An Overview to External Oleation Therapies(Bahya Snehana)
Oleation therapy is an inevitable treatment modality in the practice of Panchakarma.
Snehana can be a pre-operative as well as a post operative procedure. It can be broadly classified
into Shodhananga( purificatory) and Shamananga snehana(pacifying). Application of sneha
dravyas( oils/ghee) externally for the purpose of oleation is bahya snehana (external oleation). It
is practiced as a part of dinacharya and ritucharya in healthy individuals and in diseased it is used
for the pacification of diseases. External oleation therapies can be sthanika (localized) or
sarvadaihika (whole body). The various external oleation therapies include
- Abhyanga (oil Massage)
- Murdhni taila (snehana for head)
- Pizhichil (oil bath)
- Tarpana( nourishing therapy) etc.
It is the widely practiced bahya snehana procedure. Abhyanga can be done irrespective
of age, gender, diseased or healthy state of the individual. It is a very effective treatment
modality for diseases caused due to vata dosha and skin disorders. Abhyanga is usually
contraindicated in diseases due to kapha dosha predominance, persons suffering from fever,
indigestion, diseases due to over nourishment etc. oil massage should be done with care in
various pathological conditions like severe renal and cardiac disorders, acute inflammation,
fractures, open wounds, Deep Vein thrombosis.
While performing abhyanga, oil is made leuke warm by indirect heating method and it is
applied over the person’s body and various manipulatory techniques are performed in the
direction of hair follicles for a duration of 45 minutes- 1 hour in the seven postures. Oil massage
should be done specifically for head, ears and feet to get the complete benefit of the procedure.
The various physiological effects of abhyanga is reflected on various bodily systems like
circulatory system, lymphatic system, nervous and respiratory system and is also beneficial on
blood, metabolism, skin, joint mobilities, nutrient exchange etc.
The science of ayurveda gives special importance to Shiras/Head which is a vital part of
the human body. It is told that head should be protected by all means and therefore, snehana for
the head is given utmost importance. It is performed in the form of murdhni taila which includes
four therapeutic procedures using snehana ehich are shiro abhyanga (head massage), shirodhara
(pouring oil over head), shiro pichu (oil soaked gauze over the head), shiro basti (retention of oil
Shiro abhyanga is application of oil over the head followed by massage using various
techniques for a minimum duration of 20 -30 minutes. It is among the dinacharya procedures
and is usually done as a part of body massage. It is highly beneficial for relieving stress, dryness
and itching of scalp region and imparts healthy state for hairs.
Shiro dhara is the continuous pouring of medicated oil in a systematic manner on the
forehead or scalp using the dhara yantra. In this procedure, the continuous systematic
oscillations of the dhara patra are maintained to regulate the flow of oil over the fore head in a
patient lying in supine position. Benefits of shiro dhara includes stability of speech and mind,
increases strength and appetite, improves sweetness of voice, smoothness of skin, eye sight,
sleep, nourishes the body, increases desire and longevity.
Shiro pichu is the procedure wherein a small piece of cotton cloth or gauze is dipped in
the medicated oil and kept on the anterior fontanalle. It is indicated in localized diseases of the
scalp like falling of hairs, splitting of hairs and loss of movement of eyeballs.
Shiro basti is an unique procedure where the medicated oil in specific quantity is
retained in the head using a cap. It is done for a duration of 30-50 minutes based on the disease
condition. The indications of Shiro basti includes facial paraysis, insomnia, migraine headaches,
dandruff, cataract, dryness of nose and mouth and loss of sensation.
Pizhichil a traditional treatment modality practiced in Kerala, has the dual effect of both
snehana(oleation) and swedana (sudation). The whole body is bathed continuous streams of
leukwarm medicated oil with simultaneous soft massage. The literary meaning of the term
pizhichil is “squeezing”. Pizhichil is highly beneficial in hemiplegia, paraplegia (conditions of
reduced/loss of strength in half / complete body) post-polio paralysis, low back ache, sciatica,
painful conditions of the body parts etc.
The literary meaning of the term tarpana is “ to nourish”. Here, in ayurveda therapeutics,
tarpana refers to the nourishing therapy done to the eyes, ears etc. using medicated oils/ ghee.
Akshi tarpana (nourishing therapy to the eyes) is the most commonly practiced variety of
tarpana. It is one among the netra kriya kalpas and is highly beneficial in the treatment of eye
diseases. In this procedure, the eyes are filled with medicated oil or ghee for a specific duration
and the person is asked to blink the eyes.
Akshi tarpana helps to relieve vision problems, stiffness of eyelids , dryness of eyes,
squint, falling of eyelashes, paralysis of eyeball, glaucoma, corneal opacity, difficulty in opening
and closing of eyes, nervous disorders of eyes and many more.
The external oleation therapies includes a wide range of treatment modalities and is not
restricted to the above four procedures. In this blog, these procedures were given more
importance as they are the widely practiced and highly beneficial therapies among the bahya
snehanas described in the authentic books of Ayurveda.
Dr.Amritha Rajan, MD(Ayu), PhD
Department of Panchakarma