ABHYANGA - Oil Massage

Each week from July 10 - August 14, we will be sharing a new post from a 6-part series about Ayurvedic practices and TBI. Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest holistic health systems. Our contributor, Bethany Cantin, is an ayurvedic practitioner and yoga therapist, who has integrated ayurvedic practices into her life and has found these to be essential throughout her healing journey following a TBI.


Abhyanga is the term for a warm oil massage, and it is an incredibly nourishing ayurvedic routine. A daily abhyanga nurtures your, skin, muscles and tissues, helps loosen and release toxins from the body, soothes the nervous system, lowers the production of adrenaline and even provides excellent nourishment for the brain.

The skin is the largest digestive organ in the body and anything you put on your skin moves through your entire system, including your brain. In ayurveda it is believed that anything you put on your skin should be something you would feel good about putting in your mouth.

It is wise to change oils each season. Coconut oil is an excellent choice for your summer abhyanga. It is known to have many healing benefits due to the healthy fats and the MCTs  (medium chain triglycerides), which have superior therapeutic effects for those healing from a TBI. Sesame oil can be used during the cold winter months, as it is heavier and warmer, whereas medium oils, like avocado and almond, can be used in the spring and fall.

  • Treat your oil massage like a meditation. Commit to taking 10 minutes or more to slowly apply and massage the oil. You can warm it by placing the glass jar in warm water in the sink.  

  • Make sure to take slow deep breathes while applying the oil, using firm long strokes on limbs, slow circular motions on all joints, and spend plenty of extra time on the hands and feet.

  • Start with the arms and legs and move towards the heart. Let the body absorb the oil for 15 minutes (as it takes 2-3 minutes for the oils to move though all 7 layers of the skin). During this time, perhaps sit in meditation, do breath-work or make a healthy meal and then wipe off any excess with a warm washcloth or take a shower. 

  • On days when a full body abhyanga is not possible, try massaging just your feet with oil for a few minutes, taking slow deep breathes as you do so, and then put on socks and start your day. We have over 7000 nerve endings in each foot, and massaging the feet alone will sooth your nervous system and still offer healing benefits to the brain.

  • If you suffer from insomnia, a common TBI symptom, rub sesame or coconut oil into your feet before bed for a few minutes for its calming effect on the nervous system. It will help lull you to sleep. Put on socks to protect our sheets.

*If you do this practice regularly, be extra careful to clean up oil in shower so it is not slippery for your next shower.