Ayurvedic Head Massage: Benefits, Procedure

Article by Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay)
Among many ancient Indian traditional household practices, giving a massage to the body and head with oil, every day before bath is popular. The practice has not faded out with time. Even today we can see this practice in some villages and in some traditional homes in urban areas of India. Previously it was being done on a daily basis but now it has come to the weekends or holidays, especially in the cities.

Ayurvedic head and body massage not only provides relaxation to body and mind, it also keeps many diseases and stress at bay. It makes us competent enough to face the toughness of day-to-day life with ease. It is just like servicing the body on a daily basis.

This is called ‘Abhyanga Snana’ (Abhyanga=Massage, Snana=Bathing). A hot shower after massage or application of oil, so soothing that it is better experienced than explained. This will serve the purpose of both Snehana (applying the oils over the body) and Swedana (sweat inducing treatments, of which having a hot water bath is also one, as it induces sweating). Snehana and Swedana are the best remedies for many psycho-somatic diseases, especially Vayu related disorders. They prevent vitiation of Vayu, which in turn is the key for healthy life. In combination they are the best anti-ageing treatments and also easy to do.
Read related: Does massage work? Utility Of Massage In Pain Management

By providing the lubrication to the wheel of the body, it enables us to spin ourselves at will while enjoying our life activities. It enhances the life span of each and every cell, muscles and joints and makes us flexible, fit healthy and immune.

Ayurvedic head massage

According to Ayurveda, Abhyanga or herbal oil massage (can be done with sesame or coconut oil also) is not complete and comprehensive unless the head (Shiro Abhyanga) and foot (Pada Abhyanga) are also incorporated with it.

A complete body massage at home on a daily basis is not practical and impossible unless you can afford to hire a couple of masseurs for life. Even our busy schedules doesn’t allow us to apply oil, leave some time, exercise a bit and take a hot shower because after having spent the whole night texting, working on the system, working on projects and disturbing our sleeps, we would rise up half-drowsy and would be pushing ourselves to catch a cab or drive a long distance to office.
Read related: No Time For Massage? Here Is The Solution

shiro abhyanga

If Abhyanga cannot be followed on a daily basis, I advocate at least Shiro Abhyanga and Padabhyanga to be done on a daily basis. I always advice my patients to have ‘Shiro Abhyanga and Padabhyanga’ done at home on a regular basis. Not only patients, I even prefer healthy people to spare some time towards application of oil over their head (crown) and feet. In this context I would like to focus my discussion on ‘Shiro Abhyanga’ or head massage with herbal oils.

What is Shiro Abhyanga?

Shiro Abhyanga is a word comprising of 2 terms, Shiro meaning head, Abhyanga meaning massage
Thus Shiro Abhyanga means giving an Ayurvedic head massage using herbal oils.

Shiro Abhyanga is a procedure which is included in the category of Murdhni Taila (various methods of applying oil over the head). It is a type of Bahya Snehana (using of oil and conducting treatments over the body, externally).
Shiro Abhyanga is also a part of Dinacharya (daily regimen). If time permits it shall be practised on a daily basis. It can also be selectively brought in as a treatment option for many Vata related disorders and disorders affecting the head, sense organs and neck and for control and prevention of many psychosomatic disorders.
Read related: Moordha Taila, Murdhni Taila: Ayurvedic Oil Treatment On Head

Why head massage?

Ayurveda considers the human body as an inverted tree wherein the roots are at the top and the branches pointing downwards.

If the human body is considered to be a tree –
The head of the human body will be considered to be the roots of this tree,
The central portion of the body made up of thorax and abdomen is said to be the trunk of this tree and
to be the branches of this tree
Just like the roots nurture and controls all the activities and well being of the tree, the head is the operational centre of the entire body. The head comprises of all the components and machinery to control the entire body mechanics and dynamics. Head is an abode of the remote control of the entire body – ‘The Brain and nerves’ and all the components which keep us attached and attracted to this material world – ‘The Sense Organs’. For these reasons, the head is called as ‘Uttamanga’ – ‘The best organ of the lot in the body’

Shiras as Uttamanga

Praanaaha praanabhrutaam yatra sthitaaha sarva indriyaani cha
Tat uttama angam angaanaam shiraha tat abhidheeyate (Ref – Charaka Sutra Sthana 17/12)
The place where the Pranaa’s (life element controlling all the activities or according to Chakrapani, the 5 types of Vayu’s or controlling station of Vayu functions) and all the Indriya’s (sense organs) are located is called Shira (head). This head is the Uttamanga (best organ in the body)

Oordhwa moolam adhaha shaakhaam rushayaha purusham viduhu
Moola prahaariNaha tasmaad rogaan sheeghrataram jayet
Sarva indriyaani yena asmin praanaa yena cha samshritaaha
Tena tasya uttama angasya rakshaayaam aadrusho bhavet (Ref – Ashtanga Hridaya Sootra 24/58, 59)
Purusha (human body) is an upside down tree wherein the roots are located at the top and the branches are pointing downwards. Just as we need to keep the roots healthy to keep the plant healthy, we need to keep the head healthy to keep the body healthy. If we take care of the roots of the plants, the tree will not get diseased or if the tree gets diseased we treat it at the roots. Similarly if we keep the head healthy, the whole body will be healthy. If we attack the diseases at the root i.e. head, we can get rid of them in quick time. This is possible because the Prana’s and indriya’s which control all the functions of the body and mind are located in this Uttamanga called Shira (head). Thus it becomes a primary responsibility of each of us to take care of our head with utmost priority.

