A Beginner’s Guide To Ayurvedic Massages

On World Ayurveda Day, Dr Manoj Kutteri, medical director and CEO of Atmantan Wellness Centre, talks about the different types of Ayurvedic massages and their benefits.

Published On Oct 21, 2022 | Updated On Mar 04, 2024


Ayurvedic massage is part of the Ayurveda tradition, which is a ritual that combines 5,000-year-old Indian principles of Ayurveda—the science of life—and pressure points. It’s popularly known as Abhyanga, and is therapeutically designed to create balance among the mind, body, and spirit, and help the body to heal itself. 

Ayurvedic massages are generally powerful in dealing with the majority of health conditions related to heart health, digestive issues, respiratory issues, metabolic disorders, musculoskeletal issues, neurological problems and other psychosomatic conditions. It promotes flexibility, digestion, absorption of nutrients, and detoxification process, and aids in quality sleep.

Abhyanga, Udwarthana, Usthadana, Mardhana, and Gharshana are the five most commonly-known types of Ayurvedic massage.

Abhyanga is a form of nourishing oil massage using various therapeutic and prescribed oils. These oils are prescribed based on a person’s constitution and presenting complaints. Here, the massage strokes are longer and also in the direction of hair follicles. Abhyanga is known to nourish the tissues of our body and aid the process of healthy ageing.

Udwarthana is a dry body massage using therapeutically prescribed coarse herbal powders. This massage can be a little more intense and it is carried out against the direction of hair follicles. In effect, this massage is a detoxifying treatment which helps to improve cellular cleansing. This treatment helps to exfoliate the skin, improve metabolism and also to promote weight loss.

Usthadana is a type of Ayurvedic massage, herbal paste is used to massage the body. The indications of the treatment are similar to Udwarthana, but this can be taken by people even with a hairy body as it doesn’t create much discomfort. The benefits are the same as Udwarthanam and it is also used as a weight loss remedy and to boost metabolism.

In Mardhana, we use various strokes similar to western massages such as beating, pounding, percussions, tapping, stamping etc. These massages are done with or without oil and are popularly done as part of head massage or for other localised areas as well. It helps in manipulating the bulky muscles and also helps to stimulate the nerve endings and helps the body to relax. It also has an effect similar to doing an active exercise.

Gharshana is a massage using a full palm and it is usually a dry massage. This is mainly performed to improve circulation in the body and also to regain body heat. The friction created during the massage helps the body to stay warm and also helps to relax the muscles.

Ayurveda massages are usually prescribed by an expert Ayurveda physician. One can very well do self-massage using a prescribed oil and it can be done as part of Ayurveda Dinacharya. However, when massages are taken for a longer period, it needs to be under the supervision of a practitioner. For each body type and conditions, the prescription of therapeutic oil varies. Also one should be careful about the contraindication of the treatment and the allergies of the person. For acute conditions of heart and blood vessels including bleeding tendencies, acute inflammation, blood clots such as in varicose veins or atherosclerosis etc. and pregnancies, one should take advice from a qualified Ayurveda physician before self-prescribing such massages.

Ayurveda massages are usually prescribed by taking into consideration various physical, mental, emotional and psychological aspects of a person. Physicians usually try to understand the constitutional analysis of an individual before they prescribe a massage. However, in general, dry skin often would need an oil-based massage for nourishing the body and oily skin would require a powder-based massage which will help to activate the skin functions besides working on other eliminative organs. Self-Abhyanga (Self-Massage) is something everyone can practice as part of the routine Ayurveda regimen. For this purpose, generally, we prescribe oils such as Balaswagandhadi oil (physically active people), Dhanwantharam oil (elderly people) and Pinda Thailam (middle-aged or people with Pita-related disorders). These oils are generally having a tonifying effect on the body and help to regain vitality.

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