Abhyanga – Oleation of the body in Ayurveda

Ayurveda, the ancient science of life, for day to day living lays great emphasis on ‘Dinacharya’, or daily routine, for preserving the health of the body. Oleation of the body is an important aspect of Dinacharya, and is termed Abhyanga.

This Sanskrit term is derived by adding the prefix ‘Abhi’ to ‘Anga’, which translates as limbs or parts. Abhi is a term of positive emphasis. Thus abhyanga translates as bringing goodness to the limbs or to all parts of the body.

The practice of oleation of the body is a tradition prevalent in most parts of our country. Birth, death, festivities or any auspicious occasion has the oil bath as a ritual, many not knowing that it is actually a good health practice from the Ayurveda Samhitas. Having an oil bath before an auspicious occasion or festival is to bring about greater purity and energy to our body and mind. It is also for the same reason that oil bath is done to end a period of mourning.

Today, most people call abhyanga a massage and practitioners of Ayurveda never tire to make those understand that abhyanga is not a massage but application of a particular oil in a particular way, all over the body, from head to toe to bring about basic detoxification of every cell in the body.

Every healthy person is advised to apply oil, preferably sesame oil from head to toe before the bath, as a daily routine. Those who have paucity of time are requested to at least apply a drop on top of the head, the earlobes and on the palms and soles of the feet –“Sira Sravana Pada…”.


In addition to basic detoxification, it’s benefits are listed as

  • Making oneself more flexible by providing lubrication to the joints,
  • Improving mobility and flexibility of the body,
  • Strengthening the nerves, bones and musculature
  • Making the skin and hair lustrous ,and
  • Slowing the aging process of the body.

In the therapeutic part of Ayurveda, every physician understands abhyanga as the basic preparation to administer any kind of Ayurvedic treatments, be it “Purvakarma”, “Paschatkarma” or “Panchakarma”.

Another term for oleation is “Snehana”. Sneha is translated as love in Sanskrit, hence one can understand the importance given to this process in Ayurveda.

For those of us with the background of western education, the best way to explain the process of oleation in Ayurveda is as a transdermal application of a medicated oil that permeates to the cellular level and improves the osmotic process of individual cells, helping them absorb better and also expel out the toxins or wastes more efficiently.


Though abhyanga is described as oleation of the body, there is a methodology to it in therapeutic practice. Two therapists of the same sex as the care seeker, apply heated medicated oil in a synchronised manner. Our bodies are considered to be two halves brought together by the Sushumna Nadi or the spinal chord. So when two therapists work in sync, there is calming of the nerves and the ‘vata’ that is the most important energy in the working of our body and mind, is calmed and balanced.

This is also the reason why Ayurveda does not encourage oleation by the opposite sex as that excites the body and mind rather than bringing in the balance and the calm.

For abhyanga, the Vaidya will select appropriate medicated oils or fats depending on the individual’s constitution, and the ailment, if an ailment is being addressed.

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