The therapeutic qualities of physical touch have been used in healing and medicine throughout human history. Massage – or “The Therapy of Touch” – can bring about a state of deep relaxation within the body. When we are stressed (physically or emotionally), the body is flooded with hormones to keep you aware and alert. This “fight or flight” stress response inhibits other important processes within the body, such as immunity, cellular repair, and the uptake of nutrients from food. Massage helps to relax the entire being, reducing the “fight or flight” state and helping the body’s systems to start working effectively again.
Self-massage is a powerful and accessible tool that can be used for a vast array of concerns; from managing stress and anxiety, comforting digestive complaints, soothing aches and pains, improving skin health, increasing lymphatic drainage, and more. Not only is self-massage cheap and accessible to all, it is an important time to nurture and connect with your body and state of being on a deeper, more intuitive level.
Ayurveda and Self-Massage
You may be thinking that self-massage is a relatively ‘new’ and modern way to tackle the troubles and concerns facing us in the 21st century; however, self-massage is an ancient healing practice that has its roots in classical cultures around the world. In Ayurvedic medicine, self-massage with warm oils, or abhyanga, is performed daily as part of a holistic healing system for overall health and well-being. A daily full-body warm oil massage acts as a powerful recharger and rejuvenator of mind and body, dissolving accumulated stress and toxins to nourish all parts of your being. It is considered a tonic or medicine for the body, mind and spirit. In abhyanga (and self-massage in general) the healing qualities of the oils used are absorbed transdermally – this helps assist the largest organ in the body, the skin, to do its job optimally, such as releasing toxins from the body or absorbing the nourishing oil into the tissues. This Ayurvedic practice is encouraged to be performed every day, becoming a healing daily ritual for self-care and self-love.
Self-Massage Techniques and Tips
Self-massage might seem daunting if you have never attempted it before – after all, massage therapists undergo rigorous training, which gives the impression that it is something only a select few can do. However, is that there are a number of simple and easy techniques that nearly everyone can incorporate into their routine to enhance their self-care and overall health and wellbeing.
Professionals have advised that massaging an area for about 30 seconds to a minute causes the feelings of tension within the body to release, and the skin and tissue become more pliable. Below are different areas of the body and some basic self-massage techniques and tips that nearly anyone can do.
Head – when we are stressed and anxious, we store tension in our heads and faces. For headaches, start massaging at your temples, drawing circles with your fingertips. Increase the size and pressure of your circles as you move towards your scalp. Make sure the pressure level is gentle but steady as you move from the front of your scalp to the back.
Neck – bring both hands to the back of your head, palms facing forward. Place both thumbs at the base of your skull and rub in a circular motion. Continue for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then slowly massage either side of spine with fingertips until you meet your trapezius, where you can stop and rub fingers in circular motion.
Shoulders – gently take hold of either your right or left shoulder with your hand and massage in a kneading motion, as if you were kneading bread. Continue kneading down the top of the shoulder and back up the side of your neck. Continue for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side of you neck and shoulder.
Belly – massaging the stomach can help kick-start digestion or soothe discomfort. Using one or both palms, rub your abdomen in clockwise circles – this is the same direction that food moves through your intestine.
Feet – soak your feet in warm water with Epsom salts for 15-20 minutes. In a comfortable sitting position, bring your foot up to rest on the opposite knee on top of your leg. Starting at the toes, massage the base of the foot, rubbing in circular motions with your thumbs. Bring this down over the arch of the foot and the heel. Reverse the direction and repeat for 20 to 30 seconds.
- There are many self-massaging techniques to try out, ranging from feathering and deep stroking to holding and kneading.
Essential Oils and Massage
Aromatic essential oils are highly concentrated plant essences, and have a long history in natural healing. Today, in modern aromatherapy, essential oils are used for therapeutic or medical purposes, helping to restore balance to the mind, body, and spirit.
