by Samantha Case
How Dry Brushing and Self-Massage help move toxins and improve elimination
Self-massage (abhyanga) and dry brushing (garshuna) are ancient Ayurvedic health and beauty practices that can bring tremendous benefits to one’s life. Done regularly, they nourish the body’s largest organ, the skin, and leave one feeling moisturized and healthy. But their impacts are beyond skin-deep.
Self-massage and dry brushing can positively impact circulation, the joints, and the internal organs. Most of all, these practices stimulate the lymphatic system, supporting the body in toxin elimination. In fact, these are two of the most beneficial things one can do to detox and boost the health of the lymphatic and immune systems. Let’s explore these simple Ayurvedic practices, how to do them, and how they can strengthen your health.
What Is Self Massage?
Also called abhyanga in Sanskrit, self-massage is an ancient practice done with intention and care by using warm, natural oil to massage the entire body. Self-massage is strongly encouraged in Ayurveda, and many Indian households incorporate it as a daily habit in their lives. Enveloping the body with oil provides stability, warmth, and comfort to your system. It also nourishes the organs and rejuvenates both mind and body.
“Give yourself a full-body oil massage on a daily basis. It is nourishing; pacifies the doshas; relieves fatigue; provides stamina, pleasure and perfect sleep; enhances the complexion and the luster of the skin; promotes longevity; and nourishes all parts of the body.” – excerpt from traditional Ayurvedic texts
Who should self-massage?
Self-massage is beneficial for all doshas, but some can benefit more from it than others. If you don’t yet know your constitution, click here to take the quiz. Vata doshas benefit from self-massage more than the other two doshas because their light and effervescent characteristics are balanced by the heavy and grounding qualities of oil.
Pitta constitutions and/or people with a pitta imbalance can also benefit from self-massage, but they’ll find the most value in it by using different oil and techniques depending on the season. Since pitta constitutions naturally have warmer qualities, it’s best to use oil in the winter that is room temperature and warm oil only during the summer months.
Kapha types and those with a kapha imbalance can benefit most from abhyanga by using less oil and incorporating it as a weekly habit versus a daily habit. Although kapha constitutions can still find value in self-massage, dry brushing is more supportive because it balances the oily and heavy qualities already inherent in kapha.
Self massage is not recommended for anyone who’s pregnant, in the midst of their menstrual cycle, or for anyone experiencing intense physical discomfort or an acute illness
How to Self Massage
Self-massage is best done in the early and quiet hours of the morning before you’re pulled into the responsibilities and momentum of the day. What better way to start the day than by offering gratitude and nourishment to your entire body with warm oil?
At least 5 minutes is needed, but it’s best to spend a minimum of 15 minutes for the oil to penetrate the seven dhatus (tissue layers in the body).
Use ¼-½ cup oil of your choice (see suggestions below).
Warm the oil before using it, especially for vata constitutions. This doesn’t need to happen every time, but warm oil provides a more nourishing and relaxing experience.
Lay out a towel (one that you don’t mind getting ruined overtime by the oil), and sit or stand over it nude.
Use a generous amount of oil and begin at your extremities, working toward the center of your body.
Massage the face in circular, upward motion.
Use long strokes on your limbs and circular strokes on joints. For the abdomen and chest, move your hand in clockwise motion. Pay extra attention to the ears, scalp, and feet–these places are the home of nerve endings and marma points.
To access specific muscles or joints in particular, salves like zMAGIC are great to use. zMAGIC soothes acute inflammation while guiding Pitta dosha back to its natural state of balance.
It’s best to take a bath or shower after oiling. (If you do, be mindful of the impact the oil could potentially have on the drains. This article will give you more information on mindful practices to incorporate before and after practicing abhyanga, including ways to care for your drains.)
What Oil Should I Use?
When choosing an oil it’s best to consider what qualities each dosha has in comparison to the qualities of various oils commonly used during self-massage. In Ayurveda, like increases like and opposites balance each other, so we recommend using an oil that has opposite qualities of your dominant constitution.
Vata’s primary qualities are light, cool, dry, and coarse. Therefore, plain and untoasted sesame oil (heavy qualities) is best for people with a vata imbalance, a vata constitution, or during the fall and winter months when vata’s qualities are more present. ZVEDA’s zBLISS herbal massage oil is made specifically to nourish and protect dry skin while bringing Vata dosha back into its natural state of balance.