This explanation not only tells us that head is important but also gives us a responsibility to take care of our head so as to enjoy a comprehensive body-mind (psychosomatic) health.

Summarizing the above said content,
The head is made up of brain and sense organs which manipulates the whole body and mind functions and keep us healthy when they are in a frame of well being. Head thus forms a control station for all our life activities. When we take care of the control station properly, the whole body factory will function smoothly.

On the other hand, to get rid of any body or mind related illness we need to go back to the control station (uttamanga) called head and address it with suitable treatments and medications.

This also gives us an impression that the most ancient science called Ayurveda very well knew that most of our diseases occur due to disturbed mind or exacerbated by a disturbed mind. Healing the body or mind alone is not a comprehensive medical approach. They should be handled as a single entity.

Since taking care of the head and its components is mandatory for maintaining a healthy life we need to nurture, pamper, relax, soothe and strengthen the engine of our system by conducting Shiro Abhyanga and other treatments mentioned in Moordha Taila or Murdhni Taila.

Murdhni taila

Brief introduction of Murdhni Taila –
Moordha or Murdhni means Head, Taila means oil or herbal oil
Thus Murdhni Taila or Moordha Taila is a procedure of conducting treatments on the head using herbal (medicated) oils such that the oil remains in contact with the scalp for a fixed duration of time. This contact period of oil on the scalp is necessary for begetting its benefits. Murdha Taila is also practiced as a part of Dinacharya (daily regimen).

Indications

Since head massage can be done on a daily basis, it is predominantly a treatment advised for prevention of many psychosomatic disorders. Prevention of diseases pertaining to body, mind and sense organs is the first indication of Shiro Abhyanga.
Shiro Abhyanga is used to treat many diseases occurring due to Shiro Abhihata or damage to the head and its components either from exterior or due to morbid Doshas from within.

Shiro Abhighata

Consequence of head injury (Shiro abhihata) –
Shirasya abhihate manyaastambha ardita chakshu vibhrama moha udveshtana cheshtaa naasha kaasa shvaasa hanugraha muka gadgadatva akshi nimeelana ganda spandana jrumbhana laalaasraava svarahaani vadana jihmatvaadeeni (Ref- Charaka Siddhi Sthana 9/5)
When the head gets injured it causes one or the other of –
Manyastambha – Stiffness of neck, nape (Cervical spondylosis, torticollis)
Ardita – Facial paralysis, Bells Palsy
Chakshu vibhrama – Deviation of eye, squint
Moha – Loss of consciousness
Udveshtana – cramps
Cheshta nasha – Loss of activities
Kasa – Cough
Shwasa – Dyspnoea, breathlessness
Hanugraha – Lock jaw
Mooka – Dumb
Gadgadatva – Stammering of speech
Akshi nimeelana – Difficulty in opening the eyes
Ganda spandana – Pulsating sensation or pulsations or twitching in the cheeks
Jrumbha – Yawning
Lala srava – salivation
Svara hani – Total loss of voice
Mukha Jihmata – crookedness of the face etc

Other indications –
Shiro Roga – Different types of headaches and diseases pertaining to head
Pakshaghata – Hemiplegia, paralysis
Anidra – sleeplessness
Vata prakopa – to control the vitiated Vata
Vata Roga – diseases of Vata origin, mainly degenerative diseases
Pitta Roga – diseases of Pitta origin, mainly inflammatory diseases
Shiro rukshata – dryness of the head
Shiro kandu – itching in the scalp etc

Head massage method

Shiro Abhyanga is done in the below said method –

Purvakarma

Purvakarma (Pre-treatment procedures): This includes –

Preparation of the patient:
The patient is thoroughly examined using Ayurvedic tools and methods of examination. The Prakriti (basic constitution) and Vikriti (details of morbidity) are documented in detail. The disease is also examined with the help of Ayurvedic parameters of diagnosis (and also modern investigations as and when required). After careful assessment, it is decided if Shiro Abhyanga is suitable to the disease and diseased or not. The treatment line-up, materials and medicines which need to be used are enlisted.

The patient is advised to shave the head (according to their convenience) or make it as short as possible. Shiro Abhyanga done after removal of hairs will yield better results than done with hair intact.

Preparation for the treatment:
Materials needed for the treatment are collected beforehand. They are:
The basic material needed for Shiro Abhyanga is oil. The oil shall be sesame oil (unless specified), coconut oil or any herbal oil.
The procedure is to prepare the medicated oil (oil processed with herbal decoctions) according to the constitution of the patient or the nature of morbidity.
It is not practical to prepare medicines instantly now days as all raw materials are not available at a given point of time nor any pharmacy equipped with all the raw materials needed to prepare various medicated oils.
In these cases the doctor should judiciously plan and short list a few oils mentioned in the classics which can be generally used in many conditions. These medicines shall be prepared in the pharmacy or hospital.
Alternatively, the medicines (medicated oils) are readily available in bottled forms now days. They shall be collected before hand and the stocks of the same shall be maintained.
The oils shall be – Prakriti (constitution) specific, Vikriti (morbidity or nature of disease) specific and Dosha (involved dosha) specific.

