On a bright, sunny day recently, I took a 15-minute ride to Veda Spirit's Studio City wellness center for a COVID guideline-approved massage—an Ayurvedic massage, to be exact. This wasn't like the typical variations of massages you've seen on the menu at your local spa—like deep tissue or hot stone massage—no, Ayurvedic treatments are far different. Below, we break down everything there is to know before scheduling your first Ayurvedic massage (or more specifically, an Abhyanga massage).
What Is an Abhyanga Massage?
An abhyanga massage is a traditional Ayurvedic practice that balances the dosha and body. With warm oil at the center of the treatment, Regina Feldman, the founder of the Los Angeles-based VEDA Spirit spa, tells Byrdie, "An abhyanga is like an oil change for the body." An herb-infused, individualized oil blend with your dosha in mind is applied from the scalp down to the soles of the feet in the direction of your natural lymphatic circulation flow. Abhyanga massages can range from $75 to $165 for a 60-minute treatment depending on your location.
What are Doshas?
Doshas are the three energies that define every person's makeup: Vata (air and space), Pitta (fire and water), or Kapha (water and earth).
Benefits of an Abhyanga Massage
Ayurvedic medicine is over 5000-years-old and boasts a wealth of health benefits. An abhyanga massage is said to help relieve stress, lower blood pressure, and encourage lymphatic drainage. In a 2011 study, researchers found that those with prehypertension had a decrease in blood pressure after one abhyanga massage. In that same study, researchers also found that after a one-hour abhyanga massage, participants' pre-massage heart rate decreased along with their stress levels. Ayurvedic medicine practitioners also credit the abhyanga massage with the ability to reduce fine lines, cellulite, scarring, and hyperpigmentation.
What Is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a holistic healing system developed in India more than 5,000 years ago. The term Ayurveda is derived from the Sanskrit words ayur, which means life, and veda, which means science or knowledge—translating fully to knowledge of life.
What to Expect During an Abhyanga Massage
As my practitioner, Hillary, prepped the room, I filled out a questionnaire about my health, medical history, and what I was hoping for from my experience. I started to rush through the form until I realized answering the questions in their entirety was essential to getting the most out of my treatment. My year has been filled with overwhelming (and sometimes debilitating) anxiety. I know that I'm not alone in this due to the fact we're all trying to find ways to cope with our "new normal."
As I thought about the final question on my questionnaire: What are you hoping to take away from your experience today? I wrote, "I want to work on my mental and emotional wellbeing." Upon looking at my paperwork, my practitioner selected Vata oil for me a blend of organic sesame, sunflower, brahmi, ashwagandha, shatavari, and dashamula oils of which are good for stress, calming the nervous system, and balancing emotions. A Vata dosha has two elements: air and space. The Vata dosha correlates with creative, open-minded people who are typically on the move. However, this dosha is known for dealing with anxiety, insomnia, irregular eating patterns, and digestive issues. I deal with all of these, so I think it's safe to say my practitioner got my dosha just right.
To keep my body warm during my treatment, there was an infrared lamp above the table and soothing music playing in the background. Before starting the treatment, I was asked to set an intention while my practitioner chanted a mantra. My intention was to stay in the moment since my anxiety doesn't often allow me to do that. I am always somewhere in between worrying about the future and dwelling in the past. When I felt the warm oil on my back, there was an immediate sense of calm, and the sensation of the warm oil was amazing.
As the treatment went on, there was no intense pressure, just small, subtle, intentional movements and massaging of my lymphatic system, which aids in detoxification, strengthening the immune system, and encouraging circulation. There were moments throughout my treatment when I felt different waves of emotions. As the oil swirled onto my back, I felt invigorated. When the oil was poured onto my scalp and gently massaged in, my busy brain felt as if it was getting a reset it desperately needed. Each section of my body had a different emotional release.
After my massage was over, I felt incredibly light, and my brown skin was glistening. However, I didn't truly feel the effects of my treatment until I got home. I sat on the couch and felt like I sunk into it. My body was lighter, my anxious thoughts were gone, and I felt a true sense of stillness. My practitioner recommended I relax and only have soups, warm liquids, and water for the remainder of the day.
At about 8 pm, I felt the overwhelming urge to go to bed. I co-washed my hair to rinse away the oil in my hair from the treatment, showered, and folded my body into bed. Minutes later, I was asleep. I didn't wake up until the sun hit my face the next morning. Laying down and drifting off to sleep in minutes is not something I'm accustomed to. My brain is far too busy for that, but that night was different. I had the best sleep I'd had in months with minimal tossing and turning.
Potential Side Effects
Many Ayurvedic practitioners advise against receiving an abhyanga massage for women who are pregnant in their first trimester. And for those who are menstruating, the practitioners offer the same advice since the massage can potentially release ama (toxins).
The Final Takeaway
Working in the beauty industry has become more than a career; it's opened me up to new experiences. I am beyond grateful to have experienced an ancient holistic practice from India in my own backyard. Learning about global beauty practices feels like the ultimate gift—one that I always want to walk into with respect, admiration, and gratitude. For anyone coping with anxiety or stress, I highly recommend giving an Ayurvedic massage a try. I don't say this often, but for me, this experience was a game-changer and will be a part of my self-care practice moving forward.