Ayurvedic practices of abhyanga and sneha

Laura Plumb On Sneha: Self-Care with Oils

I’ve always hated perfume. My mom used to buy cheap “toilet water” and douse the toilet with it. With my keen sense of smell, I retreat when someone laden with perfume is near me. On the other hand, I relish the scents of aromatherapy and natural oils (like coconut). They feel nurturing and nourishing to me. That’s why I’m a fan of the Ayurvedic practices of sneha and abhyanga.

Sneha and Abhyanga

Sneha, and abhyanga, are Ayurvedic methods of massage. At last month’s Shakti Fest , I gravitated to two of Laura Plumb‘s workshops. One was a hands-on sneha session. We anointed ourselves, or others, with oils. She passed around her home-made sneha mixtures. She shared tips for selecting essential oils, herbs and spices.

Laura explained that the word sneha means both oil, and love. Likewise, I was taught abhyanga is self-care, to nurture love of self.

The Nityananda Times explains, “Abhyanga comes from two words, ‘abhi’ and ‘anga’, meaning gentle movements over body parts. Like the experience of being loved, abhyanga can give a deep feeling of stability and warmth. Sneha is subtle; this allows the oil/love to pass through minute channels in the body and penetrate deep layers of tissue.”

sneha, abhyanga and essential oilsLaura told us, “To caress the body is a form of love. Not only is your skin going to get better, but at the deepest level, who you are you can be restored. There’s nothing wrong with you. Love is the healer.” We are all capable of self-healing, and are natural born healers. In Laura’s words, “You are the infinite…the light of the divine.” 

Sneha, and abhyanga are Ancient healing practices. The sages respected our planet’s energies essential for well being. For example, Ayurveda teaches us that faux foods and lab-made pills are not sattvic (calming/harmonious). Rather, one should look to nature for nutrition and optimizing wellness. 

Consider, Frankincense and myrrh were gifts of the Three Wise Men. Laura quoted Jesus, “Take down the best of our oils.” 

“Oil is thicker than water. Oil is everywhere. Internally and externally,” she explained. Therefore, sneha frequently. My Ayurvedic schooling urged daily oiling of hair, body and mouth. Nowadays, oil is getting its due respect. Even my dentist endorses “oil pulling.”

Personalized Sneha and Abhyanga

sneha, abhyanga and essential oilsIt should be noted that Ayurveda prescribes different oils, depending on one’s dosha.  For example, I offset my cold/dry vata tendencies with sesame oil. That’s because sesame is considering heating, whereas coconut oil is better suited for  hotter pitta types.

Additionally, one’s constitution changes throughout the day, season, and lifespan. Pre-adolescents tend to be in kapha (growth) cycles. Conversely, mature people are in their vata (air/ether) days. Hence, I learned in India that dry massage (with triphala) is an option for oilier kapha people, or seasons. But, as we age, we require more oil, internally and externally.

“After 40, it’s oleation, oleation, oleation.” Sesame oil is full of anti-oxidants and is an anti-inflammatory, Laura said. That makes it very good, even for for Alzheimer’s. The oil penetrates the skin, into the brain. Not surprisingly, another form of Indian massage is champi.  This traditional head massage gave way shampoo.

Speaking of which, I make my own. My essential oils are part of all my personal care products. No toxic ingredients. And, mine smell great, and do my body — and hair— good. Essential oils have multiple benefits. In fact, geranium, rosemary, citronella and eucalyptus, repel insects. 

Which essential oils are best for you? That depends on your constitution. 

First of all, vata types should use sesame oil as the carrier. Pitta (warm-natured) people do better with coconut or sunflower oil. Because sesame is anti-inflammatory, it’s the preferred oil for kapha.  Laura recommended any flowers and sandalwood for pitta. For vata, lavender (which I use nightly), rose or geranium (two other of my favorites). Other options: clary sage or jatamansi (which my Ayurvedic doctor prescribed for me).  Frankincense, which is considered good for everything, is suggested for the joints. Furthermore, brahmi is cooling, and beneficial to the nervous system.  

Under the Moonlight

Ayurvedic practices of abhyanga and snehaAs a student of Vedic astrology, Laura suggested mixing oils in a glass jar, on a full moon. Then, let the moon “bathe” the oils, outside. Actually, that’s how I treated my crystals recently.  

Speaking of gem stones, Laura says pearls are best during a moon period, versus rubies in a sun period. The sun is connected to the heart, or atma (soul).

Consequently, in a full moon, your true self shines. Creativity is a key word here. On the other hand, during a waning moon, one has less energy.  This is a time for going inward.  Reflection.

From another perspective, the moon is maternal. However, Venus is the sister, or princess, reflective of beauty, arts and all that inspires.

Vedic astrology, she said, is a moon-based system that shows us patterns in the universe. It takes the judgement out, but puts back responsibility, and gives us remedies. In a sense, it is the understanding of self.  “Each planet is like a deity.”  Goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati are personifications of Venus. 

Similarly, from the Yin/Yang perspective, the moon is yin. Rather, yin is cooling and feminine. The sun is yang: masculine and hot.  Read more of my articles about the Yin Yoga and Ayurveda, or check out Laura’s tips.

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