Ayurvedic & Yoga Articles

Shirodhara: The Signature Treatment of Ayurveda

One of the most common ailments seen now-a-days is stress. And as a result of stress people suffer from a wide range of conditions e.g. stress related hypertension, stress related digestive problems, stress related skin ailments, stress related insomnia etc.

If one was to handle stress well, then one would also prevent the above mentioned conditions and many more. There are many aids, treatments, foods, exercises, and massages etc that help us to beat stress.

But what about a treatment where therapists can actually put their clients to sleep without touching them? Can there be a short treatment of perhaps 30-45 minutes that would help to show results of 8-10 hours of deep sleep. And at the end of the treatment the client feels not only relaxed but rejuvenated with a clear mind to be able to focus well.

This is very much possible. The answer to all these questions is an Ayurvedic therapy called Shirodhara. Shirodhara is the signature treatment of Ayurveda which is not found in any other system of medicine.

  • Shiro mean Head
  • Dhara means to flow

Hence when put together it means something that flows over the head or forehead. Hence it can also be called the "Ayurvedic forehead oil flow treatment".

Warm herb-infused Ayurvedic oil is gently and steadily poured over the forehead across the third eye in a continuous stream using a special rhythmic swaying movement.

Ayurveda says "Don't put anything on your skin that you cannot put on your tongue because just the way everything that you put on your tongue gets absorbed and reaches different parts of your body so will everything that you put on your skin get absorbed to the deepest tissues like bones"

Importance of head and face in Ayurveda:

  • The head, neck and face region are of immense importance in Ayurveda as this is the first point of entry for Prana or life force into our body. Oxygen is the food for Prana. And we inhale this through the nose.
  • This is also the first point of entry for air, food and water via the nose and mouth.
  • Ayurveda believes that as long as all the five sense organs are healthy and happy one can live a very long life.
  • We are in contact with the external world via these five sense organs and all of them are situated on the head and face region e.g eyes, nose, tongue, ears and skin.
  • There are seven Chakras in the body: Muladhara, Swadhishtana, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddha, Ajna and Sahasrara. Among these Chakras, Yoga and Ayurveda do give a lot of importance to Ajna and Sahasrara Chakras as they control the other Chakras and from a more scientific perspective they are related to important organs like the pituitary, hypothalamus and the brain.

Marma Points in Auyrveda

  • Ayurveda speaks of energy centres in the body called Marma points. Marma points are connected with each other by energy channels called Nadis.
  • Under normal circumstances, energy should flow uninterrupted through the Nadis while passing through the Marma points.
  • Due to external influences like stress, tension, lack of rest etc energy tends to get blocked in Marma points. This results in symptoms of stress and strain.
  • Blockage of these points will also result in early aging and many other ailments. Treating these Marma points will also help to prevent diseases or if there is any, it will help to treat or cure them.

When a Shirodhara treatment is given, it affects all the points mentioned above.

  • It regulates the hormonal system by working on the Chakras.
  • It helps to soothe the nervous system.
  • It helps to strengthen the immunes system by inducing a state of deep meditation and relaxation and hence encourages endorphin production in the body.
  • It helps to pacify the three Doshas by working on the Marma points.
  • And lastly the continuous pouring of oil gives a sense of deep relaxation.

In addition to relieving disorders, it also has an added effect of awakening the third eye, invigorating the physical system and the mind and stimulating the cognitive memory.

Shirodhara helps to strengthen the following qualities in a client:

  • Determination and self-restraint
  • Thinking
  • Reasoning
  • Meditation
  • Analysis
  • Clarity of mind
  • Focus
  • Memory

It is a well known fact that whatever affects the nervous system (or immune and endocrine system) influences the other two systems profoundly. In the scientific field, it has been proved how deep these influences are. Shirodhara is one those excellent therapies that helps to soothe, relax, refresh the nervous system completely. By the time the treatment is finished, this also profoundly affects the endocrine and the immune system.

