Healing approaches

Uncovering the secrets of Ayurvedic yoga massage

By Theresa Banovic, yoga and yoga nidra teacher

Ayurveda, otherwise known as the ‘science of life’, is an ancient system of healing from India. It does not aim to treat the symptoms of a disease but rather to get to the root cause of the problem.

Health and wellbeing, according to the Ayurvedic philosophy, is a state of balance in which body, mind and consciousness are in harmony. If any of these three components moves out of balance, the door is opened to disease.

Ayurvedic yoga massage (AYM) was first developed in the early 1980s and continues to be expanded upon by Master Kusum Modak in Pune, India, who has dedicated her life to the practice. She created her own unique approach to Ayurvedic massage by combining her knowledge of Ayurveda and traditional Ayurvedic massage with yoga, which she learned directly from the late BKS Iyengar, who has been credited with popularising yoga on an international basis.

AYM combines deep tissue massage with co-ordinated breath work and yoga stretches. The deep tissue massage dissolves physical tension, while the assisted stretches and breath exercises realign the body and stimulate the natural flow of energy.

An individual session of AYM is given on a mattress on the floor. The length of the treatment may vary from between one and two hours and alternates between the therapist providing a deep tissue massage using their hands and feet and clients undertaking a series of stretches that cover all regions of their body to help create a feeling of openness and being present. Some of the other benefits that AYM brings include:

  1. Harmonising the flow of vital energy (prana) and inducing a deep sense of stillness and opening;
  2. Stimulating breathing and promoting the movement of all the body’s fluids, thereby improving circulation;
  3. Releasing muscle tension and loosening up stiff joints;
  4. Stretching fascia and realigning body structure;
  5. Increasing the range of possible movement and improving posture;
  6. Boosting flexibility, especially when undertaking yoga, dance and fitness exercises;
  7. Raising energy levels;
  8. Restoring harmony between the doshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

Complementary oils and powders

Ayurvedic oils – most commonly sesame oil – are also used during AYM for their healing properties. Sesame oil, which is extracted from sesame seeds, is rich in antioxidants. This means that when it is used in massage treatments, it helps remove toxins from the skin.

Sesame oil is packed with healthy ingredients – Vitamin E, lecithin, minerals, proteins as well as high levels of oleic and linoleum acid. As a result, it is anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and wonderful for moistening dry skin. To obtain the full benefits following a massage, it should be left on overnight and washed off in the morning. 

Another unique tool of AYM is Calamus powder, which is used with just a little oil to remove toxins from the body, dispel physical and emotional blocks and promote correct posture, leaving clients with a deep sense of wellbeing. It also helps to improve therapists’ grip to enable a deeper massage, which contributes to awakening the skin, circulation and senses. 

Calamus is a plant, of which there are various species. The root, which is dried and ground to make a powder, is traditionally used in Ayurveda for its ability to enhance cognitive functioning, which includes possibly helping to boost memory and concentration. It can also help to relieve joint pain and promote relaxation.  

Padabhyanga (Ayurvedic foot massage)

Indian foot massage is called Padabhyanga and holds a very special place within the Ayurvedic tradition as it helps in both treating and preventing illnesses. Padabhyanga is commonly practiced as a daily ritual in India and is often especially effective before retiring at night. 

There is a wonderful ancient Indian saying, which goes: “Disease does not go near one who massages his feet before sleeping, just as snakes do not approach eagles.”

Feet are an important part of our body as nerves from many organs terminate there. So regular massage can help to strengthen these nerves and restore health to many parts of the body.

During Padabhyanga, the marma (vital) points are massaged, which helps to balance the dosha and can be very helpful for people with insomnia, fatigue and muscle cramps. An individual session lasts between 30 and 45 minutes and can take place on a massage couch or mattress on the floor. Some of the key benefits include:

  1. Helping to calm the mind;
  2. Assisting in the maintenance of effective eyesight and hearing;
  3. Promoting good quality sleep;
  4. Aiding foot health as it alleviates pain, improves muscle tone and nourishes the skin;
  5. Helping to calm and maintain the ‘Vata dosha”, which if present to excess is regarded in Ayurveda as the major cause of illness in the body.
Theresa Banovic

Theresa Banovic is a BWY yoga instructor and wellness advocate. She provides Padabhyanga by appointment at Mokshala Yoga Studio, Saffron Walden, Essex. Contact her at breatheformrelax@gmail.com. For Ayurvedic massage training levels one to four, contact www.retreatme-retreats.co.uk.

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