Despite the ancient Charaka’s beautiful promise of trimmed, strong, charming bodies, the western woman seems intent on buffing, exfoliating and dermabrasioning oil from her skin. As I work with women, I keep pleading with them, “Please mama, oil your body,” and yet it seems like one of the hardest premises to integrate into the daily routine. This may be because it seems hard to believe that by lovingly massaging a clean oil into the body, many diseases and imbalances can be both prevented and treated.
Our lack of love for our innate oiliness may also be partially to blame. Our current cultural paradigm sells us the myth that oily is gross. Anything unctuous or juicy is to be promptly waxed, astringed and exfoliated away, leaving no sign that we may be, underneath our expensive designer beauty products, a juice-producing, oil-secreting woman. Ladies of the land, may we let this idea die, and may our new mantra be, “Oily is Beautiful.” Repeat – “Oily is Beautiful.” In fact, oil is what keeps the skin young, taut and supple. Have I convinced you yet? If not, read on.
The simple truth is that the simple practice of oiling the physical machine is, quite possibly, the best thing we can do for the body, and the nervous system, on a daily basis. In fact, there is a phrase in traditional Indian healthcare that says, “Either pay the oil man today, or you will be paying the doctor tomorrow.” And as our skin is the largest organ of the body (in fact, it weighs anywhere from 6 to 10 pounds), we may do well in caring for this large biologically active organ.
Why do it? How about:
- a boost in your skin’s ability to breathe
- baby’s-ass smooth skin
- less cellulite
- a deep feeling of self-love – touch is ten times stronger than verbal or emotional contact. The skin is one of the primary seats of emotion, feelings, and desire.
- a release of a feel-good-hormone cocktail – the skin is as rich in hormones as the hypothalamus in the brain. When we self-massage, we literally release a cascade of feel-good, life-enriching growth-factor chemicals into our bloodstream.
- boosts vitality by preventing dehydration and providing deep nourishment
- stimulates the immune system
- cleanses the lymph – the rubbing and stroking actions dislodge accumulated toxins and impurities from the body and move them into the digestive system.
How to Oil Up – Ayurveda Style
- Choose an oil. If you tend to run hot, coconut oil is cooling. If you run cold, sesame oil is warming. Sunflower oil is a good oil to blend with either of these two as it lessens their smell and heaviness (if you find them too intense). If you run really oily already, you may try dry brushing your skin instead of using oil.
- Start by warming up your oil. When you warm the oil it “cures” it, allowing your skin to better absorb it. You can heat your oil in a small sauce span on the stove. I usually just put some boiling water in a glass measuring cup. Then, I put the smaller glass bottle of oil into the measuring cup and let the oil heat for about 15 minutes before applying it. You can also just simply place the glass bottle directly in your bathroom sink. Close the drain and fill with the hottest water possible. Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes before applying to the body. Truth be told, sometimes I don’t have time for curing it, so I just rub it strong in my palms to “heat it” before applying.
- Get naked.
- For the full bliss treatment, you can start at the top of the head and pour the oil directly onto the crown. If you are doing this before work and do not want an oily head for the rest of the day, you can skip this part and save it for a day when you do not need to be “presentable.” That said, Ayurvedic tradition placed heavy emphasis on massage the head and neck. Of the 107 energetic points of the body (called marmas), 37 are located on the head and neck.
- Continue onto the face (gently) and the rest of the body. On the long arms and legs, use back-and-forth strokes. On the joints, use circular strokes. If you are looking down at your belly, do circular strokes in a clock-wise motion, as this is direction in which our long intestine moves, and will stimulate proper digestion.
- How long should you spend massaging the body? Ideally, 15-20 minutes. If time is an issue, spend at least five minutes in total communion with your body vehicle. And by the way, notice the spots of the body you avoid. The thighs? The feet? Spend the most time there, as these are the bits that need the most love.
- Sit for some time. I recommend 20 minutes. Why not use this time to do some meditation?
- Rub off any excess oil with a towel and then take a shower. It may be a good idea to have a few towels designating for oiling, as they will not be of much use for drying the body after a few weeks. Showering causes the pores to open, allowing the herbal oil to penetrate even deeper into the skin. You do not need to soap-off the oil. The body will, most likely absorb it all, especially if you are quite dry.
- Make sure not to leave the oil on for more than 45 minutes as this can actually clog the channels we are trying to cleanse. Also, make sure to use chemical-free, organic, cold-pressed oils.
- Leave the house covered in a layer of L.O.V.E. (well-oiled).