartana could be the intermittent steps.

Considerations for Abhyanga as a therapeutic procedure

A vaidya might recommend abhyanga to a diseased individual as and add on to the medicinal treatment. Or, it could also be a part of some major panchakarma advised for particular disease. In such cases, vaidya usually considers some important points before starting the abhyanga procedure. [5]

  • The patient should not be contraindicated for Abhyanga
  • Abhyanga should be performed on empty stomach and when the bowel and bladder is evacuated and clean.
  • The oil used for abhyanga is selected on the basis of diagnosis and involved elements like doshas, dhatus, disease and strength pf the individual.
  • Usually abhyanga is followed by swedanam (fomentation or sudation therapy). It might include steam bath or different types of swedana techniques as per the diseased status.

Important aspects of Abhyanga procedure

  • Abhyanga as a daily routine or panchakarma therapy, is not merely application of oil but includes massage for the medicated oil to get it absorbed.
  • There is specific motion or direction in which abhyanga is to be done according to the site or body part. According to chikitsa manjari and chikitsa samgraha, abhyanga is performed in anuloma gati (in the direction of body hair).
  • Shiro abhyanga (head massage with oil) is done before and then body, wherever required.

Duration of Abhyanga

When abhyanga is done for a specified time duration the medicated oil infiltrates the dhatus at different time periods. Thus, duration of abhyanga can be decided according to the type and level of dhatu involvement present or the desired health benefit based on dhatu.

TIME DHATU
300 matra kala (95 sec) Romanta (hair follicles)
400 matra kala (127 sec) Tvak
500 matra kala (159 sec) Rakta
600 matra kala (190 sec) Mamsa
700 matra kala (220 sec) Meda
800 matra kala (254 sec) Asthi
900 matra kala (285 sec) Majja

Unit : 1 matra kala = 1 nimesha (closing of eyelid)

Other types of abhyanga

The term Abhyanga indicates oil massage on body parts. Although the abhyanga in daily routine involves application and massage of oil all over body, the abhyanga could be restricted to some body part depending on the disease. Oil massage on head and feet in particular has specific implications. This is popular as Head massage and foot massage in today's time. However, Ayurveda has separately described these 2 massages as Shiro-abhyanga (shiras-head, abhyanga-oil massage) and Padabhyanga (pada-feet, abhyanga-oil massage). Along with those putting oil in the ears is also particularly described and its health benefits have been expounded.

Shirobhyanga (Head massage)

Shiro abhyanga or shirobhyanga refers to head massage with oil. In ayurveda applying oil on head itself is considered an important therapeutic procedure and it is known as 'Murdhni tailam' (Murdha- head, tailam-oil, anointing head with oil). Ayurveda scholars have described 4 types of putting or applying oil on head. It includes shirodhara (a types of panchakarma wherein constant drip of oil is poured over forehead and head), Shiropichu (a cotton plug or gauze dipped in oil in placed over head), Shirobasti (large quantity of oil is placed in a compartment made on the head) and shirobhyanga (oil massage). [6][7][8]

Ayurveda considers Shiras (Head) as controlling center of entire body, the site of life energy and all the organs. Thus it is regarded as the chief organ. Oil application is believed to control the imbalances in the head and all the organs situation in it or having connection with it. The benefits of applying oil on head are

नित्यं स्नेहार्द्रशिरसः शिरःशूलं न जायते| न खालित्यं न पालित्यं न केशाः प्रपतन्ति च||८१||

बलं शिरःकपालानां विशेषेणाभिवर्धते| दृढमूलाश्च दीर्घाश्च कृष्णाः केशा भवन्ति च||८२||

इन्द्रियाणि प्रसीदन्ति सुत्वग्भवति चाननम् [१] | निद्रालाभः सुखं च स्यान्मूर्ध्नि तैलनिषेवणात्||८३|| (Char. Samh 5.81-3)[7]

The benefits of applying oil on head on daily basis are listed below,

  • prevents headache
  • reduces greying of hair and hair fall, hair loss
  • Strengthens skull bones
  • Hair become long, black and strong
  • nourishes sensory organs all other organs that have connections with head or brain
  • the facial skin becomes healthy and glowy
  • sleep induction is easy and sleep quality also improves

Pada abhyanga (Foot massage with oil)

Pada in Samskit means feet. When oil is applied to the feet and massage is done, it is called as Padabhyanga or pada-abhyanga. Padabhyanga has been given equal importance as Shirobhyanga in Ayurveda. Pada have been known to be the origin of various vessels and channels known as nadis. Thus abhyanga of pada is believed to provide multiple overall health benefits and not just feet softening. It is very much relaxing procedure and specifically beneficial for good eyesight. Charaka samhita has listed following benefits of padabhyanga.

खरत्वं स्तब्धता रौक्ष्यं श्रमः सुप्तिश्च पादयोः| सद्य एवोपशाम्यन्ति पादाभ्यङ्गनिषेवणात्||९०||

जायते सौकुमार्यं च बलं स्थैर्यं च पादयोः| दृष्टिः प्रसादं लभते मारुतश्चोपशाम्यति||९१||

न च स्याद्गृध्रसीवातः पादयोः स्फुटनं न च| न सिरास्नायुसङ्कोचः पादाभ्यङ्गेन पादयोः||९२|| (Char. Samh. 5.90)[9]

Benefits of padabhyanga-

  • It prevents and cures roughness over foot,
  • tiredness
  • Numbness of the legs,
  • reduces dryness .
  • Feet become soft but strong
  • Improves visual acuity and
  • helps management of various vata dosha diseases.
  • Also it helps prevent various musculoskeletal disorders related to muscles, ligaments and nerves of legs.