Oils used

Oils used for head massage: 

Tila tailam – sesame oil
Ksheerabala Tailam
Chandanabala Lakshadi Tailam
Lakshadi Tailam
Shatavari Tailam
Mahamasha Tailam
Yashtimadhu tailam
Dhanwantaram Tailam
Manjishtadi Tailam
Mahanarayana Tailam
Balashwagandhadi Tailam
Karpasasthyadi Tailam etc

Other Tailas used over the head are –
Amrutadi Tailam – Headache, burning sensation in the head, Gout, High Pitta conditions etc
Eladi Tailam – Kapha-Vata disorders, chronic cold, ear ache etc
Kadaleephaladi Tailam – Chronic headache
Kayyannadi Tailam – Headache, burning sensation, eye disorders etc
Kaakadanyadi Tailam – In lymphadenitis, goitre etc
Kuntalakanti Tailam – For hair health
Chandanadi Tailam – Coolant, used in giddiness, burning sensation, loss of consciousness, High Pitta etc
Tulasyadi tailam – Chronic cold, sinusitis, dandruff, etc
Tengingupushpadi Tailam – Headache, burning sensation of head, high pitta, etc
Tekaraja Tailam – For cough, asthma, cold etc
Triphaladi Tailam – For chronic eye and ear related disorders
Dhurdhurapatradi Tailam – Dandruff
Nagaradi Tailam – Chronic nasal and oral disorders
Nimbadi tailam – Itches and boils on the scalp, hairfall etc
Neeli Bhringadi Tailam / Kera Tailam – For hair health
Punarnavadi Taila
Prapaundarikadi Tailam – Premature greying of hairs
Balaguluchyadi Tailam – Gout
Bala Tailam – Vata disorders
Baladhatryadi Tailam – Headache, eye disorders, etc
Balahatadi Tailam – Headache and burning sensation of head, coolant
Brahmi Tailam – Vata disorders, sleeplessness, stress etc
Bhringamalakadi Tailam – Headache and burning sensation of head, coolant
Marichadi Tailam – Chronic cold, nasal polyps, cough, asthma etc
Mahabala Tailam – Vata Diseases
Malatyadi Tailam – Hairfall
Rasnadashamuladi Tailam – Facial paralysis etc
Vachadi Tailam – Chronic cold, cervical lymphadenitis etc
Vachalashunadi Tailam – Ear discharges etc
Vilwapatradi Tailam – Chronic cold, dandruff etc
Venupatradi Tailam – Cervical Lymphadenitis, goitre, neck swellings etc
Surasadi Tailam – Chronic cold, sinusitis
Himasagara Tailam – Premature greying of hairs, insanity (lunacy) etc

Options according to morbidity: Ksheerabala Tailam and Chandanabala Lakshadi Tailam in pitta morbidity and Dhanwantaram Tailam or Mahanarayana Tailam is used in Vata morbidity etc.

Different oils can be mixed and used depending on the practical experience and judgement of the physician.

Hot oil vs Cold Oil:
For Vata and Kapha dominant disorders – Oil can be slightly heated and used.
For Pitta dominant disorders – Oil is used in room temperature, without heating.

Oil and or ghee shall be used in predominance of Vata, In morbidity wherein vitiated pitta and rakta (blood) are associated ghee shall be used for massage, Tila taila (sesame oil) should be used in Kapha disorders, In disorders caused by vitiated Vata, Pitta and Rakta – oil and ghee should be mixed in equal proportions to conduct Shiro Abhyanga. In Kapha association oil and ghee should be taken in 1:1/2 proportions.

Other materials needed –
Small vessels for heating oil
Large vessels for heating water
Spoons
Stove for heating
Sterile clothes, sponges, napkins or tissue papers for wiping etc

Pradhana Karma

Pradhana Karma – Treatment proper (Shiro Abhyanga procedure):
The patient or the person who is supposed to take Shiro Abhyanga is brought into the treatment room after having conducted Prayers, worship and holistic rituals and recitation of hymns as indicated in Ayurveda texts.
The patient is made to sit on a comfortable chair, facing east or north direction. The doctor, therapist (masseur) or attendant (while doing at home) who is conducting the treatment should take the small bowl filled with the medicated oil (chosen for the treatment). The temperature of the oil should be checked. It should be luke warm and not too hot.

Procedure of heating the oil –

The oil used for Abhyanga should not be heated directly on fire. The oil is taken in a small bowl. Another big vessel should be filled with water, kept on fire (stove) and heated until it boils. The small bowl consisting of the oil should be placed over the boiling water. The oil should be allowed to get warm passively.

The bowl should be removed after checking the temperature of the oil with the help of sterile fingers and after making sure that it is warm.
The masseur takes a small amount of the heated oil in his hands. He applies a small amount of oil first on the crown of the head.

Later the oil is slowly smeared all over the head caressing the scalp in a soothing way. The masseur slowly massages the head with little pressure using the tips of his fingers.

If the person undergoing the treatment has not taken his hairs off, the head massage should be such that the tips of the fingers smeared with oil reaches the scalp. The massage should not be limited to application of oil to the hairs, the hair roots and scalp is the targets.

The masseur should use both his hands for conducting massage. The massage should be done simultaneously on both sides of the head. The pressure should be uniform on both sides and should be synchronized.

The masseur changes his position as he is conducting Shiro Abhyanga on all sides of the scalp. Firstly he stands in front of the patient and massages the head. Later he stands behind the patient and massages the head once again. In this way the whole head is massaged in a synchronous way. The masseur can prefer the chronology of the positions in which he stands and conducts the treatment according to his convenience.

