The classics of Ayurveda teach that over-use, under-use and wrong use of our senses lead to disease. The sense organs are the ears, skin, eyes, tongue and nose. The mind is considered both a sense organ (receiving impressions) and a motor organ (acting on the world). The effects of caring for our senses are on both the organs themselves and on our minds, for our sense organs have a direct link to our minds. We take in so much stimulation every day that its often hard to unwind at the end of the day. Some of our senses, like touch, registered through our skin, are under stimulated and this leads to its own distress both physically, emotionally and spiritually. What we feed our senses, and how we care for them is an important, often overlooked form of self-care.
The skin is the largest organ in our body, serving as a barrier between the outside world and our inner body. Our skin digests sunlight and produces Vitamin D. Similarly, when we apply oil to our skin, our skin digests the oil and if it is herbalized oil, those herbs penetrate, bypassing the gut and directly influencing our nervous system. Touch is one of our primary needs. You may know of that monkey study where the baby monkeys are given the choice between a steel framed monkey “mom” offering milk, or a soft, monkey “mom” with no milk. Of course they choose the soft “mom”—only jumping to the wire mom for brief moments of taking milk. Babies who aren’t touched enough, die. We need physical contact and high quality touch. In Ayurveda, one of the core practices is self-massage with oil called abhyanga. This daily ritual of applying warm oil to the skin, creates a protective barrier between the outside world as us and strengthens our auric field. It calms and nourishes our nervous system, effectively hydrates our skin and, if one uses herbalized oils, its particular effects are enhanced with the qualities of the herbs.
Depending on one’s body-type (prakruti or “nature”) different types of oils are called for—In the winter you can use raw, organic sesame oil, and in the summer, coconut oil.
Abhyanga: Self-massage with oil. Time needed for this practice: 5 minutes.
Warm about 1/4 cup of oil in a glass (I put the glass of oil into a ceramic bowl filled with hot water to warm the oil. In the summer, you can use it right out of the bottle).
Stand in the shower without turning it on yet, and apply the oil to your skin from head to toe. If you will be washing your hair that day, you can apply it to your scalp, beginning at the crown. Raise your arms and massage under your arms and at the breast tissue which is very helpful for moving the lymph and clearing the breasts.
Turn on the shower and allow the steam of the shower to open your pores and your body will absorb the oil more deeply. Depending on how dry/oily your skin is, you may use a little soap to remove any excess oil (I don’t do this).
Dry off with a towel used just for this and dress as usual.
Before you leave the shower, squirt a little grease-cutting dish-washing liquid onto the shower floor to remove the excess oil**(see below)
Your towel will accumulate a little oil over time, and should be laundered separately from others.
(This daily practice can be done in 5 minutes, as I say, and on a day when you have more time, you can apply the oil and leave it on for 15 or 20 minutes. Or better yet, apply the oil and take a sauna or steam. Heaven).
An even simpler practice is to apply oil to your hands and feet. Time it takes: 1 – 5 minutes.
Before bed, apply some oil to your hands and the soles of your feet.
Keep a small hand towel around that you can place under your feet.
You can take a few minutes to massage your hands and feet, thereby stimulating your your entire body through reflex points there.
You can use a pair of cotton socks to put over your feet if you need to. I like to simply lift my legs into the air until the bottoms of my feet have absorbed the oil.
Some people prefer to apply oil to their skin after bathing, and that’s fine (though once I tried this other way, I never went back). The oil works much better than lotion, which is a combination of oil and water, and often stays on the surface of the skin, failing to penetrate, and even clogging the pores.
Here are some ways to care for your skin and bring more high quality touch into your life.
Practice Abhyanga before your daily shower.
Rub oil on your hands and feet before bed.
Reach out and touch someone you love.
Schedule a massage.
Take turns giving a foot or hand massage with a friend/partner
Curl up with a warm blanket and pillow and revel in the softness.
Wear some clothing that feels good on your skin.
Give your skin a good scrub once a week.
Soak in a hot bath, with or without epsom salts, essential oils and flowers.
Sit in a sauna or steam. Apply oil to your skin before hand to deeply nourish.
I hope you enjoy a little more quality touch this week.
**Here’s how to care for your shower floor, drain and towels if you practice abhyanga
once a week pour some vinegar down the drain, and rinse with water to remove any excess oil build up.
launder your towels that have a little oil on them separately from others and use a little of the grease-cutting dishwashing liquid when you launder them.