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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Healing approaches

Yoga Nidra: Learning to relax, consciously

Yoga Nidra Savasana pose

By Theresa Banovic, yoga and yoga nidra teacher

Yoga Nidra is a powerful meditation technique, based on ancient tantric practices, that helps you learn to relax consciously.

You may feel as if you are relaxing when you lounge on the sofa with a cuppa, watch TV, or read a book, but such activities will never meet the body’s need to relax completely. Even sleep is not actually regarded as relaxation from a Yoga Nidra point of view.

Instead the idea is that true relaxation takes us far beyond any sensory diversions. When our consciousness remains connected to our senses, we become less receptive. But when experiencing Yoga Nidra, it is about remaining aware while turning inwards, away from outer experiences to settle into a state of deep calm.

So just how does this happen? When practising Yoga Nidra, you generally lie down flat on your back on the ground (in yoga, this is known as Savasana pose) – although resting in a semi-reclined position or sitting in a chair is fine too if lying is not possible for you. Make sure you are as comfortable as you can be by wearing warm clothes, socks and even a lovely eye pillow infused with essential oils if you like. Blankets, cushions and bolsters can also help here too.

Your teacher/guide/recording will then lead you through breath awareness exercises, before systematically referring to different parts of the body fairly swiftly. All you need to do is mentally repeat each body part to yourself, place your awareness there and feel the area relax.

There is no need to move. It is more about listening, trying to surrender to the experience and going with the flow of this wonderful healing practice.

Om mantra

Experiencing deep relaxation

The idea is to keep your mind moving from point to point, remaining aware of every experience. Deep relaxation should take place at a cellular level, enabling physical, emotional and mental tensions to be released. Ideally, you should try not to fall asleep – although sometimes it is simply not possible.

When we relax deeply with the help of Yoga Nidra, we clear a space for the unconscious and subconscious levels of the mind to open and become really receptive. This means that, if we plant an idea there at this time, it will become very potent – like planting a seed and watching it grow.

So it is very important to make an intention, or Sankalpa, at the start. This can act as a positive way of focussing on the direction you would like to take in life, something you would like for yourself such as a new job or better health, or something you would like to give up. It could be a future goal, or even a simple act of gratitude.

Swami Satyananda described Yoga Nidra as an invaluable stress management tool, which could even be used to learn a language or other subject. In truth, it can be used to train the mind to accomplish anything.

It is usual to make a Sankalpa every time you practice Yoga Nidra, although it makes sense to stick to the same one for a while – and, if you use the technique regularly, you should be able to notice a change. In fact, if you choose to practice Yoga Nidra regularly, it will inevitably become an integral and invaluable part of your life.

Theresa Banovic

Theresa Banovic is a BWY yoga instructor and wellness advocate. She teaches Hatha yogaRestorative yoga and the Yoga Nidra meditation technique in a class setting, while offering yoga and massage retreats in both the UK and Portugal too. Theresa is also a trained provider of Ayurvedic massage.

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