The masseur can also use his palm for massaging the scalp, whenever the pressure needs to be enhanced. This will impart a better effect. Some masseurs also tap or percuss the head of the patient with their fingers or give mild gentle blows with their fists. These techniques are brought in at some point of the treatment or just before ending the treatment. These manoeuvres will provide extreme relaxation to the patient.

If the patient has not shaved the head, large quantities of oil is needed for head massage and much of the oil will be wasted at the end of the treatment. This should be informed to the patient beforehand.

Precautions to be taken while conducting Shiro Abhyanga –

The masseur or the person conducting the head massage should have cut his nails and trimmed them
They should not have any infectious diseases, inflammatory or degenerative diseases in their hands of fingers
The hands of the masseur should be devoid of cracks and fissures
Masseurs should take caution not to massage the head in a violent way or by applying deep pressure. This may cause complications like headache etc. the patient may get uncomfortable and might discontinue the treatment. Our aim is to give relaxation, not discomfort.
Also, the person undergoing Shiro Abhyanga should not be having – Head injuries, scalp or hair root infections or any autoimmune problems like scalp psoriasis and diseases like eczema etc, alcoholic intoxication etc
Alternatively – Shiro Abhyanga can be done by placing the patient in lying position.

Paschat Karma

Paschat Karma (Post-treatment procedures):
Sarva Abhyanga – If Shiro Abhyanga is being carried out as a part of Sarva Abhyanga (full body massage), the full body massage is commenced after having completed Shiro Abhyanga. This shall be followed by treatment procedures like Swedana (sweating therapies) if it has been included in the treatment protocol.

If further treatments are not planned after Shiro Abhyanga, the person should be allowed to relax for a while. The body should not be immediately exposed to cold or cold measures. Doing so might induce some symptoms like cold, headache etc.

Any excess oil dripping around should be wiped off using sterile clothes or tissue papers or sterile cotton pads.
Snana – Later a hot water bath should be given. Alternatively water boiled with Nirgundi (Vitex negundo), Nimba (neem) or Dashamula (10 roots) shall be used for bathing purpose. Warm water processed with Amalaki, Triphala or Chandana shall be used for head bath. The oil shall be removed using green gram flour or herbal soaps or shampoos. Siddharthaka Snana Churna is readily available (bathing powder) for bathing purposes. Hot water should not be used over the head because it can damage the sense organs. Patient is advised to take a refreshing hot water bath after going home or after a few hours if the patient is being handled as in-patient.

After hot water shower, decoctions like Shunti Kwatha (ginger decoction), Jeerakadi Kwatha or Gandharvahastadi Kwatha should be administered for oral intake either in the clinic or hospital or at home after discharge. These herbal extracts keep correcting the disturbed metabolism in the body and also keep micro-cleansing the system by removing blocks from the cells.

Application of Rasnadi Churna – Procedures conducted on the head like Murdhni Taila (including Shiro Abhyanga) will sometimes cause acute cold and cold related symptoms like running nose, sneeze etc. Therefore as a precautionary measure, every day after the completion of Shiro Abhyanga, a small amount of Rasnadi Churna herbal powder is rubbed over the crown of the head. This powder induces warmth in the head and sense organs and keeps the cold and related symptoms at bay. If not, the cold will develop into headache and breathing problems due to post-nasal drip and produce a hinderance to the smooth conduct of the treatment.
Read more about Rasnadi Churna

Nitya Virechana – Daily metered dose of purgation with purgative decoctions especially Gandharvahastadi Kashayam should be administered every day after Shiro Abhyanga. It should be given in a dose of 24-48 ml at bedtime. This herbal extract is basically a laxative and best one in the business of controlling the morbidity and vitiation of Vayu.

Laghu Ahara – When the patient gets hungry, he or she should be served with light and easily digestible food. The food should preferably be liquid or semi-solid and should have been processed with ginger.
Light digestible food always complements an effective treatment and set of medications and helps in quick recovery from the ailments. Shiro Abhyanga is noexception.
Light food is also advised for healthy individuals undergoing Shiro Abhyanga. Hot liquid diet garnished with kitchen spices like ginger, pepper, cumin seeds etc should be prescribed. Laghu ahara also serves the purpose of deepana (metabolism enhancing effect) and pachana (expulsion of ama, toxic substances formed due to bad metabolism).

The lightest food format comes in the forms of:
Yavagu – is a liquid preparation in the form of thin gruel wherein rice (1part) is processed in 6 times water. It is seen that the final preparation has more of liquid than solid.
Vilepi – is a liquid preparation in the form of thin gruel wherein rice (1part) is processed in 4 times water. It is seen that the final preparation is of a semisolid nature. Apart from being nutritious and tasty, it is known to destroy ama by its root and kindle the belly fire.
Peya – is a liquid preparation in the form of thin gruel wherein rice (1part) is processed in 14 times water. It is seen that the final preparation has a small quantity of solid portion left over.
Manda – is a liquid preparation in the form of thin gruel wherein rice (1part) is processed in 14 times water. It is seen that the entire solid content is filtered out from the final preparation such that only liquid remains.
Yusha – is a liquid preparation in the form of thin gruel wherein dal i.e. grams mainly green gram (1part) is processed in 18 times water and its extract is filtered out.

