What’s Your Dosha:  An Introduction to Ayurvedic Massage

Ayurveda, meaning life knowledge in Sanskrit, is the 5,000 year old holistic health method of traditional Indian medicine for wellbeing and natural healing. In Ayurveda, the universe and all of its contents are comprised of five Panchamahabhutas, basic elements:  space, air, fire, water and earth.

Based upon three fundamental body principles or doshas, Vata (air and space), Pitta (fire and water), and Kapha (water and earth), Ayurveda identifies your healthy individual balances of these forces, which shape our personal and distinctive physical, mental, and emotional natures.

Each of us has a unique proportion of doshas that shape our nature.  

  • Vata (air and ether):  Vata dosha controls basic bodily functions including breath, blood flow, brain and heart function, cell division and waste elimination.  Common characteristics of people with dominant vata include being short or very tall and thin, light, and having dry skin.  Balanced, they are creative, energetic and enthusiastic.  Vata disruptors include eating dried fruit, fear, grief, and not going to bed early enough.  Unbalanced, they are restless, and may suffer from anxiety, asthma, skin problems, heart disease, insomnia, constipation and difficulty focusing.  Mutability, irregularity in action and changes in thought are common in this personality.
  • Pitta (fire and water):  Pitta dosha controls digestion, metabolism and some hormones.  Common characteristics of people with dominant pitta include being well-built, with good digestive systems and metabolism.  Balanced, they are warm and disciplined with strong leadership skills and intelligence.  Pitta disruptors include eating sour or spicy foods, fatigue and spending too much time in the sun.  Unbalanced they are compulsive, irritable and hot-tempered.  Inclined to perfectionism, they may suffer from digestive or inflammatory conditions, like heartburn, high blood pressure and infections.
  • Kapha (water and earth):  Kapha dosha controls muscle growth, body strength, weight and immunity.  Common characteristics of people with dominant kapha include being heavyset and slower moving with slower digestion.  Balanced, they are easygoing, forgiving, nurturing, and stable.  Kapha disruptors include daytime sleeping, overeating, consuming too much salt, water or sweet, and greed.  Unbalanced, they are envious and possessive, and may suffer from fatigue, sinus problems, diabetes, cancer and weight gain.

While we have aspects of all three doshas in our bodies and minds that fluctuate, determining your dominant dosha, and how to balance it, can reveal specific ways for promoting wellness and healing in your body and mind.  It is important to consult with a professional Ayurveda practitioner for in depth assessment, which takes many other personal factors into account including your weight, diet, lifestyle and medical history.  They will examine your waste, pulse, eyes, teeth, tongue and skin, and even listen to your speech and voice.

Based upon vikriti, current condtion, and prakriti, personal constitution, a professional can identify your ideal state of harmony, determine any imbalances, and recommend specific massage, diet, herbs, and meditation, to preserve and promote health and wellness.

Ayurvedic massage techniques detoxify the body, mind, and spirit, maintaining or restoring the ideal state of dynamic balance and harmony, internally and externally, with the integrated use of personalized oils and touch.  Ayurvedic massage not only promotes circulation and assists the body in expelling toxins; it promotes deep relaxation and rejuvenates the body.

There is a vast range of Ayurvedic massage techniques that are chosen based upon personal assessment and needs.  Here are a few:  

  • Abhyanga: Personalized oil massage of the entire body, stimulating circulation, expelling toxins, fostering relaxation and rejuvenating the body
  • Shirodhara: Forehead oil massage – a treatment during which a stream of oil is poured in the center of the forehead to help focus, concentration and relax the mind and body. Shirodhara synchronizes brain waves, enhancing awareness and improving memory
  • Vishesh: Deep muscular oil massage consisting of vigorous rhythmic treatment to break up adhesion, stimulate lymphatic flow and guide impurities out of the body, unblocking channels for awareness and encouraging blood flow to deep tissues
  • Garshana: Dry lymphatic skin brushing to increase circulation and prepare skin for oil reception, stimulating arterial and lymphatic circulation, relaxing the mind and body, enhancing cell nourishment and removing stagnant waste, ama (toxins created by undigested food)
  • Marma: Opening and balancing energy flow by stimulating Marma points, 107 main points of five organic principles (ligaments, vessels:  nerves, lymph, arteries and veins, muscles, bones and joints), with oils and circular motions

Self-Massage at home is encouraged by some Ayurvedic massage enthusiasts, as Abhyanga is routinely practiced by many as part of a daily regimen.   However, it is suggested to consult a professional to assess personal doshas and needs for maintaining or restoring balance, and it is imperative to be educated and/or formally trained if considering practicing on others.  Schools in India offer Bachelors of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery, and Doctor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery.

Want to learn more?  The National Ayurvedic Medical Association represents the Ayurvedic profession in the United States.  Their website, www.ayurvedanama.org, includes links to find a practitioner, enroll in a school or program, attend events and read additional Ayurveda resources.

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