From praise and tough love to life and dinner, moms are the original givers. But moms, and all others in giving roles (because you don’t have to be a mom to be selfless), often aren’t getting back what they’re putting out. So, in honor of Mother’s Day, take a moment to notice where you’re expending your energy. What are you getting back in return? Just as moms aren’t the only ones capable of selfless giving, all of us have had moments of feeling depleted and out of touch with our own needs.
In Ayurveda the counter to this is dinacharya. the intentional practice of self-love and self-care (reflected on in more depth here). A vital part of right and balanced living, dinacharya feels especially important as we celebrate the givers in our life and as we move into late spring with its seductive pull of long nights and warm days.
Practicing dinacharya doesn’t have to be physical, but, as yogis, taking care of our bodies can feel like an imperative. One of the paradoxes of a yoga practice is that as we open and release through stretching and dynamic breath, we become more aware of places of tightness and holding. Muscle soreness, instead of being a condition we live with, suddenly feels more acute. Coming into alignment means we know when we’re out of alignment; increased awareness of our whole organism means increased sensitivity to its aches and pains.
In Sanskrit the word sneha can mean both “oil” and “love,” and in Ayurveda, Abhyanga is the practicing of anointing and massaging yourself with warm oil. Here’s how:
- Heat a carrier oil like sesame or almond until it’s warm but not hot to the touch.
Which oil? Choose your oil by dosha. Light and airy Vata types will like a heavier oil like almond, while fiery Pittas would benefit from the cooling properties of coconut oil. Kapha types can try sesame.
Pro tip: Heat the oil by placing the bottle in a bowl of hot, but not boiling, water.
- Stand undressed in a warm room (your bathroom is ideal), and apply oil to the crown of your head. Move out from the crown in circles, applying firm but gentle pressure to wake up your scalp.
Second pro tip: If you’d rather not get oil everywhere, lay a towel you don’t mind getting oily down in your empty bathtub, climb in and apply the oil from there.
- Next massage your forehead, temples, cheeks, jaw, and ear lobes (the site of many nerve endings). Use an upward motion. Don’t be afraid of the oil.
- As you continue moving down the body, pause at the places that might be calling out for more attention — tender knees, tight shoulders, clenched jaw, constricted low back. You know better than anyone where you need a little extra love, so don’t feel like you’re interrupting the flow if you spend more time in one place or come back to it later.
- Wake up your arms, legs and joints with long sweeping motions in the direction of your heart.
- Come back to your abdomen and chest. Make broad, clockwise circles to help the oil absorb. Trace your large intestine to stimulate digestion: move up on the right side of your abdomen, across, and then down the left side.
- End at your feet, spending as many minutes on them as you can.
- If you can, let the oil absorb for up to 15 minutes. Take a warm bath or shower, letting the oil sink in instead of scrubbing it away. The heat from the water helps the oil permeate the skin and sink deep into the muscles.
- Afterwards, towel dry gently, keeping the skin as hydrated as possible.
- Nourishes and hydrates the entire body
- Stimulates muscles, tissues and internal organs
- Lubricates the joints
- Increases circulation
- Aids in elimination of toxins by stimulating the lymph node
- Calms the nerves
- Results in better sleep
- Enhances vision
- Softens and smoothens skin
As with any self-care practice, intention setting and space creation is key (read about creating sacred space here). Set aside time for Abhyanga daily, weekly, or monthly and consider it as important as eating well and exercising. Self-care doesn’t have to be reserved for holidays.