The Art of Ayurvedic Self-Massage

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I await my first real patient: a referral from a friend. I know this new patient suffers from chronic migraines, related to stress, and I am excited; I already have some ideas about what to prescribe. It’s been 9 long years since I decided that I wanted to enter into a healing profession and soon I will be face-to-face with a real human, someone who requires the skills I have so painstakingly acquired over the years through hours of book-study. I am elated. The appointment is cancelled, however, as I am attacked by a migraine headache myself, one that I used to suffer from regularly but haven’t experienced in months. The headache is all-encompassing and I am forced to go home. It’s only on reflection, months later, that I realize the irony of being forced to cancel an appointment due to being afflicted by an attack of the very condition I was to treat.

Throughout the 5 months that I’ve spent in clinic so far, I’ve had the opportunity to treat many patients, using the skills I’ve acquired, while acquiring new ones as I push myself to become a better healer with every human I sit across from. The patients seem to come in groups: weight-loss patients, one after another, then skin afflictions, then a group of musculoskeletal concerns. As each wave of patient washes in, I feel the focus of my own body shift to that of another. And it’s only when I’ve arrive home, tired, but energized with the vibrancy of learning and applying something new and deeply important to me, that I realize my own internal struggle with body image, my own chronic eczema, and the ever-tightening of my shoulder and neck muscles.

New 4th year interns suffer from the frantic desire to please. We have slogged through years of book study, evaluations by multiple choice and practical exams and have galloped over every hurdle before us on the race to the finish. Our clinical year is different, however, because now we must face the rocky, unpredictable off-course race of life, and the techniques we’ve developed for jumping gracefully over even, measured, standardized hurdles no longer applies. The need to prove ourselves is overwhelming.

I blame this need to prove and my burning desire to connect with patients the reason for leaky boundaries, allowing me to acquire the very complaints my patients come in with. It’s Medical Students’ Disease times a million and it happens with every patient I see to some extent.

So, after 5 months of feeling my shoulders creep up around my ears, I decided to seek help myself, in the form of a chiropractic intern at the Canadian Memorial Chirpractic College (CMCC). As my brilliant intern pushed, pulled and stretched out the knots of my scalene, trapezius, levator scapulae, sternocleidomastoids, rhomboids and pectorals, I felt the tensions and emotions vanish with them. As I sat in the appointment, giving my intern my medical history, I was overcome with an overwhelming desire to be cared for. I had allowed myself to get healer’s exhaustion (to which parents, caregivers and those in any service profession are susceptible), and so, I was reminded of the importance of self-care, especially for those who focus on others for a living.

Ayurvedic Self-Massage

As a form of self-care, I share with you a soothing self-massage practice that I was taught in a course of Ayurvedic medicine I took while in my second year of CCNM. Ayurvedic massage serves the body by increasing circulation, promoting detoxification and removing waste through the skin, and by relaxing muscles and relieving tension.


To perform self massage, first select about 1/4 cup of natural oil. The type of oil you select depends on your constitutional Ayurvedic dosha:

– Those of vata constitution – light and dry types – should use sesame oil, which is moisturizing and warming.

– Those of pitta constitution – firey types – should use a cooling oil, such as coconut oil.

– Those of kapha constitution – stagnant, heavy and damp – should use a light, warming, invigorating oil such as mustard or almond oil.

The oil you select on any particular day can be chosen in order to subdue your dominant constitution, to treat any acute aggravation (such as sluggish dampness after a night out), or according to the weather outside (using coconut oil on a hot day, for example).


Warm oil by rubbing it between hands or placing the bottle in hot water. Apply it to the skin and massage the skin using broad, soothing strokes, or tight, invigorating strokes, depending on what your body needs. Massage in the direction of hair growth for 10 – 20 minutes. Cover the entire body, but focus on vital areas such as the limbs, abdomen, scalp and genital region.

After applying oil, wash it off in a warm shower, without soap.

I opted for castor oil, a warming and softening oil, perfect for tense, tight muscles. Using calming, firm, circular motions, I worked the sticky oil into the areas where I was carrying emotional tension: my shoulders, neck and pectoral muscles of the chest. The mood of performing self-massage is intentional, the oil symbolizes self-love and healing, the hand providing the care I was so craving, yet denying myself, before I crawled into the chiropractic intern’s office. I let the oil settle on my skin, drank a calming chamomile and lemon balm tea and then went to bed. However, a warm shower without soap is recommended to remove the excess oil from the skin.

I woke up on the morning of my day off, lingering a little in bed as the sound of birds chirping outside helped nudge me into consciousness. I knew that I would spend a good portion of my day researching for the patients I am currently serving but I also woke with a renewed vigour. A sense of cleansed calmness and a resolution to also dedicate a portion of my day to walking my dog along the river, painting and lingering over meals and coffee, under this nurturing layer of softness, applied by my own hands.


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