Oils fuel our engine and drive our economy. However, certain genres of oil fuel each cell of our being with life force and revitalize us at every level. Dr. Dimple Duangthip Arora introduces us to these “Hoils” (healing oils), and urges us to soak them up!
Oleation or oil treatment is one of the key aspects of self-care, which plays an important part as a lifestyle choice in preventing diseases, says Ayurveda. Ayurveda is the oldest and most comprehensive recorded literature on health-care which originated in India about 5,000 years ago. Hailed as the mother of all healing sciences, its natural healing wisdom is being actively revived and embraced today by experts and the common man alike, owing to the proven effectiveness of its timeless healing modalities when it comes to preventive healthcare.
Why use Oils
Plants and herbs are a store-house of prana or life-force (including vital vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients), which act as bioenhancers (catalysts) to enhance various physiological functions like hormone production, metabolism, bone fortification and lubrication, protection of nerve cells, etc. Some of these can be ingested as food, but there are some herbs which are not palatable. However, their healing compounds can do wonders for our well-being. Oils are one of the most effective mediums to convey the healing essence of herbs to our body until the cellular level, when applied or ingested. These oils can be derived from natural substances like milk, plants, seeds, fruits and flowers. The variety is overwhelming.
Special aromatic oils which are extracted from flowers are called Essential Oils, and are used in Aromatherapy. Base oils are used for body work application, and in some cases, orally ingested. These are also called carrier Oils, since they carry the essence of the herb. Most carrier oils are medicated appropriately with herbs, the choice of herbs and oil depending upon the condition and constitution of the patient, nature of the treatment and the outcome desired. The nourishing oils gently caress deep-seated cells and tissues, helping to dislodge toxins from them at the same time. The logic is simple. Just like oil is needed to remove stubborn rust and dirt from a piece of metal, the cells and tissues of our body accumulate toxins and free radicals over time. One of the most effective ways of removing them is through the use of herbally medicated healing oils. The oils are administered through any one of the popular Ayurvedic bodyworks presented below to restore balance. The choice of oil and method of administering the same would be determined by an experienced Ayurvedic therapist.
Ayurveda guides our attention to a few oils which are safe, effective and universal for the purpose of treatments. These are Ghee (Clarified Butter from Cow’s milk), Sesame Oil, Coconut Oil, Almond Oil and Sunflower Oil. Jojoba oil, which is popular these days, is also a good carrier oil, light in texture, with a pH closes to our own natural skin sebum. Most Ayurvedic oils used in spas are herbally medicated sesame oil, since sesame oil is nourishing and safe for all body types, as well as it has the capacity to carry the herbs’essence to the target tissues and organs. It has properties similar to olive oil.
For self-massage at home on a daily basis, organic clarified butter (ghee) is recommended, since this has the highest moisturizing, healing and antioxidant properties with skin absorption rate of 96%. It is also a proven antidote to wrinkles. The odor of ghee can be overcome to some extent by applying a few drops of essential oils to it, such as sandalwood, fennel, orange or lavender. The older the ghee, the better in terms of therapeutic value. Ayurveda claims that 100 year old ghee has the capacity to cure most disorders resulting from diet and lifestyle!
Ghee stored in a copper vessel and washed 100 times with cool spring water acquires a cooling, anti-inflammatory property, ideal for treating rashes and eczema, says Ayurveda.
Oils have been used in a variety of ways to heal and balance the human constitution. Apart from application on the skin, oils are administered through the mouth, nose, ears and even the rectum. Presented below are some popular Ayurvedic Oil treatments (external), which are actively employed at world-class spas today. All of these treatments have immense therapeutic benefits, and indulging in them as part of a lifestyle regimen would go a long way in maintaining that youthful glow of health.
- Abhyanga : Body Oil Massage
Amongst all the bodyworks involving oil, the head-to-body oil massage is perhaps the most heavenly and hence most popular. The word “Abhyanga” is derived from Sanskrit and literally means “to rub and strengthen a body part”. It forms a part of other oleation therapies in Ayurveda which are called “Snehana” (meaning “Loving Touch”). This is what defines the essence of the Ayurvedic oil massage- to strengthen with loving care. A typical Abhyanga massage lasts between 60-90 minutes. It is more of a healing ritual, which begins with the rubbing of hands (of the care-giver) and joining them in a prayer to heal. The massage is gentle and rhythmic in nature, applied by firm, knowing hands. Marma points (vital energy points on the body corresponding to acupressure points) are gently stimulated to unblock energy channels. Special techniques, and sometimes different oil other than that used on the body, are employed on the head-shoulder-neck area, where the treatment is called “Shiroabhyanga” (“Shiro” meaning “head”).
