The golden glow of pure sesame oil, the silken feel of fresh coconut oil, the wonderful aroma of herb infused organic oils – these are all part and parcel of the Ayurveda experience. The ancient science of healing considers oils to be a potent weapon in the fight against diseases of the body and mind. In fact, the treatise Charuka Samhita enlightens us on how oils help in keeping our body fighting fit. To quote from the book, “The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much, even if subjected to accidental injuries or strenuous work. 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.”
The significance attributed to oils in maintaining physical and mental well being can be gauged by the fact that the Sanskrit word for oil is “sneha”. Sneha also means love. Perhaps, what is being conveyed is the fact that oil is just as important as love to ensure a happy life filled with wellness and goodness! Love penetrates deep into our heart and nourishes our life; similarly oil too penetrates deep into our tissues and nourishes our body.
Oils of Ayurveda
Ayurveda uses sesame oil, coconut oil, almond oil, sunflower oil and mustard oil as base oils. Any oil that comes from an organic and natural source has nourishing properties. The base oils are often used on their own for massage, internal consumption etc. But Ayurveda also involves techniques of making decoctions of oil and herbs known as thailams. Often with an uplifting fragrance, making these thailams is a blend of both science and art. The process of extracting, blending and mixing the herbs and oil is an elaborate process that requires much skill, knowledge dedication and persistence. Some of the thailams consist of more than 50 herbs and making them involves precision measurement and innumerable calculations. Traditionally, thailams were made by much respected vaidyans. Over the years, Kerala has had several renowned vaidyans and their thailams were much in demand for their recuperative prowess. Today, most thailams are made in factories, due to the scale required. But the skill and knowledge required to make an effective thailam still remains the same.
Oils are highly valued in Ayurveda not just for their intrinsic properties, but also as drug delivery mechanisms. The tiny oil molecules lubricate the skin and penetrate deep into the tissues. Loaded with herbs, the oils carry their medicinal benefits to the innermost parts of our organs, thus aiding the healing process. Ayurveda uses oils in a variety of ways. The idea is to ensure that the body gets the opportunity to make the maximum use of its soothing, lubricating and nourishing properties. Oil may be used for a daily massage or it may be recommended for cooking. Unlike modern medicine, Ayurveda does not frown upon using oil as a cooking medium. Ingesting a measure of oil may be prescribed as a daily dose. Oils are also used for enema or as nasal drops. Oil pulling or swishing oil inside the mouth is also an accepted Ayurveda practice.
The Most Used Oils
Ayurveda reveres sesame oil and it forms the base for most Ayurveda medicines. This preference is because sesame oil is chock-a-bloc with goodness. The oil is rich in vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, copper, calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin B6. A daily massage with the oil will strengthen the body and keep diseases at bay.
Coconut oil has tremendous healing powers. It is ‘cooling’ in nature and is used extensively for skincare and hair care. It also forms the base for several Ayurveda medicines. Sweet almond oil is also considered good. With plenty of omega-9 fatty acids and rich in vitamin E, vitamin B, calcium, zinc and manganese, almond oil is an excellent emollient, aphrodisiac, antioxidant and tonic.
Self-Massage with Oil
A daily self massage with oil helps you to stay healthy. Known as Abhyanga, the process helps remove toxins from the body and reduces stress. The oil for Abhyanga should be carefully chosen after evaluating the individual’s constitution, his current health and the external environment. For example, during summers coconut oil, which is cooling, can be used. During winters, sesame oil, with warming properties, might be more appropriate. The selection of the oil also depends on whether the individual’s constitution has a predominance of Vata, Pitta or Kapha. Almond oil is good for pacifying Vata, while those with a preponderance of Kapha may choose light, herbal oils.
Abhyanga is not very difficult. It’s basically a complete body massage using warm oil. Begin the process from the head. Massage the scalp and face with circular strokes. Move down to the limbs using long strokes on the arms and legs. A circular motion should be used to massage the joints. Our feet have several nerve endings and it is advisable to finish abhyanga by spending a couple of minutes massaging them. If possible, keep the oil on for 15 minutes before having a warm bath.
Oil Treatments in Ayurveda
There are several other treatments in Ayurveda where oil has an important role to play. This includes Snehapanam where oil or ghee is applied externally to treat skin and eye diseases. In Basti, warm oil or oil/herbal enemas are given to flush the body of toxins that cause immunity or digestive problems. Gandusha, Murda tailam, Siro Abhyanga, Sirodhara, Pichu, Siro Vasti and Karna Puranam are some of the various treatments that involve the use of oil.
Over the years, the properties of various oils have been thoroughly explored by Ayurveda. The smell, the texture and the taste of various oils have preventive and healing qualities that can improve our health and quality of life.