Anyone who has ever attended a lecture of a sadhu (a holy person) from the Himalayas, has probably witnessed an oil massage during the process.
This oil massage, known as abhyanga, is practiced daily by all the people who live in the region at the mouth of the Ganges River. The massage targets the knees, legs and the thighs but is extremely gentle and affectionate. It’s like it wants to show us the importance of a loving touch and heightened awareness.
Usually, when we do something with full attention, we focus mostly on the process and not on its goals. That’s how the job is done affectionately, easily, and with great results. As the lecturer whose lecture I attended said, “When we are doing something with full attention, it is better for us as we are doing it than it is for the object of our action”.
All the research that has been done on massage has proven that massaging increases the production of oxytocin – a naturally secreted hormone that supports optimal physical health, kindness, empathy, love and bonding. It was also concluded that even if we do everything right and take great care of our health, without loving relationships we can’t flourish!
Oxytocin is the hormone that is secreted by the mother, the baby and even the father during the birth of the child. It has the power to connect the family for a lifetime. Furthermore, it is produced when you love someone, when you touch someone or simply bond or care for someone without any needs or expectations. It is a naturally rejuvenating hormone and the more you produce, the better you are.
Since it can be released in a response to a touch, a massage is a great way to stimulate its production. A low-intensity stimulation of the skin will also deal with the stress and reduce the production of stress hormones like beta-endorphin (BE), corticotropin (ACTH) and nitric oxide (NO).
A study published in the Journal of alternative Therapies and Health tested the blood levels of 95 individuals for the amounts of chemicals before and after a massage. It was found that the individuals who received a 15-minute massage had a 17% higher oxytocin levels and those who were left without massage had a reduced amount of this hormone by 9%.
Moreover, the group that received massage had lower ACTH (adrenocorticotropin) levels than those who didn’t receive the massage.
The oxytocin works in a way that it changes the microbiology of the skin during a massage. A touch can increase the oxytocin levels and the oxytocin will change the microbes in a way that supports measurable health gains.
In another study, the oxytocin levels in the subjects were increased by giving them probiotics. The goal of the study was to measure the microbial impact.
The results were astonishing! They experienced better skin and hair quality, a boost in their immune system, better overall health, hormonal balance, improved the ability of healing wounds and has a positive impact on their attitude and social behavior.
The science behind a massage can be pretty simple. There are over 20 million nerve receptors spread all over our bodies. For an example, there are over 1 million nerve endings in just one arm. These nerve endings are constantly exposed to emotional, tactile, microbial and environmental stressors. And you can calm these in only a few seconds by lovingly applying oil and a gentle massage.
The oil massage calms the nervous system and stimulates the production of oxytocin. The microbes that are responsive to oxytocin are usually concentrated on the moist and healthy skin since they can feed on the nutrients in the form of amino and fatty acids and water. If the skin is dry or chemically altered by lotions and creams, the environment for a healthy skin microbiome gets compromised. Almost all the microbes that are a part of the skin flora feed on the sebum which is secreted by the skin and this makes a great point on proving that the ancient practice of an oil massage can greatly benefit your overall health.
Some of the benefits of an oil massage include:
- Beneficial environment for microbes
- Balances vata and nervous system
- Soothes over 1.8 billion sensory nerves on the skin
- Increases the production of oxytocin, the hormone linked to love, bonding, and optimal health
- Reproduces beneficial microbes which support general physical and mental health and affect the mood
But in order to get the positive effects we expect from a massage, it is important to apply the oil in a loving manner. The microbes do not thrive in a stressful environment, as studies have shown.
Besides the outer skin, we can practice Ayurveda to treat the inner skin areas such as the oral cavity, gut and respiratory system. Methods include swishing oil in the mouth on empty stomach for 10-20 minutes. Swishing high-quality coconut oil can eliminate toxins from the oral cavity, modify the enzymes in the mouth and lead to a better overall dental health and a fresh breath.
Another method includes tongue scraping. Traditionally the tongue scrapers are made of gold, silver, copper or brass. This method can boost the digestive enzymes and reduce the strep mutants leading to a reduction of the volatile sulfur compounds and eliminating bacteria which cause bad breath.
Loving your skin will provide amazing health benefits and boost your overall health and well-being!