Manifold Wonders of Massage Therapy – In Ayurveda

Massage therapy or abhyanga in ayurveda helps to eliminate toxins, strengthen muscles, improves blood circulation and makes ayurvedic treatment effective and easier.

Table of content

What is massage therapy or abhyanga ?

Types of Body massage

Techniques of massage:

Ayurvedic Massage Types

Benefits of massage Therapy:

Benefits of ayurvedic massage abhyanga

Benefits of body massage in elderly.

Precautions and prohibitions

What is massage therapy or abhyanga ?

Massage has been used as a remedial measure from centuries. Massaging causes various physiological effects which comfort the body. Manually kneading or manipulating the soft tissues to relieve pain, discomfort, anxiety, stress and to promote health and wellness is called as ‘massage’. The techniques of massage to promote health and wellness are called “Massage Therapy”. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) defines Massage therapy as “a profession in which the practitioner applies manual techniques, and may apply adjunctive therapies, with the intention of positively affecting the health and well-being of the client.”

Massage therapy (abhyanga) is recommended in ayurveda in the course of treating several diseases. It plays a great role in body detoxification process (Panchakarma) before starting the core treatment.

Usually, ayurvedic herbal oils or aromatic oils are used during massage. The oils are selected according to the condition and objective of massage.

Types of Body massage

Different kinds of body massage are adopted after analyzing the cause and location of discomfort. The following are the various kinds of body massage .

•Face and Head Massage,

•Arms and Hand Massage,

•Legs and Feet Massage,

•Back Massage,

•Neck and Shoulder Massage,

•Chest Massage,

•Abdomen Massage,

•Massage for babies and children

•Massage during pregnancy.

Techniques of massage:

A massage therapist uses ‘Strokes’ and ‘Pressure’ while massaging. Effleurage, Petrisage, Percussion, Friction and Vibration are 5 different strokes used while massaging.

Effleurage strokes

Effleurage strokes are long, gliding and soothing .These strokes are made with flat surface of hands. Effleurage strokes increase the circulation and depth of relaxation.

Petrissage strokes

Petrissage strokes resemble kneading. These strokes are recommended to massage children and elderly people. Skin and muscle surface are rolled or squeezed, gently and firmly by grasping them between thumb and fingers.


Percussion is done using both hands. In this stroke both hands move rapidly and alternatively stimulating the muscles. Percussion can be done with finger tips (tapping), chopping movement of stretched fingers (hacking), cupped hands (cupping), flat opened palms (slapping), and using both fists (pounding).


Friction: These strokes are used to treat joints and surrounding areas. Friction breaks adhesions, remove wastes and clean up congestion. Long, slow, firm strokes or circular movements of hand are used to move superficial tissues over the deep underlying tissues.


Vibrations : These strokes stimulate nerves. Hands or fingers are moved back and forth rapidly on soft tissues to shake them. Vibrations are used on buttocks, thighs, upper back etc.

Mild, moderate or heavy Pressure is applied during massage, depending upon the part to be massaged and the aim of massage.

Ayurvedic Massage Types

The texts of ayurveda illustrate different types of massages for different conditions. They are

Udvarthana :

Massaging body in opposite direction (According to ayurvedic texts,starting the massage from the head and proceeding downwards is considered conventional. Hence,massages that proceed from palm to shoulder or Feet to thighs or hips to neck are opposite in direction.) These massages are performed by exerting little pressure using dry herbs. This kind of massage exfoliates skin, enhances its glow and gives healthy look. It also helps to reduce bad odor which is caused due to sweat. This type of massage increases fat metabolism and recommended in weight loss therapy

Mardana :

Massaging the whole body exerting more pressure is called Mardana. This is usually done for persons who indulge in enhanced physical work e.g. athletes, sports persons, Wrestlers etc.

Paadaghata :

Padaaghata means massaging using the feet, Trampling the body with required pressure is called padaghata.

Benefits of massage Therapy:

1.Massage increases the circulation in tissues, releases muscle spasms and stimulates the nervous system or sedates it. Increased circulation pumps more oxygen and nutrients to tissues.

