An Ayurvedic Oil Bath is one of the best ways to maintain health and prevent disease. A once weekly oil bath strongly pacifies Vata, nourishes the skin and tissues (dhatus), and dissolves toxins (Ama), leading them back to the center of the body, where they can be expunged from the internal organs by a dosha appropriate diet, lifestyle, and occasional Panchakarma therapies. An oil bath will leave you feeling profoundly relaxed, mentally and physically.
Vata is directly aggravated by wind, cold, dryness, exhaustion, over-stimulation, insufficient time spent alone or in meditation, excessive sexual indulgence, a diet full of cold, dry or stimulating foods or drugs (whether medicinal or "recreational"); overindulgence in raw vegetables, a surfeit of cold, dry, exhausting or over-stimulating experiences, a lack of warm emotional and physical connections, an excess of emotionally charged relationships, an absence of routine; and old age.
Vata is indirectly aggravated by things that aggravate Pitta-- because when Pitta is aggravated, it creates heat in the body, which in turn aggravates Vata--think of how wind is created by a raging fire. One translation of Vata is Wind.
Vatta is considered the source of all pain, and also the cause of the greatest number of diseases. When Vata is damaged one becomes dry and brittle-- one's nervous system and joints become disease prone-- we see the hand of damaged Vata in any kind of joint stiffness, irregularity, or pain, in insomnia, anxiety, in attention deficit. Unbalanced Vata is considered the cause of the greatest number of diseases; it is also a vehicle that other diseases move on.
Additional symptoms and signs to look for to identify abnormal Vatta are cracking of the nails or feet, dry mouth or eyes or scalp, dandruff, ear ringing, tremors, seizures, constipation, flatulence, and some diarrheas.
Oil applied to the skin is warming, moistening, nourishing, and soothing--everything that Vata needs to be balanced. Sesame oil is particularly warming which makes it ideal for Vata pacification. (Coconut oil is one of the few that is cooling, making it ideal for Pitta pacification)
Oil for self-massage (called oil "bath" in India) should be "cured." This means heating the oil for 15 minutes on a pilot light or on simmer. This makes the oil really silky, and much more easily absorbed by the skin. Typically oil is cured with herbs, to enhance its medical value. Many different combinations of herbs are cured in oil. Some popular ones are Maha -Narayan oil, used to pacify Vata and especially for muscle and joint pain, and Brahmi oil, used to pacify Pitta and promote good sleep and mental acuity.
How to take an "Oil Bath"
On a relaxed day when you have plenty of time, in either the morning or at noon, on an empty stomach, take a cup of your oil of choice and heat it slightly. I like to place a glass bottle of oil into some hot water for a few minutes. You want the oil pleasantly warm. Now pour a generous amount of oil on the crown of your head and massage it deep into your scalp with a shampooing action. Now massage your feet with a liberal quantity of oil. Take your time and really rub it in well. And now massage everywhere in-between, using circular movements at the joints, and long movements on the rest of you.
This will be a bit messy. I have some old towels I use to protect the bathroom floor. In India the bathroom floors are traditionally made of stone, are slightly sloped, and have a drain at one end, to facilitate easy washing. Here we have to improvise.
When you are finished with your oil massage, which should take from 15 to 30 minutes, wash the excess oil off (much will have been absorbed into your skin) using either a very mild shampoo, or even better a powdered Ayurvedic herbal mix called a Churna, and warm, but not very hot water.
Dry off as you normally would, dress in comfortable loose cotton clothing, and lie down for a little while; even take a nap if you like, followed by a light vegetarian meal. Please plan your oil bath for when you can spend the rest of the day in easy relaxation, or better yet, quiet meditation. Vatta benefits from slowing down! Stay indoors if it is at all windy, rainy, or cold, as your pores will now be very, very open and you will be susceptible to the elements. Exposing yourself thus will further damage Vata. Pitta types should avoid the sun.
For a Pitta imbalance, do all the above with coconut or Brahmi oil. For a mixed pattern of Vata Pitta, massage the body with Sesame based oil, and the scalp with a coconut based one. For Kapha imbalance a mustard oil is normally used.
Eyton J. Shalom, M.S., L.Ac. ---Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine
copyright Eyton Shalom 2008 all rights reserved