Indian Head Massage or, Shiro-Abhyanga in Sanskrit, is a traditional Ayurvedic body treatment which has been practiced for thousands of years. Originally performed as a preparation for religious pilgrimages or sacred ceremonies, it has become in modern times a potential antidote to stress, tension and hair loss among other things.
In Ayurveda, the head is believed to hold great healing potential and is considered the ‘shrine’ of the body. It is the site of three important marmas (energy channels similar to acupressure points in Traditional Chinese Medicine) which when stimulated correctly can affect the entire body increasing circulation (or prana, life force).
The benefits of Indian Head Massage are said to include:
- Hair preservation
- Scalp conditioning
- Peaceful mind
- Calms anxiety
- Cleanses away negative thoughts and worries
A treatment will usually last around 30 minutes and is often placed before or after another treatment. Traditionally it is performed after abhyanga (massage of the entire body) and before shirodhara (a treatment where liquid oil is poured over the forehead). At Ayurvedic Rituals Spa in Toronto, owner Andrea Olivera (pictured) will often pair it with an Ayurvedic facial and I’m told that by the time you get to resting with your mask on you are so relaxed you are virtually asleep!
I went to her elegant new studio at Bathurst/Dupont in Toronto last week to try out a head massage. I have had one before but it was performed while I was seated whereas this time I undressed from the waist up and lay down on a deliciously heated, padded massage table covered with a blanket which made for a much more relaxing experience.
At Ayurvedic Rituals, it all actually begins with a consultation (it can be in person or on the phone when you’re booking). Various contraindications are made clear: head massage is not suitable for anyone with recent head or neck injuries, vertigo, nor if you are suffering acutely with any kind of illness. (It’s worth mentioning here that people with nut allergies also have to be careful as most Indian oils have either almond or macadamia nut in the base although this is not the case at Andrea’s spa where all her oils are nut free.)
I was led through a ritual before the massage of smelling all Andrea’s fragrances and choosing one to be sprayed with as I made an intention for my massage that aligned with the healing properties of her handmade perfumes. It was both grounding and clarifying and set the scene for a massage that touched the mental and emotional layers before a hand had even been laid on me.
When the warm, gooey, sweet-smelling oil oozed onto my head it was just pure pleasure. I had an experience of feeling like a baby cocooned in this space of love and care as massaging hands began to work my neck, shoulders and upper chest.
There is a beautiful flowing rhythm to Indian Head massage. Depending on your prakriti (your Ayurvedic constitution) or what doshas (the humours, or elements, that make up your constitution) need balancing the tempo of the massage can be gentle and soothing or more stimulating and invigorating. For my massage, it went from soft and grounding initially to a stronger and more invigorating pressure which felt like a careful and balanced interplay which left me feeling both relaxed and energized.
When the hot towels were draped over me to wipe the oil clean, I felt thoroughly softened. Part of my soul had melted onto the sheets. There is a short few minutes where they sit you up and massage your back with oil before cleaning you off with towels. This does get any part of you still left out in the ethers back into your body as the firm, grounding strokes up and down the length of the spine pull you down to earth.
Your head will look like a wet chicken by the end of the massage so bring an old hat and wear something you don’t mind possibly getting oil on for going home. Pitta types will remember, Vata types will forget and Kaphas will be so blissed out they just won’t care…
If you are interested in trying the experience for yourself, the good news is that readers of this blog will get a discount. Book a 45 minute session (worth $55) for $30 and mention this blog when you book.
Telephone (416) 504 6049 or email to book your appointment at firstname.lastname@example.org