November 2019


Secrets of indigenous Ayurveda oils
November 2019




A Katiwasthi treatment for a lower back pain.

Ayurveda oils, one of the oldest remedies in the ancient system of healthcare, is an embodiment of purity and goodness that soothes the mind and heals the body.

Words: Jennifer Paldano Goonewardena.

Sri Lanka's indigenous system of healthcare, among many of its traditions is still well-regarded. The village physician or the Veda Mahaththaya was the central figure in this holistic system of healing that was practiced for generations, the knowledge passing on from one generation to the next. Rich and intense, oil is one medication among many in Ayurveda that is used today as it was a thousand years ago.

There are many types of Ayurvedic oils, at least 150 in the pharmacopeia. Ayurveda oils are used externally, applied to specific parts of the body and in body massages, and also consumed in various concoctions. This treatment gently and progressively leads to relief from pain and obstructions, ensures relaxation and detoxification, releases stress and tension, and assists in blood circulation.

All primary ingredients for Ayurveda oils are from trees, plant extracts such as leaves, fruits, bark, roots, and flowers. Their flavour, fragrance, and colour, as well as the reaction when an ingredient is crushed or mixed with a base oil are all vital knowledge. Maturity of the tree is an important element in selection. For instance, in sandalwood, it is the centre part of the trunk - the Aratuwa, which has to be at least 20 years old, that is used in oils. Stringent quality standards have to be adhered to, such as keeping to specific times from gathering the raw materials to their use before the active ingredients in them evaporate.

The procedure in making Ayurveda oils, whether taken internally or externally is the same. And, like everything else there is a tradition to its preparation, formulae scrupulously prepared according to the knowledge of our forebears. The process is time consuming, an essential element to enhance the oil's therapeutic potency and medicinal properties.

Generally, an Ayurveda oil contains, depending on the variety, up to 80-90 ingredients, which does not include fragrances and extracts, and these ingredients are boiled and matured with either coconut or sesame oil, cooked on low heat, at times for four days, until it reaches the'Padama' or consistency. Padama has many attributes such as colour, fragrance, viscosity, and absorbability. The oil and the ingredients are stirred constantly, not mixed. The physician who supervises and monitors the process, tests the Padama over several hours, while maintaining the required heat, which cannot be too high or too low. In the old days wood from the cinnamon tree was used for firewood as it burns consistently on low heat.

In Ayurveda, application of oil is not just an exercise of rubbing a greasy concoction on an affected part of the body, the application by a physician is a ritual, a sort of a pooja, where he would chant sacred verses in Pali or Sanskrit, invoking the help of gods and various energies, calling upon his mental and spiritual strength to give relief to the patient through the anointing of oil. It is not just the oil that gives relief, the healing process includes blessings the physician petitions the gods for and the energies of the cosmos. The physician has the ‘healing touch', the ability to transfer the energies in his body to the fingertips.

While the sacred pooja of the physician transfers the process of healing into a cosmic realm, the effectiveness of an oil is based on how it is applied, when it is applied and the length of time it is kept on.

Most oils have to be heated for better penetration and to allow the active ingredients to be absorbed into the body or skin and for that reason Ayurveda oil is rubbed onto the skin. In certain Ayurvedic treatments, such as Shirodhara, a thin stream of oil is poured consistently onto the forehead.

Ayurveda oil was not used to treat symptoms, rather it was to address the root cause of a particular condition; the treatment is both internal and external.

There are Ayurveda oils meant only for a certain part of the body, or for a particular ailment and for different stages of an illness. That is where the expertise of an Ayurveda physician is required to tell the patient the proper oil to be selected. Interestingly, Ayurveda oil was not used to treat symptoms, rather it was to address the root cause of a particular condition; the treatment is both internal and external.

Certain oil treatments demand that the patient remains stationary for a few hours, indoors and not exposed to sunlight. The application is left on at least for three - four hours and even a bathe is done on the advice of the physician. Generally, an oil treatment will not begin before sunrise and will not be done after sunset, so the best time for the treatment, especially to the head is done before midday. The physician would also advise the patient on making healthy lifestyle choices, such as food as well as adequate rest to complement the treatment. Depending on the ailment, oil treatment is done over a period of time, until the patient finds relief.

Ayurveda oils come from nature's best, and using them will bring about a balance in physical, mental and spiritual health through the seasons and different stages of life.

Information and photography support: Asoka Hettigoda, Managing Director, Siddhalepa Group.

  • image01
    image01

    Shirodhara treatment soothes the mind and body.

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Various oils are used in foot massage.

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Consistency (Padama) is achieved by boiling the ingredients for a specified time.

    Prev Next