In current day lifestyle, it is highly difficult to prepare these forms of diet. The key is planning and consuming healthy and balanced food according to ones convenience.

If Shiro Abhyanga is being done as a part of treatment for some ailment or is a part of a big treatment package oriented towards some major health issue, the following restrictions shall be followed –

Restrictions to follow

Avoid these things after head massage: 

Excessive indulgence in sexual pleasures
Strenuous physical exercises
Exposure to sunlight
Exposure to cold or intake of cold food substances and smoking,
Excessive sleeping
Standing in cool breezy or dusty areas for long time
Forcibly withholding the natural urges or reflexes of the body like those of defecation, urination, hunger, thirst, sleep, sneeze etc,
High or low levelled pillows while sleeping
Grief and anger
Keeping awakened till late nights
Walking for long distances
Speaking or shouting in excess, speaking loudly etc.
Keep the mind free from stress, in a pleasant condition

If Shiro Abhyanga is being done as a part of Dinacharya, the above said restrictions shall still be followed according to ones convenience

Discharge – The patient is discharged on daily basis (out-patient) or after the course has been completed (in-patient) after giving proper lifestyle and diet advises along with suitable medicines (oral). The patient is also advised to undergo the treatment twice or thrice in a year.
Disease specific and disease modifying medications shall be given in the follow up period.
Other distressing and Vata controlling activities such as Yoga, Meditation etc shall also be advised

Duration

Duration of the course –
The number of days of treatment varies from 7-21 days depending on the nature and intensity of the disease (or until the main course of which Shiro Abhyanga is a part and parcel has been finished as scheduled). It is usually done for 7, 14, 21 or 28 days.

Mode of action

Probable mode of action of Shiro Abhyanga –

It is difficult to prove with scientific measures how exactly Shiro Abhyanga works but we cannot ignore the magnificent results provided by these treatments. Let’s work out in a hypothetical way. Below explained is the hypothetical explanation of how Moordha Taila or Murdhni Taila might work. Since Shiro Abhyanga is a form of Murdhni Taila, the same hypothesis works. Thus in the discussion ahead, I have used the word Moordha Taila or Murdhni Taila interchangeably with Shiro Abhyanga.

Controlling Vayu – Vayu is the driving force of all the activities of the body and mind. Vayu is said to be a Tantra (formula) which runs the Yantra (machine) called as Shareera (body). Pitta’s, Kapha, the tissues of the body, the waste excreta of the body, all are dependent on Vata (Vayu). If Vayu is functioning properly all these elements are in equilibrium and if Vayu is disturbed, it further disturbs other elements of the body and causes wide array of diseases.

The key for well being is in having the Vayu (life force and energy) in our body in control. Murdhni Taila will have a tremendous effect on controlling Vayu. It controls, pacifies and expels the morbid Vayu. Chakrapani has already clarified that Prana located in the Shiras is nothing but different types of Vayu. Controlling Vayu is almost catching the bull by its horns; all the activities in the body will fall in line.

Relaxing and coolant effect on the brain Murdhni Taila (Shiro Abhyanga here) has a relaxing effect (and coolant effect in treatments like Takra shiro dhara) on the brain and the whole nervous system and hence releases the stress and anxiety stagnant in the chief controlling station of our body. As we know that the brain controls all the functions of the body.

The master gland Pituitary gland and the hypothalamus associated with many physical and mental functions are located in the head. When all these are relaxed, the body functions including the heart functions take place in a relaxed manner. The circulation of blood and nutrients take place in a proper way.

The peripheral resistance is reduced. The channels of the body open up. The cells start flushing the toxins and overall metabolism gets improved. Murdhni taila (Shiro Abhyanga) also relieves stress to a great extent. When we get de-stressed the psychosomatic balance is established. The brain will start controlling the body mechanics in a better and efficient way. We will feel at bliss and best of body-mind health.

Balancing Pitta and Rakta – Rakta or blood is the chief site of Pitta. Variations in pitta will affect the blood flow and variations in blood tissue will have its impact on Pitta. Murdhni Taila (Shiro Abhyanga) procedures will bring about a balance between the circulating Rakta and Pitta located in the Rakta. This circulating Pitta is responsible for many inflammatory processes taking place at various parts of the body, when it gets vitiated.

By establishing cordiality between Pitta and Rakta, Murdhni Taila (Shiro Abhyanga) establishes a balanced circulation throughout the body and relieves the stress over the heart. Diseases like hypertension, which is the key for many systemic disorders will be dealt. Inflammation taking place in various tissues and organs can be brought to the halt. The body will be in more peace with itself.

Revitalizing the nervous system MoordhaTaila (Shiro Abhyanga) procedures relaxes & revitalizes the central nervous system, balances the brain and hormonal functions and thus regularizes and relaxes all the functions of the body. The stress in each and every cell and passage of the body is removed. It has a soothing effect on the endocrine system.

Enhancing blood supply and nutrition to brain Murdhni Taila (Shiro Abhyanga here) procedures improves the supply of blood and nutrition to the brain and thus increases its working compliance

Pressure and Temperature effect – The pressure and temperature effect of the medicaments used in the Moordha Taila (Shiro Abhyanga here) procedures towards a comprehensive body-mind cure cannot be ruled out

Healing Marmas With an Ayurveda perspective Moordha taila (Shiro Abhyanga here) procedures might communicate with the deepest recesses of the brain by soothing the Marmas (vital points of convergence of bones, muscles, blood vessels, soft tissues and joints) located in the head viz Apanga, Avarta, Shanka, Utkshepa, Seemantha and Sthapani Marma’s with which the medicaments comes into contact with.