Pitta is hot, oily, and sharp and benefits most from oils with light and cooling qualities, like sunflower oil and coconut oil. ZVEDA’s zCHILL herbal body oil is an especially good choice for pitta constitutions and pitta imbalances and is made to nourish and soothe sensitive skin.
With natural oily and dense qualities, Kapha constitutions are advised to avoid heavier oils like sesame oil in favor of lighter ones like sunflower or coconut. With a sunflower base, zLIFT herbal massage oil is a combination of warming, cleansing herbs and oils formulated to restore balance to Kapha constitutions.
What Is Dry Brushing?
Dry brushing (also called garushuna) is a specific body massage technique that is done without oil and involves the use of gloves or a bristle brush. Like self-massage, dry brushing refreshes and stimulates the skin and lymphatic system, but it has a more energizing and stimulating effect on the body. Because of this, it’s especially favorable for kapha constitutions or anyone with a kapha imbalance. It’s also a great practice for all doshas during the kapha season of Spring, when the air is heavier with moisture.
Pitta and vata constitutions can also benefit from dry brushing, but vata-types are encouraged to follow it with self-massage to saturate the body with oil. Dry brushing should be avoided by anyone who has highly sensitive or inflamed skin, psoriasis, eczema, or a serious illness.
How to Dry Brush
To practice dry brushing, you’ll need an all natural bristle body brush (long handles are best to reach all parts of the body), skin or linen gloves, or a soft sponge. Dry brushing is especially best to do in the morning because it stimulates the body.
Prepare your brush, gloves, or sponge, and lay out a towel to collect the dead skin that’ll be released from brushing. You can either sit or lay on the towel.
Start at the bottom of your feet and move upwards. Use long, sweeping strokes several times in each area.
Use circular strokes on the stomach and joints and long, sweeping strokes on the limbs.
Brush toward your heart. This drains lymph back to your heart. We suggest using light-medium pressure to help with lymphatic circulation, but the pressure can be adjusted depending on the density of the skin. Use less pressure in thinner areas and more pressure in thicker areas.
Brush your entire body except your face, chest, and heart. Avoid sensitive areas on the skin or areas where the skin is inflamed or wounded.
It’s best to shower afterward to further remove dry, dead skin. For even more benefit, fluctuate between hot and cold water in the shower following the dry massage. This will continue to stimulate blood circulation.
Benefits of Self Massage & Dry Brushing
Self-massage and dry brushing compliment each other well. When done together, the two provide a deeply rewarding and enjoyable experience for the body. Self-massage nourishes the entire body by lubricating the joints, increasing circulation, stimulating the internal organs, toning the muscles, relaxing the mind and body, and benefitting sleep.
Dry brushing sheds dead skin cells, improves skin texture and renewal, energizes and stimulates the body, rejuvenates the nervous system, and increases blood flow and tightens skin.
Removal of Toxins & Support of Elimination
Both self-massage and drying brushing activate and stimulate the lymphatic system, which supports lymphatic drainage of the entire body. This drainage system aids in the removal of toxins, waste, and ama. The lymphatic system doesn’t move on its own, so it needs help from activities like cardio exercise, yoga, deep breathing, and self-massage or dry massage.
In addition, both these practices increase circulation to skin. This delivers more nutrients to the cells of the body by stimulating blood flow and relaxing muscle tension. Increased circulation also encourages the body’s discharge of metabolic wastes. When the body rids itself of toxins and properly eliminates waste, it’s able to run more efficiently in all areas.
In Ayurveda, the body’s ability to properly cleanse itself of toxins and waste has a critical impact on one’s overall health. When the body doesn’t efficiently do so, it negatively impacts the digestive system overtime. The root of one’s health depends on the strength of the digestive system, which is why it’s crucial that all systems work together cohesively. Self-massage and dry brushing help the body’s ability to function at its highest potential by supporting its drainage systems.
What are you waiting for?
Ayurveda strongly encourages a regular practice of self-massage and/or dry brushing into one’s daily lifestyle habits. The benefits of these ancient practices are beyond skin-deep. They repair one’s relationship with one’s body and have a positive impact on blood circulation, the joints, the internal organs, and especially the lymphatic system, which ultimately supports the body in processing and eliminating toxins and waste.
Even 10 minutes of massage or brushing each day can have a huge positive impact on your health. Through these Ayurvedic practices, you can revitalize and heal your body with your own two hands. Your body is waiting for you; what are you waiting for?