Main Benefits: Relief from muscle soreness, stiffness, back-pain, head-aches, calms the nervous system, improves blood circulation, skin detoxification. Regular application helps keep skin youthful, and the body flexible and supple. Shiroabhyanga or head oil massage improves blood circulation in the head-brain area, calms the mind, nourishes the scalp and hair follicles promoting hair growth. Also effective in treating hair loss and early greying
- Shirodhara: Head-oil bath
This treatment has become a staple with many world-renowned spas. Literally, this translates as “Flow over the Head”. It involves the rhythmic, regulated flow of medicated oil over the forehead. The oil used depends upon the nature of the ailment and body-type of the beneficiary. It acts on the energy centre located at the third-eye on the forehead (acting on the pituitary-pineal glands) which helps induce a sense of calmness and well-being. Normally, this is followed by a massage (shiroabhyanga). Another divine therapeutic offering by Ayurveda!
Main Benefits: Calms the nervous system, helps alleviate stress, calms hyperactive mind, and helps in insomnia, fatigue and depression. On the physical level, helps nourish the scalp and hair.
- Basati : Tonification therapy with Oil-Pool
This treatment is practiced at more specialized Ayurvedic spas, but is simple enough to be done even at home with some help. It involves tonification of the eyes, solar plexus and the lower back by allowing a pool of medicated warm oil to stand on any one of the areas mentioned for a period of time ranging from 15-45 minutes. A “wall” of dough is prepared and stuck around the eyes (or navel or lower back). Warm oil is then poured into this “well” with a spoon, till half full. This oil is allowed to stand still for about 15-20 minutes for the eyes, and upto 45 minutes if applied on the navel or lower back region. Thereafter, the oil is removed by repeatedly dipping cotton wool into this pool. Cotton wool soaks up the oil and is squeezed into a container. This therapy is usually followed by a gentle massage to the respective area. Only ghee is used for the eyes, as it has the much needed vitamins to nourish its tender tissues. Other medicated oils like sesame or mustard could be used for the solar plexus (navel) or lower back basati.
Main Benefits: Helps nourish tired eyes, helps restore flexibility of weak muscles of the eye-balls; relieve chronic indigestion and cramps when “basati” is applied on the solar plexus point; reduces lower back-pain and nourishes the spinal muscles when applied on the lower back.
- Nasya*: Nasal Application of Oil
Here again, the oil of choice is the edible oil ghee (clarified butter). A few drops of warm ghee (either medicated with herbs or normal) are applied into each nostril with a dropper. In some cases, a gentle massage on the face-neck area is done prior to nasya to help dislodge toxins in the sinuses.
Main Benefits: Nasya is used to help clear sinus congestion (in which case the ghee is medicated with expectorant herbs like mint, calamus or ginger), nourishes the brain and calms the nervous system.
- Basti*: Medicated Oil Enema
This one is more of a clinical detox treatment, which involves cleansing the colon with an enema of medicated oil. Ghee or Sesame oils are used as base oils, medicated with appropriate herbs. The oil is injected into the rectum, retained for sometime, and then expelled along with excreta.
Main benefits: Very helpful in cases of chronic constipation and indigestion. It helps clear the colon of toxins, facilitating better absorption of nutrients which is instrumental in preventing chronic diseases later in life.
*These are part of the Ayurvedic Pancha Karma (intensive detox), and prove to be therapeutic adjunct treatment for cancer. Ayurvedic oil treatments have been clinically proven (refer to USA based Maharishi Ayurveda and Deepak Chopra’s clinical work,website and resources) to heal and protect the body tissues from harmful side-effects of chemicals and radiations employed in treatment of cancer.
QUICK GUIDE TO COMMON OILS FOR BODY TYPES
VATA (AIR) BALANCING: Sesame, Ghee, Mustard, Sweet Almond
Essential oils: Nutmeg, Fennel, Cinnamon, Lavendar, Basil, Ginger
- PITTA (FIRE) BALANCING: Coconut, Ghee, Sunflower, Olive
Essential Oils: Rose, Sandalwood, Lemongrass, Orange, Lemon, Rosemary, Cedarwood, Peppermint
- KAPHA BALANCING: Sunflower, Olive, Mustard
Essential Oils: Tea tree, Eucalyptus, Basil, Ginger, Geranium