Using Oil to Heal: Snehana

This article was originally published on the Kottakkal Blog. Use the code NAOMI for 10% off their products.

“If you really want to bring happiness and joy to a client, don’t try to discuss their problems intellectually, but instead give an oil massage and all their problems will simply dissolve.”

~ Acharya Charaka, father of Ayurvedic medicine (1)

Ayurveda has enjoyed a longtime love affair with oil. So it’s no coincidence that the Sanskrit word for oil, sneha, also means love. Snehana means the application of oil, which can be done externally on the body through therapeutic treatments, or internally through consuming oil in the form of medicine or food. Ayurveda teaches that oil lubricates our bodies, especially as we age and move into the vata stage of life. Because vata is composed of air and space, which is rough, dry, mobile, subtle and cold, as we grow older we develop wrinkles, dry skin and hair, tight, achy joints, general coldness, and brittle bones. The best way to counteract and slow this aging process is to pacify vata with opposing qualities like those of oil— heavy, smooth, gross, slow, unctuous and warm. If you bend a dry stick it is sure to crack, whereas a moist stick will simply bend. Snehana is an effective way to maintain flexibility for as long as possible.

Common oils used in snehana therapy include ghee, bone marrow, animal fat and plant sources like vegetable oils. Often infused with medicinal herbs, these penetrating oils drive the herbs deep into the tissues to produce profound healing. Snehana can be a preparatory therapy for panchakarma, the five cleansing procedures to remove toxins from the body (therapeutic vomiting, purgation, enema, nasal irrigation and bloodletting). Both internal and external snehana before panchakarma serve to loosen and detach toxins from the tissues and bring them back into the gastrointestinal tract where they can be eliminated. Panchakarma should only be administered by an experienced Ayurvedic doctor or practitioner.

Snehana can also be used as a stand-alone therapy in Ayurveda, and in itself offers many healing benefits. Various snehana therapies can be done at home. Others can be administered by an Ayurvedic practitioner or doctor and are well worth seeking out. Below are several ways to get your daily dose of sneha so that you can experience pure love on the cellular level and bring your mind, body and soul back into full integration.

  • Daily self-oil massage (Abhyanga): Massaging your body regularly with classically formulated herbal oils, like Mahanarayan, will soften and nourish the skin, soothe tight muscles and joints, improve circulation, digestion, sleep, mood, concentration and energy, reduce stress, build immunity, and much more! Before your shower, warm the oil and gently massage your body using long strokes on the long bone and circular strokes on the joints. This is one of the best ways to give yourself a daily dose of self-love <3.
  • Nasya (nasal) cleansing: Use nasya drops like Anu Thailam regularly to keep your nose, eyes, ears, and throat free of congestion and to improve immunity. Also, as the nasal cavity is the only entryway into the brain, these drops have the added benefit of deepening your consciousness and promoting clarity of thought and memory.
  • Oil pulling: Swish a spoonful of oil (organic coconut and sesame oils are good choices) in your mouth before brushing your teeth daily for optimum oral health, as well as many other health benefits, including improved digestion, complexion, kidney and liver function, and weight loss.
  • Warm water with oil: You may have already heard that drinking a warm cup of water upon waking can significantly improve your digestion, among many other health benefits. If your bowel movements are still sluggish, try adding a teaspoon of sesame oil to your cup.
  • Ghee, a form of clarified butter, offers amazing health benefits, including improved digestion, immune function, energy and moods. Ghee has long been used in Ayurveda as a carrier to transport the healing properties of medicinal herbs and spices into the tissues.

When we allow ourselves to succumb to the pure bliss of anointing ourselves with oil we experience self-love at the deepest levels. Oil penetrates deep into the tissues that have become rigid and hardened over time, in the same way that our thoughts and emotions can stagnate and become inflexible, hindering us from realizing our own healing capacities. Give yourself the gift of snehana and let the healing begin!

When to Avoid Snehana

Despite its many healing benefits, those who are very weak or suffer from fever, indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea, obesity or anorexia should avoid snehana. It is always advisable to consult an experienced Ayurvedic professional before starting any new treatment.

(1) Lad, Dr. Vasant, Textbook of Ayurveda, Vol. 3, The Ayurvedic Press, 2012, p. 166

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