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10 Tips for Ayurvedic Oil Massage

Yoga Resources
by Elise Bowerman

Ayurveda {pronounced ah-yer-vey-duh} is sometimes referred to as the “sister science” or “other half” to the practice of yoga. (Truly, you cannot have one without the other.) 

Ayurveda and Ayurvedic Medicine {Ayur = life, Veda = science or knowledge} have been around for over 5,000 years. According to Dr. Deepak Chopra, “Ayurveda continues to be one of the world’s most sophisticated and powerful mind-body health systems… It offers a body of wisdom designed to help people stay vibrant and healthy while realizing their full human potential.”

Below are 10 helpful tips to begin this ancient self-care method. Much is emphasized for pregnancy; however, everyone, any gender, and age will benefit from these tips:

1. Ayurvedic oil massage refers to the daily routine of abhyanga oil massage.

Abhyanga {pronounced ah-beh-YAWN-gah} is the practice of massaging [usually] warm oil onto the body (from head to toe) prior to bathing. This is typically done first thing in the morning, prior to breakfast.

If you're pregnant with itchy, dry skin - this may help tremendously!

"By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age."
— Charaka Samhita Vol. 1, V: 88-89 (ancient Sanskrit text)

2. During pregnancy abhyanga oil massage is not recommended.

Typically speaking, the practice of abhyanga is a strong, firm, and flowing massage technique. Its repetitive action allows the oil to soak through the seven layers of tissues in the body, called dhatus

However, a daily (or whenever you shower) gentle and soothing application of oil massage is often beneficial during pregnancy. Think of lightly spreading the oil over your skin, allowing a minimum of 5-10 minutes for the oils to soak in. Then enjoy a warm bath or shower to rinse excess oil off.

3. Benefits of oil massage during pregnancy:

My personal experiences with both pregnancies:

The itchiness of a growing body and winter dryness was soothed.

No stretch marks appeared!

Very little skin discoloration (melasma) occured. During postpartum continued massage significantly minimized the discoloration.

I felt calm, relaxed, and aware. It relieved my anxiety immensely!

General benefits shared from vpk by Maharishi Ayurveda1:

Increased circulation, especially to nerve endings

Toning of the muscles and the whole physiology

Calming for the nerves

Lubrication for the joints

Increased mental alertness

Improved elimination of impurities from the body

Softer, smoother skin

Increased levels of stamina through the day

Better, deeper sleep at night

4. Scientific studies prove this ancient practice to be true!

Abhyanga massage has also been shown to reduce stress, and may help lower heart rates and blood pressure in those with pre-hypertension2.

5. Abhyanga oil massage is not recommended:

During the first trimester of pregnancy

If you suspect the pregnancy is in danger

If your health care provider has instructed you otherwise

After a meal and/or if there’s trouble with digesting foods (i.e. constipation, diarrhea, etc.)

If you are not feeling well or are ill

On any open wound

6. Items you will need:

Small ceramic, glass, or stainless steel bowl

Mug warmer


Two  towels you won’t mind eventually throwing away. One = standing / sitting towel to apply oil; one = to dry off.

A comfortable, warm room to prevent being chilled

10-20 minutes of your time

7. How to gently self-massage during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters:

Begin with thinking of love. This routine is a time to offer yourself self-love. The Sanskrit word for “oil,” sneha can also be interpreted as love.

Pour about ½ cup (4 oz) of oil into bowl

Turn on mug warmer, placing oil bowl on top

Undress fully – keep garments away from oil; as oil will stain

Once oil is warmed (not hot, just warm) begin to softly massage / spread oil from the crown of the head, to face, to extremities working your way to the abdomen and heart.

Use long (up and down strokes) on the long bones of the arms and legs; circular patterns around your joints (ankles, knees, elbows, shoulders) and belly.

  • If you massage the bottoms of your feet be sure to rinse them off first to prevent slipping in shower.

Allow a minimum of 5-15 minutes to soak the oils in, as you are not vigorously massaging the skin/muscles during pregnancy.

Then enjoy a warm bath or shower. Allow the water to rinse off excess oil; only using soap in deliberate areas.

Towel pat dry. Refrain from using lotions, creams, or butters when possible. Abhyanga is helping your body adjust the moisture level so that you won’t need anything extra.

  • I recommend the following moisturizers from Beautycounter after drying off, if needed:
    • Citrus Mimosa Body Butter
    • Melting Body Balm
    • Countermatch Adaptive Body Moisturizer

Wear a robe and slippers or socks to protect your floors from oils, and anything you might bump against prior to dressing.

8. Oil options:

Cured Sesame Oil or Organic Sesame Oil

Mahanarayan Oil (spot treatment to relieve joint or muscle pain)

vpk by Maharishi Ayurveda’s Moisturizing Massage Oil in cooler months / Soothing Massage Oil in warmer months3.

9. Resources for further detailed information:

Banyan Botanicals4

vpk by Maharishi Ayurveda / Maharishi Ayurveda Products International (MAPI)1,3

Yoga Healer5

There are also excellent Ayurvedic Practitioners in the Metro-Detroit Area6, too!

My favorite pregnancy / postpartum book has been Yoga Mama Yoga Baby by Margo Shapiro Bachman. She has a section dedicated to abhyanga you'll enjoy!

10. Caution: oils will stain, can be flammable, and may clog drains

The oils on the towels will be challenging to remove. Personally, I throw away the towels once they get heavy and rancid. If they are oily after washing, then it is best to hang dry or throw away. (The one you stand on to apply the oil will be the first to go.)

When you wash oiled towels, sheets, or clothing be sure to dry on the low setting. They potentially can ignite when heated. Keep away from any heat.

To keep your shower floor from being slippery, and to avoid the oils from plugging up the drain follow these steps by Dr. Claudia Welch2

  • When you're done washing, squirt a little dish detergent on the floor. Spread it around your with your feet (if your balance is unstable - hold on to a handle, or bar, or do this technique using your hands after you dry off.) Let the shower water flow over it until everything is down the drain.
  • Once a month pour a small amount of eco-friendly drain cleaner down the drain. 

Disclaimer: This article is informative in nature. Therefore, it is not meaning to provide any medical diagnosis or treatment. You are encouraged to consult your health care provider before implementing a new routine like oil massage, essential oils, herbs, or otherwise.

The at-home oil image above is what I use; not pregnant. Ashwagandha Bala Oil should not be used during pregnancy; unless specified by your Ayurvedic doctor or practitioner. Picture is for visual inspiration.