The word for oil in Sanskrit is sneha. Another translation of the same word is love or affection. You see, the essence of a plant is its oil. Just as the essence of who we are is love. If we keep extracting something down to its purest essence, what remains is its love. When we massage our bodies with oil, we are literally coating it with a layer of our affection, as well as a healing touch. This love is known as abhyanga, a simple form of self-massage.
Despite the ancient Charaka’s beautiful promise of trimmed, strong, charming bodies, our beauty culture du jour has sold us the message, “Oily is gross.” Anything unctuous or juicy is to be promptly astringed and exfoliated away, leaving no sign that we may be, underneath our expensive designer beauty products, a juice-producing, oil-secreting woman. Ladies of the land, may we let this idea die, and may our new mantra be, “Oily is beautiful.” Repeat: “Oily is beautiful.” In fact, oil is what keeps the skin young, taut and supple.
The truth is that the simple practice of oiling the physical machine is, quite possibly, the best thing we can do for the body and the nervous system on a daily basis. In fact, there is a phrase in traditional Indian healthcare that says, “Either pay the oil man today, or you will be paying the doctor tomorrow.” And as our skin is the largest organ of the body (in fact, it weighs anywhere from 6 to 10 pounds), we may do well in caring for this large, biologically active organ.
What Oil Should I Use?
The main thing we need to consider when working with oils is the condition of the skin. While you may have a predominance of the vata dosha in the heat of summer, it still may benefit you to use a cooling oil. I tell my students and clients to treat their skin, not their original dosha.
- Generally, vata skin is deeply healed and nourished by: sesame oil
- Generally, pitta skin is cooled and nourished by: coconut and sunflower oil
- Generally, kapha skin is enlivened by: sunflower or calendula-infused oil
Sometimes kapha skin is so moist that it doesn’t require oil (especially in the springtime). In this case, dry brush the skin before showering.
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