Aromatherapy acts on the central nervous system, relieving depression and anxiety, reducing stress, helping to lift the mood to enhance and restore both physical and emotional well-being. Aromatherapy is a holistic healing practice, treating the whole person so that mind, body and spirit are in harmony; when we feel anxious or depressed, our entire body is affected. Essential oils have both mood-enhancing qualities and physiological effects, making aromatherapy an effective treatment for both the mental and physical symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Essential oils can be used for mild pain relief and to tackle inflammation within the body. Certain essential oils, such as thyme, rose and eucalyptus, inhibit the enzymes in the body that cause inflammation, swelling, and pain. This analgesic effect makes essential oils especially useful for soothing muscle and joint pains, and for providing localised pain relief, from tension headaches, menstrual cramps, digestive complaints, and sprains and strains.
When essential oils are combined with massage, this enhances the healing effects of the oils. Diluted essential oils can be absorbed into the bloodstream via application to the skin. Tiny essential oil molecules are absorbed through the pores, and once in the bloodstream, travel around the body via the circulatory system. The inhalation of the aromatic oils during an aromatherapy massage is also therapeutic, having a direct and immediate effect on the brain. Aromas breach the blood-brain barrier, the brain’s protective membrane, accessing centres in the brain linked to conscious thought, and also reaching the limbic system, where memory and emotions reside.
Due to the holistic nature of aromatherapy, which treats multiple aspects of a person’s health and well-being, the healing properties of this practice are wide-reaching, and can be used to address a range of concerns.
Essential Oil Blends for Self-Massage
Essential oils on their own have potent healing qualities. Each essential oil is made up of multiple components, all of which are responsible for the different attributes and properties of the oil. When combined in a blend, the different oils interact with each other, working synergistically to enhance well-being and health.
As essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts, they need diluting in a base, or carrier, oil before application to the skin, in order to avoid reactions and sensitivity. Different carrier oils are better suited for different skin types, so massage blends can be tailored to suit all manner of individual concerns. For normal skin (skin which is not overly sensitive or prone to breakouts) a light base works best, such as almond, grapeseed, apricot or sunflower oil. These oils are easily absorbed into the skin, leaving very little residue. For dry or more mature skin, heavier, enriching oils work best, such as avocado, olive, wheatgerm, argan and jojoba.
Even when diluted, it is best to avoid delicate areas of the body, such as the eyes and mucous membranes, when applying the massage blend. If you have sensitive skin or suffer from allergies, it is best to do a patch test of your chosen blend before applying to the entire body. For sensitive or damaged skin, use a maximum 2.5% dilution for a body massage, going up to 5% for normal skin. For a full-body massage, pour approximately 2 tablespoons of your base/carrier oil into a small bowel, adding around 4-6 drops of your chosen essential oil or oils.
The combinations of essential oils and carrier oils for tackling all manner of concerns are never-ending, and can be adapted and tweaked to suit individual tastes and preferences. Below are some examples of various massage blends, for easing sore and stiff muscles, promoting rest and relaxation, energising and invigorating the body and senses, detoxifying, and for women’s reproductive health.
Relaxing blend – lavender is one of the best known essential oils for aiding relaxation. It is also one of the gentlest oils on the skin, and so is suitable for all skin types. Lavender blends well with calming rose essential oil, whilst vetiver oil has a woody, earthy and slightly bitter fragrance that balances the sweet, floral notes of lavender and rose. Vetiver oil is highly relaxing and sedative in its effects, making it great to use as a massage blend before bed.
Energising and uplifting blend – zingy grapefruit stimulates the body and mind, whilst geranium helps to balance the emotions by being both calming and uplifting. Combined with jasmine essential oil, this trio of reviving oils can lift the spirits and boost energy levels. Jasmine has a heady scent, increasing feelings of wellbeing, complimenting the citrus and floral aromas of the other oils.
