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Love is Sneha

Ah, February... While we often think of Valentine's Day as a day to express our love to others, we can't offer anybody quality love if we don't first love ourselves. The Sanskrit word Sneha has multiple meanings and is used both for "love" and for "oil". And the practice of rubbing oneself all over with oil is an important one in Ayurveda. Self-massage with oil is called abhyanga and it serves multiple purposes:

  • the oil, if a heating oil (like sesame), soothes Vata; if cooling (like coconut), it soothes Pitta. Kapha is soothed best with a more heating oil like mustard, or sesame in small amounts. Sesame will work for everyone in a pinch. Make sure you get untoasted sesame oil and not toasted (the dark, strong-smelling one).

  • the action of moving our hands and oil across the skin stimulates our lymphatic system and supports our immune system.

  • the comfort of touching our skin soothes the doshas and the nervous system. Vata dosha is best soothed with light and gentle touch, Pitta with medium pressure, and Kapha with firm strokes.

  • the hydrating effect of the oil on the skin helps plump up our skin cells, essentially sealing the chinks in our armour, since our skin is our first layer of defense between our bodies and potentially harmful things like bacteria, toxins, etc.

  • Oils, especially those infused with herbs for the purpose of abhyanga, nourish all the levels of the body-mind-energy system.

  • Abhyanga helps to soften the ama and toxins in the body so they can be moved through our system and out via the digestive tract.


If abhyanga is a new practice for you, an easy way to try it out is right before bed:

  • pull out old pajamas or get a pair at Goodwill or Oxfam, and a pair of old socks

  • at home, pour some sesame oil (untoasted) into a glass jar.

  • set the glass jar of oil in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes to warm.

  • spread out an old towel on the floor of a warm room

  • put your naked self on that towel and, starting at your feet, spread oil on your skin, from your toes to the top of your head. Take your time.

Specifically, get between your toes. Use circular strokes around your joints, and longer upward strokes on the rest of you. For example, rub circles around your ankles and then rub from the ankles up to the knees. Rub circles around your knees, and then stroke oil from the knees up to the hips, paying special attention to the inner thighs and groins (along the "bikini line") where there are lots of lymph nodes. At the belly, rub from the lower right hand quadrant up, then over to the upper left hand quadrant and down, then over to where you started. Do the best you can with your back or have a loved one help you out. Always move towards your heart, so then start with the tips of your fingers and move up your arms. Give your armpits some attention and the sides of the chest, the breasts, etc - there are lots of lymph nodes there you're supporting with your abhyanga. Stroke down the neck and below the jaw towards the heart - those are the lymph nodes or glands we're probably all most familiar with. Give your ears some attention. You can do your face, or use a specific facial oil you have. And finally give yourself a head massage. When you're done, put those old pajamas on, put an old towel over your pillow, and sleep in your sneha. In the morning, rinse off with warm water, you can wash your hair and any parts of yourself you want to use soap on, but do know that oil itself is anti-bacterial so you may feel good with just a rinse.

DO take the time to warm your oil - it makes a huge difference for both the skin and the nervous system and it feels so nice to have warm oil across your body.

If you don't want to sleep in your oil, let it soak in for 30 - 60 min while you do something quiet like Yoga Nidra or a guided meditation or listen to music or an audiobook. Then take a warm shower without soap. Go to bed in your old pajamas with your skin feeling so soft, and then you can take a regular shower the next morning.

Enjoy your self-love this month!

Stay well, and balance your self.

- Jewel

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