What if I told you there was a pleasurable, easy way to invest in ALL the layers of your health with a minimal time investment? All you need is your two hands, some high-quality plant oil, and 10 to 15 minutes of your time. Self massage (abhyanga in the Ayurvedic tradition) has been practiced for thousands of years and is lauded for its ability to promote healing, vitality, and youthfulness. Science is catching up with the many physical, mental and emotional benefits this simple, yet profound practice offers. Let’s explore this.
Hands-on Nervous System Balance
The gentle pressure of self massage signals to your nervous system that it's OK to relax and slow down. Studies have shown that folks who did self massage regularly had increased heart rate variability, which is a feature of good vagal tone (read more about the vagus nerve here). Good vagal tone means you can easily access the ‘rest and digest’
(parasympathetic) function, rather than being stuck in ‘fight or flight’(sympathetic) stress reactions. The more time you spend in the ‘chill zone' of your nervous system, the better the health of your heart and whole body will be.
Activate Whole-Body Detoxification
Your lymphatic system is crucial to the movement of toxins and wastes out of your body’s tissues, and self massage is an easy way to activate the lymphatic ‘river.’ Remember to hydrate well, to keep the process moving smoothly. A healthy, free-flowing lymphatic system is key to robust immunity and glowing skin. (Look for more on this in a future blog) When you add plant oils (like olive or almond oil, not undiluted essential oils) to your massage, the fatty acids and antioxidants present in the oils help to maintain your skin’s acid mantle, feed its microbiome, and increase its tone and elasticity.
Increase Healthy Circulation
When you apply gentle pressure to your skin and muscles (no need to ‘dig in’, or go super-hard), you bring fresh blood to areas that may be congested, sluggish, tense, or in need of healing (taking care to avoid open wounds). Increased circulation keeps the veins and arteries that feed your skin and muscles flexible and healthy. Gentle massage can speed healing to injured tissues (ask your health care practitioner what amount of pressure is OK) and soothe your nerves at the same time.
An Ideal Mini-Vacation
In addition to the many health benefits self massage gives you, it’s also a great way to carve out regular ‘me time,’ without having to devote a big chunk of your day for it. Daily practice is a great goal to reach for, but you’ll get the benefits if you work in a massage just one or two times a week. Taking some time for yourself, doing some deep breathing, and anointing yourself with oil is a wonderful way to show yourself some love. Doing kind, nurturing things for yourself is a great investment in your emotional resilience and mental health.
Don’t Forget Your Head!
Head massage can release muscle tension in the neck and shoulders and ease headaches. Massaging your head and face can facilitate lymphatic drainage and encourage clear sinuses. Scalp massage with oil also boosts circulation and helps clear hair follicles, which can improve hair growth and health. If you’ve ever had a head massage, you know how profoundly relaxing it can be. It’s no surprise that it can often lead to better sleep.
Does self massage sound like something you’d like to add to your regular routine? We'll be covering all the ‘how to’s,’ with some extra tips to make it easier to fold this great wellness practice into your regular routine in the second part of this series.