Pain-relieving blend – certain essential oils have analgesic and anti-inflammatory qualities, making them great for adding to a massage oil to tackle sore and stiff muscles and mild pain and discomfort. Use a blend of arnica oil and almond oil as a base, as arnica is traditionally used to reduce bruising and swelling. Combine with marjoram, rosemary and thyme essential oils, all of which bring about an analgesic action within the body.
Detoxifying blend – support the lymphatic system to remove waste products and toxins from the body. Grapefruit in particular encourages lymphatic drainage and acts as a diuretic when massaged into the skin. Rosemary stimulates lymphatic circulation, and black pepper is another mild diuretic. For best results, after massaging this blend into the skin, use a dry body brush.
Women’s health blend – studies have found that abdominal self-massage with essential oils can help ease menstrual pains. Participants of one study did a self-massage with rose essential oil, an unscented almond oil, or no oil. They found that aromatherapy massages reduced the severity of pain compared to massage therapy with almond oil or no oil. For a soothing blend to gently massage into the lower abdomen, combine a base oil of your choice with rose, clary sage and geranium essential oils. All of these oils have an affinity with the female reproductive and hormonal systems in particular.
Headache busting blend – for this soothing temple massage blend, use almond oil or any other light base oil that does not leave a heavy residue on the skin. Mix with rosemary, a great oil for relieving tension headaches from mental exhaustion and effort. Eucalyptus is great for relieving headaches caused by congested sinuses or allergies. Mix with refreshing peppermint and calming lavender.
Self-massage combined with essential oils and aromatherapy is a powerful and highly available tool for self-care, healing and building a deeper connection with your body, mind, and spirit. The therapeutic properties of the plant extracts and oils, and the “therapy of touch”, work together to help bring about harmony and nourishment. We all have the power to heal and make changes within our own bodies, by looking to nature and to our own caring touch.
- Neal’s Yard Remedies: Essential Oils, by Susan Curtis, Pat Thomas and Fran Johnson (Oct 2016) – p27
- Abhyanga: The Ayurvedic Daily Massage – A Pleasant Prescription for Mind/Body Health via https://www.mapi.com/ayurvedic-knowledge/massage/benefits-of-an-ayurvedic-abhyanga-massage.html
- Why Self-Massage (Abhyanga) Is Part Of My Weekly Routine via https://www.jasminehemsley.com/la-vida-veda/2018/9/28/why-self-massage-is-part-of-my-weekly-routine
- Simple self-massage techniques by Becky Wright, via https://www.therapy-directory.org.uk/blog/2020/06/10/simple-self-massage-techniques
- Your Step-by-Step Guide to Giving Yourself a Massage at Home by Megan Falk, via https://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/how-to-self-massage-at-home
- Heal Yourself: 17 Tricks for a Soothing Self-Massage via https://www.thehealthy.com/home-remedies/self-massage/
- Immunological and Psychological Benefits of Aromatherapy Massage by Hiroko Kuriyama et al, via http://downloads.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2005/270901.pdf (p179)
- Neal’s Yard Remedies: Essential Oils, by Susan Curtis, Pat Thomas and Fran Johnson (Oct 2016) – p12, p14, p27, p164, p28, p170, p229, p225
- Self-aromatherapy massage of the abdomen for the reduction of menstrual pain and anxiety during menstruation in nurses: A placebo-controlled clinical trial by Yoo-Jin Kim et al, in ‘European Journal of Integrative Medicine’ Vol 3, Issue 3, Sept 2011, pp. 165-8
Sarah Loker is a qualified yoga instructor, with experience working for a variety of brands in the holistic and wellness fields. She has organised and managed various yoga and wellness retreats, events and workshops, and is inspired by sharing timeless, holistic wisdom with others. She’s passionate about the earth, nature and all that life has to offer, always striving to live harmoniously with the planet. She has an adventurous soul, with a love for travel and exploring new cultures. Her main goals are to live happily and healthily, whilst empowering others to connect on a deeper level with themselves and the world around them.