by Stephanie Chambers
I remember when I had my first massage. I was sixteen. I walked home afterward and felt like I was gliding home. Then, I did some yoga and I was able to do things I had never been able to do before. It was amazing.
I was so excited by this discovery of what massage could do that I enrolled to do a part-time course to become certified in Swedish massage, run by the same person who gave me my first massage. My mother was horrified, as she thought it might lead to my working in a massage parlor (a euphemism for a brothel in her day). So I had to pay for the course from my babysitting money.
My mother conceded she was wrong, however, when she had a cramp in her leg and because of my massage training, I knew how to relieve the pain in seconds.
It wasn’t an easy course. I had to memorize the names of all the bones and all the muscles in the body for the exam, learn a number of techniques, and demonstrate that I knew how to use them. I managed to get my certificate and I have found the knowledge useful over the years for my own use, but I never became a professional masseuse, because I didn’t feel I had the natural rhythm that you need to give a great massage rather than just a good massage.
During my last year at school, which in Australia is very stressful because your whole life going forward – what university you can attend and what you can study there – depends on your end-of-year exam results. An iridologist told me I had stress lines that showed in my eyes and that I should get some regular massages. So I did. I think it helped. I noticed a lot of my girlfriends bursting into tears because of the stress we were under, but I didn’t feel that way.
Which types of massage are best?
My ex-husband was a masseur for many years. He told me how when he worked in a gym, massaging men with tense muscles, he wrecked his own thumbs. Eventually, he trained to become a Feldenkrais practitioner instead. This method helps train the brain in other ways of moving the body, and, being on a subtler level, has more powerful results. But massage has different effects.
There are so many types of massage nowadays. It can be difficult to decide which to try. For me, probably the most profound experience I’ve had was when a friend who was trained in Maharishi Ayurveda massage gave me an Ayurvedic massage and some Shirodhara, where warm oil is poured on the forehead. I felt so blissful afterwards. It was as if all the cells in my body felt happy.
I decided to go to India to have Panchakarma (which means five methods of purification – one method of which is Ayurvedic massage or Abhyanga). But I was very disappointed. The girls that were massaging me were new employees. I felt like that had probably never even massaged themselves, let alone someone else. They would be doing long strokes up and down my body and slip off and hit me in the throat. They were supposed to be working in synchrony, but they weren’t. It was terrible.
And when I lay back on the table for Shirodhara, I was shocked because it wasn’t warm oil – it was cold buttermilk instead! My skin reacted badly to being pounded with hot leaves, which was part of the treatment, and when I complained, they put me in a room and poured cold buttermilk over my whole body. My teeth were chattering because I was so cold. And when I complained about that, they did the same thing again the next day but with a bar heater in the room (which didn’t help much), so I left.
I know some people really benefit from having Panchakarma in India, and they have a better time with it than I did. But I would rather save my money and get just a few blissful days of treatment by people trained to do in the Maharishi Ayurvedic massage techniques. I think it would have more long-term effects.
I have also learned how to do Abhyanga on myself, and I used to do this on a daily basis. Generally, long strokes are used on the bones, and circular strokes are used on the joints. You generally start with your head and move towards your feet, spending a bit more time on them. It felt very enlivening and rejuvenating.
Which oils are best for massage?
Generally, sesame oil is used for Ayurvedic massage, as it is thought to be more rejuvenating. When I was in India, probably because I am Pitta dosha, they used medicated coconut oils on my skin. But even after being massaged for hours, my skin felt dry again in the evening. I have been told by Ayurvedic physicians (Vaidya) that I should use olive oil for my self-massages. So, obviously, you have to choose an oil that feels best with your skin.
As I have described above, deeper and more long-lasting experiences tend to come with subtler levels of massage. By adding aromatherapy essential oils, their effects are felt both in terms of their smell but also because of their innate therapeutic qualities. So then, you receive an effect from two senses at the same time – touch and smell.
Essential oils have been used in Ayurvedic massage for centuries. That’s why the founder of Amrita Aromatherapy, Dr. Christoph Streicher, decided to receive training from Ayurvedic doctors when he was first setting up our company.
Essential oils can be used to achieve various desired outcomes from massage. For example:
- To relieve stress: 5 drops of Neroli, 5 drops of Bergamot and 5 drops of Geranium can be mixed with a tablespoon of base massage oil like Almond oil (or you can use Amrita’s Unscented Body Oil as a base). Roman Chamomile can also be used to relieve stress. When combining oils, the total generally shouldn’t be more than 5 drops per tablespoon for an all body massage, although twice as many drops can be used of Roman Chamomile becauseit is very mild on the skin.
- To relieve stiffness, inflammation or sore muscles: Lavender, Cypress, German Chamomile, Elemi or Eucalyptus Citriodora can diluted with carrier oil and be used individually or as a blend. These oils are warming and anti-inflammatory. See the “How To Use” section on each oil to determine how many drops per tablespoon to use. When combining oils, the total generally shouldn’t be more than 5 drops per tablespoon for an all body massage, although twice as many drops can be used of Lavender because it is very mild on the skin.
- Sensual massage: 1 drop Jasmine, 1 drop Sandalwood, 1 drop Rose Geranium, 1 drop Ylang Ylang, and 1 drop Frankincense can be added per tablespoon of Almond oil. These oils relax, increase sensuality and open the heart.
A small study1 in 2005 showed that both normal massage (with Sweet Almond Oil) and aromatherapy massage (all-body massage with Sweet Almond Oil, and Lavender, Cypress and Sweet Marjoram Essential Oils and a foot bath with Tea Tree) decreased anxiety and depression, but only aromatherapy massage increased peripheral blood lymphocytes, indicating that the aromatherapy massage may have been of more benefit to the immune system.
My own personal belief is that the essential oils work on a deeper, almost vibrational level. Our health isn’t just about physical effects; it’s also about conveying intelligence to the cells of our body. If our cells lose their intelligence, if they lose their knowledge of what they are and how they are supposed to act, that’s when they become diseased or cancerous. The essential oils resonate somehow with our cells and remind them of their purpose in life. But that’s just my belief.
But whatever you believe, most people find massage of benefit and aromatherapy massage even more enjoyable. So why not try giving yourself or your partner an aromatherapy massage, or ask your massage therapist to blend in an essential oil you would like to try with the oils they are going to use? See How To Apply Essential Oils for further details. You might be surprised by the effects.
Disclaimer: The statements made in this blog have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are not intended to diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. If a condition persists, please contact your physician or healthcare provider. The information provided is not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with a healthcare provider, and should not be construed as medical advice.