Most of these Marma’s are related to the eye and blood circulation to the brain. By activating the Marma’s Murdhni Taila treatment procedures might make a strong impact on the functioning of central nervous system and important glands within the brain.

Effect on Alochaka Pitta Alochaka Pitta (Pitta subtype) which is located in the Eye is said to be of 2 types. One is Chakshu Vaisheshika (located within the eye and maintains its well being) and the other is Buddhi Vaisheshika (the part of Alockhaka Pitta which has its connectivity with higher centres of the brain and thus monitors the higher functions like intelligence, memory etc). Apanga and Avarta marma’s are related to the eye. Murdhni Taila (Shiro Abhyanga here) procedures especially dhara and vasti might make a soothing impact on buddhi vaisheshika alochaka pitta through these Marma’s and in return soothe the nervous system.

Reversing Chitta Nasha and Bhaya The injury of Seemantha Marma (joints of the skull) is said to cause Chitta Nasha (psychological abnormality) and Bhaya (fear complex). Thus when the same Marma is healed through Dhara and other Moordha taila procedures, it may reverse the Chitta Nasha and Bhaya, i.e. it might relieve stress, anxiety and depression. With this the relaxed nervous system will take care of heart functions and circulation patterns.

Control of governing Dosha’s The chief governing doshas in the head are Prana Vayu, Sadhaka Pitta and Tarpaka Kapha. The integrity of the functioning of these 3 sub-dosha’s is the key for a perfect body-mind health. The brain controls the whole body and mind through the balanced and properly functioning Prana, Sadhaka and Tarpaka. Imbalance or vitiation of one or more of these 3 factors will lead to many psychosomatic diseases.

The soothing of these Marma’s and in turn soothing of Nervous system and endocrine glands as an effect of MoordhaTaila (Shiro Abhyanga here) treatment procedures will definitely relax Prana Vayu, Sadhaka Pitta and Tarpaka Kapha in the brain (head).

These in turn will have a relaxing effect over the Vyana Vayu, Ranjaka Pitta, Avalambaka Kapha and Udana Vayu controlling the heart functions and circulation. They will also have the other sub doshas in control. By controlling the Kledaka kapha, bodhaka kapha, samana vayu, ranjaka pitta and pachaka pitta, the key brain dosha’s will keep the core metabolism under control.

By controlling the apana vayu, they will keep the excretory functions under control and help in regular detoxification of the body. By controlling the bhrajaka pitta and vyana vayu, they will trim the colour and complexion. By controlling the Shleshaka kapha functions they will maintain the musculoskeletal integrity.

Benefits

The benefits mentioned in relation to Murdhni Taila can be considered as benefits of Shiro Abhyanga. They are as below mentioned –
As already said, Moordha taila (application of oil to the head) is highly beneficial for the brain, sense organs, nerves and hairs. This not only cures many disorders related to head, neck and the above mentioned organs, it also keeps many diseases at bay. Moordha Taila controls vitiated Vayu and Pitta in the head. Vitiated Vata and Pitta would lead to many diseases of the brain, nerves and sense organs by producing degenerative and inflammatory changes respectively. They, when severely vitiated can cause irreversible damage in these organs.

Thus Moordha Taila is both a prophylactic (preventive) and curative measure. Since the brain and the nervous system controls the entire body functions, soothing them with Moordha taila procedures will keep the body fit and healthy. All the functions in the body will be carried out smoothly.

Pituitary gland is the master gland which controls all the endocrine functions in the body (functions of small glands which produce important chemicals which are needed for many body functions and discharge it into the blood stream directly, they don’t have ducts or tubes to drain their secretions), is located in the head.

Moordhi Taila, controls the pituitary functions and in turn all the other endocrine functions. This helps in the smooth running of the body mechanics. Moordhi Taila soothes the stressed and agitated mind and helps us to keep calm and at ease. Moordhi Taila helps in discharge of happy chemicals which helps us to come out of mood swings and live at peace.

Nityam sneha aardram shirasaha shiraha shoolam na jaayate
Na khaalityam na paalityam na keshaaha prapatanti cha
Balaha shiraha kapaalaanaam visheshena abhivardhate
Dridha moolaaha cha deerghaaha cha krishnaa keshaa bhavati hi
Indriyaanaam praseedanti su twak bhavati cha aananam
Nidraa laabhaha sukham cha syaat moordhni tailam nishevanaat (Ref – Charaka Sutra Sthanam 5/81-83)
When the head is kept moist by applying oil on it –
It prevents head ache (shira shoola)
It prevents baldness (khalityam)
It prevents premature greying of hair (paalityam)
It prevents hair fall (kasha prapatana)
It helps hairs to get deep rooted, long, dense, look beautiful and pitch black in colour
It keeps the sense organs in a healthy condition
It helps in improving the glow and complexion of the face
It helps in inducing good sleep (nidraa labha)
It provides happiness and pleasantness of mind (sukham), relieves stress
Rejuvenates and energizes the body
Agni sthairyam – establishes the normalcy of digestive fire and corrects metabolism
Ojo sthairyam – stabilises and fortifies ojus in the body (ojus is the essence of all the tissues formed as an end product of tissue formation, its normalcy in terms of quality and quantity points towards an established immunity)
Soothes the nerves and improves blood circulation
Removes stress, relaxes mind
Paatavam indriyasya – relaxes and rejuvenates the mind and senses
Jaraso maandhyam – delays ageing
Chiram jeevitam – provides longevity of life
Nitaraam doshaan – controls and creates equilibrium in all the doshas
Vrishataa – acts as an aphrodisiac
Murdhni Taila also prevents those diseases caused by Shiro Abhihata (mentioned above) and if those diseases have occurred, Murdhni Taila helps in mitigating them effectively.

