Understanding Ayurvedic massage

Massage has been used as a remedial measure since ancient times. It is gentle and soothing to your body, mind and spirit

MassageKneading or manipulating the soft tissues of our body manually – to relieve pain, discomfort, stress and promote health and wellbeing – is called “massage.” The technique of massage that promotes health and wellbeing is called “Massage Therapy.”

Massage therapy [abhyanga] is recommended in ayurveda in the course of treating several diseases. It plays a great role in the body’s detoxification process [panchakarma], before starting actual medical treatment.

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

The American Massage Therapy Association [AMTA] defines massage therapy as “a profession in which the practitioner applies manual techniques, and adjunctive therapies, with the intention of positively affecting the health and wellbeing of the client.”

Types of body massage

Different kinds of body massage are used after analysing 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.


A massage therapist uses “strokes” and “pressure” while massaging. Effleurage, petrisage, percussion, friction and vibration are five different strokes used while massaging.

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

Petrisage strokes resemble kneading. These strokes are recommended to massage children and elderly people. Skin and muscle surfaces 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 fists [pounding].

Friction. These strokes are used to treat joints and surrounding areas. Friction breaks adhesions, removes wastes and cleans 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 the 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.

Ayurveda texts illustrate different types of massage for different conditions. They are:

Udvarthana. Massaging the body in the 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 mild pressure and using dry herbs. This kind of massage exfoliates the skin, enhances its glow and gives you a healthy look. It also helps to reduce bad odour, caused due to sweating.

Mardana. Massaging the whole body exerting intense pressure is called mardana. This is usually done in individuals who indulge in enhanced physical work – e.g., athletes, sportspersons, wrestlers etc.

Padaghata. Padaghata means massaging using the feet.

According to ayurveda, massaging the body on a regular basis with ayurvedic herbal oils has innumerable benefits. This process is called as abhyanga.

In the great ayurvedic classic, Ashtanga Hridaya, the benefits of herbal oil massage have 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 get relaxed
  • Promotes good sleep
  • Increases libido
  • Rejuvenates the body.

The renowned sage Charaka prescribes foot massage [padabhyanga] to get rid of cracked feet, dry skin, tiredness and foot pain. Massage improves the flexibility of lower extremities/feet.


Therapists, as a rule, do not massage subjects who have fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and indigestion, skin eruptions, bruises, inflamed joints, sensitive/varicose veins, tumours, menses, indigestion, nut allergy, dislocated shoulder, and vertebral problems.

A person undergoing massage therapy should not wear contact lenses or consume alcohol or over-eat during, or shortly before a massage.

One more thing. When you go for a massage therapy, please check whether the therapist is qualified or not.

Massage therapy can cause more harm than good in untrained, or unskilled, hands.

Massage Benefits

  • Massage increases blood circulation in the tissues; it releases muscle spasms and stimulates or sedates the nervous system. Increased circulation pumps more oxygen and nutrients to tissues.
  • It shortens the recovery period of illness or injury
  • A good massage helps the release of endorphins [natural pain killers in the body] and also stimulates the lymphatic system, boosting body immunity
  • It helps relieve muscle tension, stiffness, pain and reduces swelling. The healing process is hastened and excess formation of scar tissue is reduced
  • It increases athletic performance and provides greater joint flexibility
  • Massage helps reduce discomfort 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
  • It improves the ability to handle stressful situations calmly and efficiently. Massage also enhances thinking and creative abilities
  • Massage therapy promotes a feeling of wellbeing.
Savitha Suri, BAMS, is a Mysore-based consultant ayurvedic physician. She writes articles on ayurveda in both print and electronic media.


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