Apply Oil, Reduce Stress PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Felicia M. Tomasko, RN   

The Ancient Ayurvedic Practice of Shirodhara.

Daily life is becoming more and more a plague of constant stress. In any given moment, there is a barrage of information competing for our attention. We’re juggling the ringing of the phone, IMs, text messages, pagers, emails, the cacophony of horns honking on the freeway, gas prices, the cost of groceries, uncertainty on the evening news and the list goes on and on. It is no wonder that we are increasingly feeling the effects of stress-related diseases and an increase in diseases exacerbated by constant stress. These can include high blood pressure, migraines, digestive problems, heart disease, inflammation, problems with weight management, adrenal burnout, fatigue and even chronic disorders such as diabetes.

For maintaining health, stress management is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. The ancient science of Ayurveda, a traditional system of medicine with its origins in India, and now practiced world-wide, offers some practices and solutions to reduce the impact of chronic stress on the body, mind and spirit.

According to Ayurvedic physician Dr. Vasant Lad, the traditional Ayurvedic practice of shirodhara is a marvelous stress management program. As Dr. Lad says, shirodhara brings “happiness, harmony and holistic healing in daily life and daily relationships.” It is a practice that is spoken of often in the ancient written tradition of Ayurveda, and it is one that is often used today in clinics, spas and a modified version of the practice can even be adapted for use at home.

In shirodhara, a continuous stream of warm oil is applied on the center of the forehead, or the third eye, by a trained therapist. The oil runs over the forehead and through the scalp and hair before being collected into a container where it is rewarmed and circulated over the forehead again. While warm sesame oil is traditionally used, other oils can also be chosen. For example, coconut oil is cooling and sunflower or almond oils are neutral. Herbal oils can be chosen, such as brahmi for reducing stress or bringeraj for healthy hair.

The benefits of shirodhara, according to Dr. Lad, relate to the positive effects of this application of oil. One of the words for oil in Sanskrit, the language of the Ayurvedic texts, is snigda and another translation of this word is love. Through shirodhara, love envelopes the body. Some benefits include improved clarity of perception, greater ease in falling asleep, and reduction in anxiety, insecurity and fear. Shirodhara helps to nurture the body to promote radical and complete healing. The oil running through the scalp and lubricating the body provides a feeling of being protected and absorbing the shocks and trauma we encounter. As Dr. Lad states, the oil affects the deep nerve endings, the body’s chemo and thermal receptors, sending messages to the body to secrete neuropeptides and neurotransmitters and enhance the psychoneuroimmunological response. These are the pathways of the inner pharmacy through which the internal healing process unfolds, creating harmony between body, mind and consciousness.

Photo courtesy of: Diamond Way Ayurveda,
Photo courtesy of: Diamond Way Ayurveda,
Home Practice

Melanie Sachs of Diamond Way Ayurveda suggests a simple home practice that effectively provides some of the benefits of shirodhara.

You can do this home practice by itself or you can first massage the entire body with warm oil. To stay warm after oiling, wrap yourself in a sheet or bathrobe. Then take a small amount of warm oil and rub it lightly through your hair to the scalp. Gently massage the scalp. Then take a washcloth or an absorbent terrycloth towel and fold it so that it is the width of the space between your eyebrows and your (original) hairline. Saturate it in warm unrefined oil. You can warm the oil by placing the container of oil inside a pot of hot water. Place the cloth over your forehead, close your eyes and relax for about 10 minutes while the oil penetrates and calms your mind.

[Home practice adapted with permission from Ayurvedic Spa, by Robert and Melanie Sachs, Lotus Press, a division of Lotus Brands, Inc., P.O. Box 325, Twin Lakes, WI 53181, USA, ©2007 All Rights Reserved]

Before using any Ayurvedic remedies, consult with a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner or healthcare provider. The information given here is for educational use only and does not necessarily reflect the views of LA YOGA Ayurveda and Health magazine.

Dr. Vasant Lad will be speaking about healing our relationships through Ayurvedic principles on Saturday and Sunday, October 25 and 26 at UCLA, sponsored by Friends of Ayurveda.

Dr. Vasant Lad and Melanie Sachs will both be presenting at the National Ayurvedic Medical Association conference in Chicago, October 16-19.

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