2.It shortens the recovery period of illness or injury.

3.A good massage helps the release of endorphins (natural pain killers in body) and also stimulates lymphatic system, boosting body immunity.

4.It helps relieve muscle tension, stiffness, pain and reduces swelling. Healing process becomes faster and excess formation of scar tissue is reduced.

5.It increases athletic performance and provides greater joint flexibility.

6.Massage helps reduce discomforts caused due to stress related conditions like migraine, tension headaches, body pain, tiredness, anxiety, depression, insomnia (sleeplessness) etc .It helps lower the levels of stress hormones like cortisol .

7.It improves the ability to handle stressful situations calmly and efficiently. Massage also enhances thinking and creative abilities.

8.Massage therapy promotes the feeling of wellbeing.

Benefits of ayurvedic massage abhyanga

According to ayurveda massaging body daily with ayurvedic herbal oil has innumerable benefits. This process is called as “Abhyanga”. In great ayurvedic classic Ashtanga Hridaya the benefits of herbal oil massage has been documented as follows.

Abhyanga aachare nityam sa jara- shrama – vataha | Drushtihi prasada pushtyaahu swapna sutwak daadarya krit ||”

•Aging symptoms appear very late in life.

•Balances Vata and reduces vata related problems

•Skin becomes fresh, soft, glowing and healthy.

•Skin becomes resistant to diseases.

•Sharp eyesight and attractive eyes.

•Body becomes stronger and well nourished.

•The body and mind gets relaxed.

•Undisturbed sleep.

Increases Libido.

•Rejuvenates the body.

Acharya Charaka indicates foot massage (Padabhyanga) to get rid of cracked feet, dry skin on foot, to relieve tiredness and foot pain. The flexibility of foot increases.

Benefits of body massage in elderly.

Massage therapy is usually recommended for persons who have aches, joint pain and muscular pain. These symptoms are very common in old age. Texts of ayurveda attribute vitiation of vata as causative factor for health problems in elderly.

Vitiated vata causes body ache, pain in joints, dry skin, weakness of muscles etc. Ayurveda acharyas recommend body massage with vata balancing oil like ksheerabala oil to normalize imbalanced vata.

The following are benefits of body massage in elderly.

  • Symptoms like body ache, joint pain and stiffness of muscles are reduced.
  • Massaging the body with oil reduces dryness of skin and prevents cracking and fissuring of skin. It also prevents discoloration of skin
  • This process reduces stress, relaxes mind and makes the elderly people to feel good.
  • Good oil massage induces sound sleep.
  • Body massage improves blood circulation and strengthens the muscles.
  • Inflammation of joints reduces with a good massage.
  • Apart from the above mentioned health conditions body massage also treats so many of the typical conditions that arise with age – such as muscular stiffness, arthritis, skin discoloration, muscle and bone deterioration, tendonitis, bursitis, and respiratory problems such as asthma and emphysema.

Body massage for elderly is known as senior’s massage or geriatric massage. Careful massage can help to provide the elderly with symptomatic relief and enable seniors to extend the vitality in their lives.

Note: A trained expert massage therapist must massage elderly. The body of aged persons will be fragile and delicate. Hence the body massage for elderly should be conducted under an expert massage therapist’s supervision.

Precautions and prohibitions

According to ayurvedic texts the massage should not be done for those who suffer from fever, diarrhea, vomiting and and in pregnancy.Usually therapists do not massage a person if the latter has, fever, skin eruptions, large bruises, inflamed joints, sensitive veins, varicose, tumors, a period, indigestion, nut allergy, appendix:2yr/6m, dislocated shoulder(s), vertebral problems. The person should not wear contact lenses or consume alcohol or over-eat during or shortly before a massage.One more precaution to be taken before going for a massage is to check whether the massage therapist is qualified or not. An unqualified massage therapist may cause more harm than relief.

Author – Dr.Savitha Suri. Consultant ayurvedic physician. 

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