The Gift Of Self-Massage

The leaves are changing and fall has arrived in Vermont. Though many of you will be reading this in Arizona, I am compelled to write about this amazing time and place. Fall in the north eastern part of the country is my favorite season. I love watching the leaves burst forth with color, moving from green to bright reds, yellows, and oranges. Here at the homestead we are preparing for the cold season by stacking firewood and shutting down seasonal out buildings. The air is crisp, and I am grateful for wool underwear and warm tea. As the temperatures continue to cool, I mentally prepare to return to Arivaca, a homecoming I look forward to.

As the season changes, wherever you are, a mobile energy becomes more present in the macrocosm, affecting the energy of the microcosm (you). “As above, so below”. What occurs around us also occurs within us. Fall and winter are generally considered to be the season of Vāta Doṣa with dry, rough, cold, and mobile qualities. This will vary based on where you live, and some of these qualities will be more or less dominant. The fluctuating day/night temperatures that we see during these colder months can bring unstable qualities, which are indicative of Vāta and the element of Air.

Thinking of the qualities, and remembering that like in creases like, and opposites heal, it is time to bring heavy, smooth, warm, oily, stable, and slow qualities into our diet and activities. Moving away from salads and raw fruits and veggies, we incorporate more warm, cooked foods. This is the time of year to use more oil in our food and on our bodies. Self massage with warm oil in the fall and winter is a lovely, nourishing practice to help keep us physically lubricated and bring calm and love to the entire body-mind-spirit.

The word for oil in the sanskrit language is snehana, which is also translated as love. Applying oil to our own bodies is a form of self love. As a regular practice, self massage helps to calm the nervous system, balance emotions, and encourage clarity of mind. It increases energy during the day and promotes sound sleep through the night. As we spend some quite, intimate time with our own bodies, lathering ourselves lovingly with oil, healing penetrates to the deeper levels of our being.

For those who are new to this practice, a full-body self massage can seem daunting or appear as something that could never fit into the schedule. I often suggest to start slow, maybe just with the feet before bed. Or enjoy a nice face massage, with attention to the sinus cavities and jaw. One could just do the lower abdomen, hips, and low back to help sooth pain or trauma to that area, or alleviate constipation. A full-body massage can be done daily, weekly, or sporadically as you become more familiar with the practice. All this being said, the benefits of regular self massage are profound.

When I first began this practice, my massages were shorter in length and less frequent. I slowly began to move over my body with more attention, more love. I noticed a difference on days when I did the practice and days when I didn’t. I can honestly tell you that I am more stable and grounded because of regular self massage. I have fallen in love with this practice, and experience the benefits in all areas of my life. I appreciate all of the lines, bulges, scars, moles and wrinkles of my body in a new way. This practice has helped me to love and care for myself, and in turn be available to love and care for others. I encourage you to try it, at whatever level feels right to you, and see what evolves.

Practicing Self-Massage:

Supplies:

  • Approximately 1/4 cup of oil. This can be sesame, sunflower, or coconut oil from the grocery store or herbal massage oil. Sesame is heating, sunflower is more neutral, and coconut is cooling. It is generally suggested not to use coconut oil in the cooler times of year or sesame oil during the heat of summer.
  • Mug or bowl of hot water to warm the oil.
  • Towel or mat.

Massage Instructions:

  • Place the bottle of oil in hot water.
  • Sit on your towel or mat in a warm room.
  • Massage the oil into your skin, giving each part of your body adequate attention. Use up and down strokes over the limbs and circular strokes around the joints. Give clock-wise strokes to the abdominal area (going up the right side and down the left). In general, strokes go towards the heart. You can start with the feet and work inward, go to the hands and work inward, and then focus on the trunk of the body.
  • When massaging your scalp, apply oil to the crown of the head and massage the scalp. If you are concerned about getting oil in your hair, simply skip the head until you get more acquainted with the practice.
  • Take a warm bath or shower after your massage. This allows the pores and channels of the body to open, encouraging the oil to penetrate deeper into the tissues. Don’t use soap to wash off the oil. Just wash the “essentials”; underarms, genitals, etc. If you have oil in your hair, apply shampoo before wetting your head to cut the oil more effectively.
  • After showering, there should be a thin protective, moisturizing layer of oil left on the skin. Each of us will absorb the oil differently based on our constitution and current needs. If you are left dripping with oil after your shower, this may not be your medicine.

Contraindications: During heavy days of menstruation, while intoxicated, excessive weakness, during fever or illness, with a full stomach. Pregnant people should consult their practitioner.