What Is an Ayurvedic Massage (and How Is It Different from a Regular Massage)?

For the uninitiated, Ayurvedic medicine is an ancient (like, thousands of years old) Indian system of holistic healing. It uses food, spices, herbal remedies, bodywork and lifestyle changes to boost your health and balance the body, mind and spirit. An Ayurvedic massage applies the principles of Ayurvedic medicine to, you guessed it, a massage. It’s typically focused on relaxation, stress relief and releasing emotional blockages. Read on for more information on this stress-relieving technique.

First Of All, What Is Holistic Healing?

It’s a form of treatment that considers the whole person (including his or her mind, body and spirit)—in the quest for optimal health. The idea is that one can achieve overall wellness through gaining proper balance in life. When you visit a holistic practitioner (including naturopathic doctors, homeopathic doctors, massage therapists, dietitians and such), they’ll likely take an approach to healing whatever you’re dealing with by considering your environment—the stress in your life, your diet and medications you’ve taken in the past. While some people eschew Western medicine in favor of only holistic treatments, it’s become more and more common to combine facets of both. 

woman getting a massage
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And What’s The Difference Between An Ayurvedic Massage And A Regular Massage?

In general, an Ayurvedic massage takes a more holistic approach—aiming to relieve emotional stress more than physical stress. During a typical massage, the practitioner will likely just use his or her hands, and maybe an essential oil. In an Ayurvedic massage, essential oils are way more crucial, as is the focus on the body’s energy points rather than joints and muscles. In fact, Ayurvedic massage is sometimes referred to as an “oil massage” because of how much it relies on warm essential oils that suit an individual’s needs and dosha. In Ayurveda, the body is composed of three distinct energies, or doshas: Kapha (space and air), Pitta (fire and water) and Vata (water and earth). Each person has one dominant dosha and can keep it balanced by following a specific diet and lifestyle, notes the Chopra Center.

Like with a regular massage, though, you’re going to want to go to someone who’s licensed—but for an Ayurvedic massage you should find a therapist who’s a certified massage therapist and Ayurvedic practitioner. Once you find a qualified specialist, he or she will assess your body before deciding the most suitable form of Ayurvedic massage for you. This treatment could entail, mantras, oils, tuning forks and more.

woman waking up in the morning
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How Can You Live A More Ayurvedic Life Aside From Massage?

If you like the way this sounds but aren’t headed to the spa any time soon, there are ways to incorporate the principals of Ayurveda into your daily life. Here are a few tips from Sarah Kucera, a licensed chiropractor, certified Ayurvedic practitioner and yoga teacher who’s also the author of The Ayurvedic Self-Care Handbook.

  1. Wake Up Earlier. We’re talking between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. [This] is considered to be the most auspicious time of day, making it the best time for meditation, taking in knowledge, or self-study,” writes Kucera. She also acknowledges that this might not be the easiest ritual to get onboard with and maybe not the one to tackle first. Our advice? Baby steps—start by getting up just 20 minutes earlier than usual and take it from there.
  2. Meditate. “Whether you call it prayer, meditation or mental hygiene, mindful stillness comes to us most easily in the early morning.” Why? Because your brain hasn’t had the opportunity to start overthinking yet or get distracted by everything on your never-ending to-do list. Don’t worry too much about where or how you meditate, advises Kucera. Even sitting up in bed with your eyes closed for a few minutes is beneficial. 
  3. Start Tongue Scraping. It sounds weird, but tongue scraping is surprisingly relaxing. To do it the Ayurvedic way, first examine the coating. Depending on what’s there, it could be telling you something about your digestive health. A yellow color indicates that your digestive fire is too hot, for example, and you should reduce spicy, sour and salty foods. Then, use a tongue cleaner to clear off layers of toxins that have accumulated overnight.
  4. Drink Warm Water. Before grabbing your morning cup of coffee (which should never be consumed on an empty stomach, by the way) or eating, have some good old H20. “Water, particularly warm to hot water, primes your digestive system.” You can boost water’s cleansing properties by adding alkalizing lemon or drinking it from a copper mug. 
  5. Dry-Brush Your Body. Also called garshana, dry brushing helps slough away dry skin and prep your body for hydration. It also helps with lymphatic draining and blood circulation. To try dry-brushing, use a body brush with natural bristles and start brushing your skin from the tops of your feet using long, methodical strokes and slowly work your way up toward your chest and arms.
  6. Practice Self-Massage with Oil. Known as the ritual of abhyanga, this practice involves applying warm oil to your body through a gentle massage. Do this before a bath or shower but after dry-brushing (apply the oil in the same way you would dry-brush). According to Ayurvedic texts, this helps soothe dry skin, ward off old age, help you sleep well and cultivate strong, healthy skin. Sesame and ghee are commonly used oils for abhyanga, but there are also specific oils recommended for each dosha (aka the three distinct energies in our bodies). Kucera recommends almond oil for Vata, coconut oil for Pitta and corn oil for Kapha.
  7. Eat Breakfast by 9 a.m. And we don’t mean grabbing a bagel on your way to work. Instead, opt for something nourishing like cooked oatmeal, making sure to take the time to sit down, relax and enjoy it. Not a breakfast person? Try some stewed or baked fruit, says Kucera. Ah, now you’re ready to greet the day.
  8. Drink Water the Ayurvedic Way. You’ve heard that practicing mindful eating, or allowing your body to slow down and really focus on the process of chewing and enjoying your food, can help reduce stress levels and improve digestion. And Ayurvedic experts, like our friends at Vasanti Health, believe sipping water slowly and deliberately throughout the day is much more beneficial to your body than sudden gulping. Why? In Ayurvedic medicine, the aim is to always keep your body in as relaxed a state as possible to reduce stress and keep your organs running efficiently. So instead of shocking your system with a sudden gush of ice water, try more frequent, gentle sips of room temperature or warm water.

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...