Abhyanga in Rutucharya

Abhyanga is the integral part of dinacharya (one's daily routine). Along with Dinacharya Ayurveda scholars also insist to observe Rutucharya. Rutucharya is the seasonal regime that includes diet and lifestyle modifications specific to that season so that one can adopt easily to change in external environment without falling sick. Thus each and every part of dinacharya (which needs to be followed regularly) can also be adjusted little bit so as to suit to the season. Food, exercise, sleep etc are the parts of daily regime which are adjusted according to the season in Rutucharya. Same applies to the Abhyanga procedure. Although abhyanga needs to be done on daily basis, it is suggested to be highly essential in some seasons

Abhyanga being the procedure where mainly oil is used for application which is responsible for management of various vata dosha related disorders. Thus, the rutus where aggravated vata dosha is seen causing imbalances, abhyanga must be done. Winter season which includes Hemanta rutu and Shishira rutu is the period extending from the month of November to February. During this period there is increasing darkness, cold and dryness in the atmosphere. All these properties in external environment lead to aggravation of vata in outer and thus internal environment of the human body. Increasing dryness in the body and external environment primarily affects skin and hair. Thus abhyanga is considered extremely important as a part of daily routine in these seasons. It helps to prevent dryness of body, improves circulation in extremities, keeps skin soft and helps maintain the flexibility & strength. This ultimately prevents aggravation of bone, muscle, ligament related pain.

Difference between Abhyanga and modern day body massage

Massage is an Arabic word where “mass” means to put pressure. Massage has been described in modern view as a scientific manipulation of soft tissues of body as part of rubbing. The indications being wide are mostly done to soothe, relax and revitalize and increase circulation. Though there are many specialized massage techniques being used today, the most widely practiced are Swedish Massage Therapy, Aromatherapy Massage, Deep Tissue Massage, Hot Stone Massage, Shiatsu (also known as Acupressure), Thai Massage, Reflexology (also known as Foot Massage) etc. In all these types variations in pressure, technique, areas of focus and desired outcome are found. [10]

The difference in Abhyanga and other types of massages is as described in the table.

Difference between Abhyanga and various types of massages
Abhyanga Oter massages
Use of Oil Mandatory. May or may not be
Main focus Absorption of oil Muscle relaxation
Pressure required Not necessary Pressure at certain points given in most of the massages
Strokes or direction Direction of oil application is specified with respect to hair follicles Various strokes like kneading, effleurage are incorporated
Post procedure Mostly steam bath, fomentation is recommended. Usually followed by Bath with warm water. Not specific

Global spa industry and increasing popularity of massage in modern era

Massage therapies similar to Abhyanga that have evolved in modern times are practiced mostly in spas and salons. As the popularity of these therapies in wellness segment is growing, the global spa industry is also growing worldwide. Demand is on the rise, as consumers increasingly focus on the importance of their wellbeing, mental health, and stress relief. From bare bones facilities to luxe destinations, spas offer an antidote to the pressure of modern life and an avenue for preventive health, anti-aging, and wellness. As the middle class expands and urbanization increases, the demand for spas is expected to rise in emerging economies as well, providing new opportunities for expansion and growth.

The spa industry is a multi-billion dollar business, with customers willing to spend their hard earned money on health spa memberships, treatments, and trips to hotel spas. In fact, the global market size of the spa industry is expected to grow from just under 94 billion U.S. dollars in 2017 to 127.6 billion U.S. dollars by 2022. Moreover, the spa services market, which includes massage services, beauty and grooming, and physical fitness, is expected to grow to over 133 billion U.S. dollars by 2027. This statistic shows the global market size of the spa industry in 2019 and provides a forecast for 2027. In the measured period, the spa industry worldwide is expected to grow at an annual rate of 4.1 percent, reaching a market size of over 133 billion U.S. dollars by 2027.[11]

The global spa market is forecast to rise at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6% from 2021 to 2025, according to a report by the market research firm TechNavio. “What’s driving this trend is today’s state of unprecedented stress: being connected 24/7, the lack of boundaries between work and life, and the fact that by 2030, 80% of the human population will live in urban, nature- deprived areas.[12]

References

  1. Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 2 Sutra 8-9)
  2. Sushruta Samhita (Chikitsasthanam Adhyaya 24 Sutra 30)
  3. Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam 5 Adhyaya Sutra 85-89)
  4. Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 2 Sutra 9)
  5. Sushruta Samhita (Chikitsasthanam Adhyaya 24 Sutra 34)
  6. Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 21 Sutra 23)
  7. 7.0 7.1 Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 5 Sutra 81-83)
  8. Sushruta Samhita (Chikitsasthanam Adhyaya 24 Sutra 26)
  9. Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 5 Sutra 90)
  10. Mukharjee A., Jain J., Dwiwedi O. DIFFERENT TYPES OF MASSAGE TECHNIQUES. wjpmr, 2017,3(6), 173-177
  11. Available from : https://www.statista.com/topics/7517/spa-industry/#dossierKeyfigures
  12. Available from : https://blog.marketresearch.com/the-growth-of-the-global-spa-industry