Shiro rogaan tathaa rogaaha shiro abhyanga upakarshitaha
Keshaanaam maardavam dairghyam bahutvam snigdha krushnataam
Karoti shirasaha truptim sutvakkam api cha aananam
Santarpanam cha indriyaanaam shirasaha paripooranam (Ref – Sushruta Chikitsa 24/25,26)
Shiro Abhyanga is the treatment of choice for Shiro Rogas (diseases related to the head). The hairs become smooth, long, dense, oily and black. The head and its contents are nourished, the skin of the face becomes beautiful and glamorous and the sense organs are nourished.

Shiro Abhyanga wards off Roukshya (dryness of the head and scalp), Kandu (itching in the scalp) and Mala (dirt in the head)

Shiro Abhyanga imparts all the benefits of Abhyanga (Massage with herbal oils) –
Abhyangam acharet nityam sa jara shrama vataha
Drishti prasaadaha pushti ayu swapna su twak daardhya krit (Ref – Ashtanga Hridaya Sutra 2/7)

Tathaa shareeram abhyangaat dridam su twak cha jaayate
Prashaantam maaruta aabaadham klesha vyaayaama samsaham (Charaka Sutra 5/85)

Susparsho upachita angaha cha balavaan priya darshinaha
Bhavati abhyanga nityatvaat naro alpa jaraa eva cha (Ref – Charaka Sutra 5/89)

Abhyango maardava karaha kapha vaata nirodhinaha
Dhaatoonaam drishti janano mrujaa varna bala pradaha (Ref – Sushruta Chikitsa 24/30)
Jarahara / Alpa Jaraa – Halts ageing process
Shramahara – Relieves fatigue and tiredness
Vataha / Prashanta Maruta Abadham – Controls and expels morbid Vata, cures Vata disorders
Drishti prasaada – Improves vision
Pushti / Upachita Anga – Promotes strength and bulk of muscles
Ayu – Enhances life span
Swapna – Induces good sleep and relieves insomnia
Su Twak / Susparsha – Promotes skin health
Dardhya krit – Provides strength and stability and compactness to the body
Klesha samsaham – Improves tolerance to hardships
Vyayama samsaham – Enhances the capacity of exercise tolerance
Priya darshinaha / Varna Pradaha – Enhances beauty
Balavaan / Bala pradaha – Improves strength, integrity and immunity
Mardava Kara – Brings about smoothness of the body parts
Kapha Nirodhinaha – Expels morbid Kapha
Dhatoonaam Janano – Enhances quantity and quality of the tissues, thus enhancing the immunity of the body

Limitations

Shiro Abhyanga is one of the best Ayurvedic treatments which are used to prevent and treat many psychosomatic illnesses. It is the best stress relieving treatment. It provides good strength, freshness and energy, improves metabolism, circulation and nerve conduction.

But on the other hand it is not a sole remedy especially when used therapeutically. Parallel to it we might have to add some disease modifying drugs and or compounds and effective treatments for better relief.

Along with Shiro-Abhyanga some oral medications which enhance strength and stability should be included along with some immune-modulators, anti-ageing medicines and rejuvenators. Holistic mind-body healing is always the motto of Ayurveda.

Head massage is carried out as part of total body massage. In fact, the whole body massage starts with Shiro Abhyanga.
Shiro Abhyanga can be individually planned and used skilfully to mitigate the above mentioned diseases or for prevention of many psychosomatic diseases. It can be undertaken as a part of Dinacharya (daily regimen) on a daily basis by everyone. This gives Shiro Abhyanga a larger prophylactic dimension along with it curative utility.

On the contrary, when we plan Shiro Abhyanga we can also think of conducting Sarva Abhyanga along with Padabhyanga (foot massage) for added benefits of the treatment. When we plan Sarva Abhyang alongside Shiro Abhyanga we need to collect the oils needed for Sarva Abhyanga as well.

Different oils are preferred for Sarva Abhyanga and Shiro Abhyanga. Many times the doctor intellectually plans to use the same oil for both Sarva Abhyanga and Shiro Abhyanga. Ex, Ksheerabala Taila is an oil which can be used for both head and body in case of Vata afflictions, Vata disorders, degenerative diseases and headache and insomnia.

Skilfully planning the oil also will curtail the expenses of the treatment and make it affordable. Ayurveda advices to use fresh oil everyday. Therefore the pharmacy should have adequate stock of the oil. Even when the Shiro Abhyanga is planned to be carried out at home (since the procedure is simple and easy to do at home), the patient shall have sufficient oil stored at home (after having taken the consent and advise of the consulting doctor).

