How one woman found yoga, eased her inner hunger, and started loving herself. Follow Kimber as she shares her journey to loving her body, the joys and sorrows of yoga teaching, and venturing into the wilderness of writing and publishing.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Love Your Body Blog Part 26: Love in a Bottle… Share Some with Your Body Today

Have you ever given yourself a massage? I’ve heard yoga called self-massage, and I agree… but have you ever gently rubbed yourself all over with lotion or oil, from head to toe? What if you could give yourself nearly the same feeling of contentment and well-being you receive at the hands of a massage therapist… or even more?

I first heard of self-massage, a yogic cleansing practice, from yoga philosophy teacher Carlos Pomeda. Every morning, Carlos told our group of yoga students, he practiced self-massage, rubbing Ayurvedic (yogic medicine) oils into his skin, all over his body. I was surprised. Even after years of doing yoga, I was reluctant to touch my unclothed body; unless my skin was itching or flaking off, I rarely treated it to any kind of lotion. But I looked at Carlos and realized for the first time (I know, it seems odd) that he was not a supermodel. He didn’t have the “perfect” body. And he wasn’t afraid to touch his body and give it the attention and moisture it deserved. If Carlos could do it, surely I could, too. I sensed that my body needed this practice, but I just filed Carlos’ suggestion to the back of my brain for later.

Months later, I did an Ayurvedic cleanse (an eating cleanse, I call it---I don’t do starving cleanses), where our guide asked us to do self-massage with warmed organic raw sesame oil every morning before showering. Being told I had to do it, putting it on my to-do list, worked for me.

If I have to rub warm sesame oil all over my skin I guess I can force myself to do it.

I set the bottle of oil into a cup of very hot water to warm it, then gently smoothed the oil on my arms and hands, moving eventually to my chest and belly, then even my hips, legs, and feet. We were supposed to even use it in our hair and ears, but quickly I found that using it above my neck was too messy for me, also, the skin on my face is plenty oily already, thank you.

But the rest of my body loved it, felt nourished and replenished by me, the one person whose love matters the most.

Far beyond the end of the weeklong cleanse, I found myself using my sesame oil every day to commune with my body in a basic, loving way.

One morning something else Carlos had said floated to the top of my brain: during his self-massage, he often repeated mantras. Om Namah Shivaya, or “I honor the divine within myself,” is one he mentioned, and so I began to repeat it to myself in both Sanskrit and English. “This body is divine, too,” I whispered, smiling that the yoga teaching I’d heard so many times should arise at this extraordinarily appropriate moment. To my utter surprise, I found myself believing the words, my body soaking them in, filterless, and an overarching sense of being beloved and cherished settled into me.

Why does this work? I don’t know, but I have lots of theories.

Self-massage reassures the body on a cellular level that it is worthy of touch, worthy of love.

It increases your attention and empathy with your body, and tells your brain, this is me, this is part of me, this is mine, I am whole. It bypasses our thinking patterns and allows us, for a few minutes each day, to relate to the body not as a vehicle but as the alive, vibrant, strong, yet fragile being that we are.

Massage given by someone else is wonderful as well. In fact, I often have students and friends come to me about someone in their life, usually a young woman, who appears to be headed down the road to anorexia, and ask if there is anything I can suggest. Among other things, I always suggest massage. Get that young woman to weekly (or more frequent) massage appointments with a loving, affirming therapist who can, through touch, remind her of her beauty and worthiness.

According to the University of Maryland Clinic website,

“For centuries, human touch has been shown to be emotionally and physically healing. Particular massage techniques may either stimulate or calm the body's muscles and tissues to create a desired effect. When a practitioner massages soft tissue, electrical signals are transmitted both to the local area and throughout the body. These signals, in combination with the healing properties of touch, help heal damaged muscle, stimulate circulation, clear waste products via the lymphatic system, boost the activity of the immune system, reduce pain and tension, and induce a calming effect. Massage may also enhance well-being by stimulating the release of endorphins (natural painkillers and mood elevators) and reducing levels of certain stress hormones.”

Try a daily self-massage with warm oil for a week, before or after you shower. Make it your personal daily retreat. You probably don’t even have to go out and buy any oil---use the olive oil in your pantry. Use a natural oil, free of additives… make it something your body wants to eat and enjoy. Or head to the health food store, in the food oil section… and look for the raw organic sesame oil to get started. Or if you want a more personalized oil, contact your local Ayurvedic practitioner and ask them what type of oil they recommend for your body type.

Notice how your body feels during the week you’re doing the self-massage, and notice any changes in how you feel about your body.

If you notice the self-massage bolsters the friendly and loving relationship you’re creating with yourself, keep it up, and see where it leads you!

Next post: To be your body’s friend, protect it from its enemies.