An Ayurvedic massage is not just about blissful relaxation - it is actually part of a therapeutic process called snehana (oleation).
According to Ayurveda, an imbalance in bodily humors causes all diseases. In fact, the process of disease is thought to begin with the accumulation of imbalanced humors or toxins in the body.
There are five processes (panchakarma) to remove toxins and purify the body: therapeutic vomiting, purgation, enema, nasal administration of medicines, and bloodletting.
Toxins are typically located in the part of the body that is affected by the disease, but they need to be brought into the gastrointestinal tract before they can be removed through a panchakarma therapy.
This is where snehana comes in. Snehana therapy includes procedures that lubricate the body internally or externally.
This therapy softens the toxins so that they are detached and channeled to the gastrointestinal tract, where they can be easily eliminated during the main detoxifying process of panchakarma.
Svedana (sweating therapy) is another therapy used in this preparatory process. But unlike svedana, snehana can also be an independent treatment. Here's a deeper look at this interesting therapy.
How Is Snehana Carried Out?
Snehana can either be done externally or internally. Fats are used for lubrication of the body and include ghee, animal fat, bone marrow, or plant sources like vegetable oil.
This fat can be administered internally through the nose or given as an enema. But it is usually drunk or consumed after mixing it with food. The kind and dosage of fat are carefully calibrated by the Ayurvedic practitioner after considering the constitution and condition of the patient.
The night before snehana therapy, the patient prepares by restricting their diet to only warm and liquid foods that do not block the body channels. Then, medicated fat is usually administered for 3-7 days.
If it is taken beyond 7 days, the patient may become too accustomed to it and want to make it a part of their everyday diet.
After having the medicated fat, you are supposed to sip warm water frequently and, even after it is completely digested, your Ayurvedic doctor may advise you to continue consuming only light food for a while.
External oleation therapy may include massage, filling your mouth with the medicated fat for a few minutes (ganḍūṣa), or filling the ear with fat (karṇapūrana).
Ayurveda uses many forms of massage: Abhyanga anoints the entire body with oils or ghee, while padabhyanga focuses specifically on the feet and shirobhyanga on the head. Another form, udvartana, applies firm pressure in upward strokes to treat nervous disorders.
Some forms of external oleation can be practiced at home, too. You can try pichu by soaking a piece of cloth in warm oil and then placing it on the forehead for about 30 minutes.
This can help balance the body humors and calm the mind. It's best done in the morning and early evening. When done with padmaka (sour cherry) oil, it can relieve stiff eye muscles, dry scalp, inflammation of the face or head, and vaginal bleeding.
Kaseesadi oil (a medicated Ayurvedic oil) can be used to help with hemorrhoids. Meditate for about 10 minutes before you begin the treatment and rest for half an hour after the treatment to get the full benefits.
Ayurveda also recommends that you stay peaceful for the rest of the day. Of course, this can be a tough task, but perhaps starting your day with a pichu treatment will set you on the right track!
What Can Snehana Therapy Do For You?
In addition to preparing the body for panchakarma therapies, snehana can:
be used as an independent rejuvenating therapy
revitalize you after strenuous activities and long journeys
treat conjunctivitis (pink eye)
treat vata disorders (which are governed by the elements of air and space), including nervousness, insomnia, loss of memory, and stress
help treat dry skin
Who Should Avoid It?
Though snehana therapy has many benefits, it is not advisable for people who suffer from fever, indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea, or anorexia. It is also not suitable for people who are either very weak or obese.
Since an individual's constitution is an important part of determining the course of treatment in Ayurvedic medicine, it is always a good idea to check with a credible practitioner before starting any treatment.