Using a mix of oils and herbs, Ayurvedic massage therapists work to correct imbalances. Credit: Stock image / Pixabay

There’s a reason that Sophia Maamouri’s clients call the Ayurvedic Abhyanga, as the “Bliss Massage.” The rhythmic strokes and oil-based massages are customized for every client with the final intention of bringing balance, said Maamouri, the owner of Blue Heron Synergy in Portland, Maine. “So much so that the customers are so blissful, it’s a deep state.”

Originating in India more than 3,000 years ago, Ayurveda (Ayur = life; Veda = science) is an ancient practice of medicine that is considered alternative and classified under the wellness umbrella in the West. Ayurveda emphasizes mind-body connection and uses a variety of treatments to fine-tune the body’s five elements. Ayurvedic principles suggest that every person has a unique mix of “doshas” borrowed from these five elements. If these “doshas” are misaligned, the body does not function as smoothly as it should.

Using a mix of oils and herbs, Ayurvedic massage therapists work to correct imbalances. The most noticeable difference for those who are used to other kinds of massage is the medium: warm oil. Ayurvedic massage uses liberal amounts of it.

While many other kinds of massages might use oils or lotions, they’re usually used to decrease friction and facilitate smoother motion. In Ayurvedic massage, the oils serve an additional purpose: they also act as a vehicle for healing herbs.

“The oils penetrate the skin into the lymphatic tissue and binds with toxins that are oil-soluble,” Maamouri said. Essentially, Ayurvedic massage uses oil as a detoxifying agent. The exact kind and combination of oils depends on the individual’s constitution and immediate needs, which is why a consult precedes each massage session.

The Abhyanga (which means oil massage) and often, steam therapy, usually set the stage for panchakarma, a five-pronged detoxification process. In addition to the Abhyanga, Maamouri offers the garshana, which is a dry exfoliation massage using a silk glove. Ayurvedic massages themselves run a wider gamut of offerings, including the dramatic shirodhara, which involves pouring a steady stream of oil on the forehead. Shirodhara is believed to have an incredibly calming effect on the central nervous system, its effects similar to that derived from meditation.

Clients typically need a few weekly sessions to begin seeing the benefits of regular Ayurvedic massage, Maamouri says. “Massage therapy is cumulative. If you do it one time, it feels good. But you won’t really feel the full benefit if you don’t do it for a while,” she adds.

Poornima Apte is an award-winning freelance writer based in New England. Find her at wordcumulus.com.