According to Ayurvedic traditions, people have three elements or doshas that can be used to accurately describe their personality traits, behaviors, and body types. Mental and physical health is promoted when each dosha is expressed in a way that is balanced for a particular person. Dosha imbalances are corrected by the use of various techniques in Ayurveda, and these include abhyanga massage. The best abhyanga massage greatly depends on a person’s dominant dosha and the dosha imbalances they may have. As with any type of massage, abhyanga massage may be contraindicated for people with certain medical conditions, including active infections, heart disease, or blood clots.
The three doshas in Ayurveda are pitta, vata, and kapha. Most people are believed to have one or two dominant doshas. Those who are vata dominant are believed to be vulnerable to anxiety and rheumatologic and gastrointestinal conditions when their vata is imbalanced. A pitta imbalance may lead to heartburn, anger issues, and inflammation. Kapha dosha imbalances may cause susceptibility to jealousy, sinus congestion, and asthma.
Ayurvedic massage generally involves the application of warm oils meant to strengthen or weaken specific doshas in the body. The oils used in an abhyanga massage are dosha-specific. A person's dominant dosha is usually determined by answering a series of questions, or by filling in a short, standardized questionnaire immediately before a massage. One or two massage practitioners then use rhythmic movements that promote the elimination of toxins. Typically, an abhyanga massage will last 45 to 60 minutes.
When used as part of an Ayurveda treatment plan to correct dosha imbalances, a daily abhyanga massage may be recommended. If a severe kapha imbalance is found, then shirodhara, a massage in which warm oil is dripped onto a person’s forehead, may also be used as part of an Ayurvedic program. The correct determination of a person’s dosha constitution and imbalances is necessary in determining the best abhyanga massage for that individual. Ayurvedic tradition holds that different physical or emotional symptoms stem from very specific dosha imbalances. Depending on the particular imbalances, as well as a person’s dominant dosha, different oils may be used during a massage to harmonize the doshas and promote well-being.
People with certain medical conditions should not have an abhyanga massage. These include kidney failure, allergies, and active infections. Those diagnosed with disorders of the immune system should consult a physician before having a massage of this type.