Shirodhara is a treatment that can be given all year round. It is suitable for all body types. Very traditionally this treatment is given during the day particularly in the morning between the hours of 7am and 11am. But the basic principle is that after the treatment the client should not return home to sleep for a few hours. It is important that the client stays awake for at least a few hours after the treatment.

The duration of the treatment may vary according to a person's Dosha type or the imbalance involved.

  • Vata personalities or Vata disorders: approximately 60 minutes
  • Pitta personalities or Pitta disorders: approximately 45 minutes
  • Kapha personalities or Kapha disorders: approximately 35 minutes

Indications for this treatment are quite varied. Shirodhara is widely used as treatment to induce a state of deep relaxation. It helps to alleviate stress, improves perception of the senses, and alleviates anxiety, anger, and nervousness.

Ayurvedically, the indication can be divided as Vata, Pita and Kapha diseases. Some of the indications are as follows:

  • Vata: Insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, insomnia, difficulty to gain weight, mental exhaustion, Facial Palsy, hemiplegia or paraplegia, paralysis, constipation.
  • Pitta: burning sensation in the head and neck region, stress related conditions, hypertension, ulcerations or inflammations in upper part of the body, greying of hair, loss of hair excessive sweating.
  • Kapha: excessive sleep, lethargy, mucus conditions in the body, weak digestion, low appetite, anorexia, even conditions like high cholesterol, diabetes.

The list of indications is quite long but these are just some of them. Shirodhara is actually one of the Rasayana or anti-aging therapies which helps to promote longevity and is therefore including in anti-aging treatments packages. Shirodhara also helps to enhance both internal and external beauty therefore it is included in many beauty packages that are offered at various spas.

To be able to give Shirodhara treatment, a therapist needs the following equipment and accessories.

  • Shirodhara stand which is made of teak wood and hence quite light to handle and yet stable
  • Shirodhara pot which is made of copper and induces its medicinal qualities to the oil during the treatment
  • Shirodhara headrest on which the client places his head. This helps the oil to be collected in a container without causing any mess or oil being spilled everywhere. The Shirodhara headrest ensures that the treatment when given is clean.
  • Massage table on which the client lies down.
  • Ayurvedic oil to suit the person's constitution or the imbalance that needs to be corrected.
  • Ayurvedic oil warmer is used to warm up the oil while the treatment is being given
  • Two containers or pans to hold oil during the treatment
  • Shirodhara headband that prevents the oil from going into the eyes.
  • Other accessories used are Rose Water to cover the eyes during the treatment, a hot water bag for the feet to keep the client warm.

Technique:

  • The client lies down on the table. The treatment is started with a short Abhyanga to the whole body or just the face.
  • The client then lies down with himself facing toward the ceiling. The eyes are cover with rose water eye pad and the Shirodhara headband is tied.
  • Thereafter the warm oil is poured over the forehead through the Shirodhara pot which hangs from the Shirodhara stand. The oil is poured over the forehead in a thick yet gentle flow. The therapist ensures that the oil is being poured continuously without any breaks in the flow.
  • The flow is directed across the forehead in an oscillating manner from one temple region to the other. This is very important to induce a complete beneficial effect from the treatment.
  • The pouring of oil is continued for at least 20 minutes or based on the person's constitution or the imbalance in the body.

Most practitioners use warm sesame seed based Ayurvedic oil. But other liquids can also be used based on specific indications:

  • Buttermilk Shirodhara is called Takra Dhara: this is usually used for cardiovascular indications e.g. high blood pressure, heart related problems etc.
  • Clarifies butter (Ghee) with some oil: This is used for high Pitta related conditions eg excess heat in the body, ulcerations, inflammations etc
  • The latest addition has also been the use of herbal decoctions which can be used for Kapha related conditions or conditions where oils may be contraindicated.
  • Goat's milk or cow's milk mixed with herbal decoctions is used for certain gastro intestinal ailments.

Usually in India two therapists are needed to give this treatment, but when properly trained this treatment can be given by just one therapist or practitioner.

It is strongly recommended that you consult a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner if you suffer from any ailments. The treatment protocol may change based on a person's body constitution and disease.