For Sharira Abhyanga (body massage) the below mentioned oils may be preferably used:
Sahacharadi Taila,
Ksheerabala Taila,
Chandanabala Lakshadi Tailam,
Dhanwantara Tailam,
Mahanarayana Tailam,
Balashwagandhadi Tailam,
Karpasastyadi Tailam,
Panchaguna Tailam etc

The oils should be selected keeping in view the body constitution, morbid doshas and nature of morbidity involved
Use of Chakra Taila –
Sushruta makes a special mention of oil called Chakra Taila for Shiro Abhyanga. This is an oil which is extracted by crushing the medicinal herbs in an yantra (machine).

Ingredients used –
Yashtimadhu – Glycyrrhiza glabra (Indian liquorice)
Vidari – Pueraria tuberose
Sarala – Pinus longifolia / Pinus roxburghii
Devadaru – Cedrus deodara
Laghu Panchamula – Roots of Shalaparni – Desmodium gangeticum, Prishniparni – Uraria picta, Brihati – Solanum indicum, Kantakari – Solanum surattense / Solanum xanthocarpum, Gokshura – Tribulus terrestris
The above said herbs are taken in 100 pala quantity (4800 grams approximately, all mixed together)
The above said herbs are crushed into coarse powder.
To this, 512 pala (24576 grams approximately) water is added and boiled on moderate flame of fire until only 110pala (5280 grams) of liquid remains.
The ingredients are filtered through a strong filter cloth or sieve and the solid material separated
To the filtrate, the paste of the above said herbs is added in a quantity of 8pala (388grams) and mixed well. Later Tila Taila (sesame oil) extracted after churning it in the machine (in the form of chakra or wheel) is added in a quantity of 32 pala (1546grams) is added and boiled until the whole water evaporates. This oil is called Chakra Taila and is exclusively used for Shiro Abhyanga.

Types of Moordha Taila

Abhyangaha sekaha pichavaha bastihi cha iti chatuhu vidham
Moordha tailam bahu gunam tat vidyaat uttara uttaram (Ref – Ashtanga Hridaya Sootram 2/23)
Moordha Taila or Murdhni Taila is of 4 types –
Shiro Abhyanga –
(Shiro=Head, Abhyanga=Massage) Shiro Abhyanga means massaging the head with herbal oils for a fixed duration of time (usually 30-40 minutes)
Shiro Seka / Shiro dhara –
(Shiro=Head, Seka or Dhara=Stream pouring) Shiro dhara or seka is a procedure in which the herbal oils or medicated liquids (milk, buttermilk etc) are poured in stream over the head of the person for a fixed duration of time (usually 35-45 minutes or 60 minutes)
Shiro Pichu –
(Shiro=Head, Pichu=Keeping a cotton pad dipped in oil) Shiro Pichu is a procedure in which a sterile cotton pad dipped in herbal oil is kept over the head (vertex or crown or entire scalp) and tied with a bandage cloth. The Pichu is kept in place for a fixed duration of time (usually 1-2 hours to ¼ to ½ a day)
Shiro Basti (Vasti) –
(Shiro=Head, Basti or Vasti=Pooling) Shiro Basti or Shiro Vasti is a procedure in which a cabin or compartment is constructed over the head of the person (in sitting position) using a leather cap, its junction with the head sealed with wet flour of black gram and filled with herbal oils. The oil is kept in position for a fixed duration of time (usually 45 minutes to 60 minutes). The temperature of the oil in Shiro Vasti should be monitored regularly and should never allow getting cool.

Note – The duration of the treatment is flexible and is fixed depending on the morbidity or as needed for the constitution of the person in question or as per the decision of the physician.

Each type of Murdhni Taila has its own benefits but they are comparably efficient in the chronology mentioned by Acharya Vagbhata (ancient Ayurvedic physician and teacher) in the above said verse –
Shiro Seka is more effective and beneficial in comparison to Shiro Abhyanga
Shiro Pichu is more effective and beneficial in comparison to Shiro Seka
Shiro Vasti is more effective and beneficial in comparison to Shiro Pichu

Just Before Finishing,
Shiro Abhyanga is the best treatment which Ayurveda provides for distressing, relaxing and to get rid of many psychosomatic illnesses. It is not all about applying oil over the head and massaging it deep. Shiro Abhyanga keeps our senses at peace, mind at tranquility, gives us the ability to win over day-to-day stress, provides a ‘never-been-so-healthy’ feel, regularizes metabolism, controls and balances the doshas, integrates body mind co-ordination and prevents many diseases.

It provides a comprehensive body-mind wellness. Many people may have reluctance on using the oils over their heads. But where do we get the lubrication and relaxation from if we don’t come out of certain inhibitions? We can’t sail in 2 boats.

Standing amidst this stressful world wherein our body, mind, senses and soul are undergoing wear and tear on a regular basis, it is high time that you go on for a body-mind servicing in a holistic and traditional way and earn a comprehensive health and a never experienced type of well being.

At the same time you can keep many diseases at bay. Shiro-Abhyanga has a benefit that it is very easy to do and practice within the 4 walls of your beautiful home provided you have a soul mate that can do it for you with pleasure and love. All you need to do is to find an experienced Ayurvedic doctor in your neighborhood and get some herbal oil suited to your body constitution or which can relieve your stress and morbidity!

Article by: Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ayu)
Email: [email protected]

1 thought on “Ayurvedic Head Massage: Benefits, Procedure”

  1. Great information. But please quote the exact sanskrit text in Devanagiri in addition to English. Otherwise the original will be eventually lost.

    Reply

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