Do you suffer from elevated stress levels or lack of sleep? If so, a simple daily foot massage with the use of some medicated oils — or padabhyanga as it is known in Ayurveda — could be your ticket to improved health.
Clinically too massage therapies have long been linked with reducing the levels of stress hormones and improved availability of dopamine and serotonin. Ayurveda says foot massages can relieve anxiety, nourish the eyes and help manage insomnia.
It does so by targeting the two nadis or channels located in the soles of our feet that are connected to the head, and stimulating marma or vital points. This is also like acupressure, which has been found effective in the management of stress by stimulating vital point or acupoints.
“Padabhyanga is indicated as a daily regimen which rejuvenates and revitalizes the body,” says Dr Viraj Hegde, consultant and associate professor at JS Ayurveda Mahavidayala in Nadiad, Gujarat. “Most of the cases of people with anxiety, insomnia and dryness of eyes are treated with foot massage and have shown positive outcome.”
Hegde says the effectiveness of the therapy will be far higher if an individual utilizes a selection of medicated oils based on the season, their age and constitution. The oils that are applied to the soles of our feet are absorbed into the skin and reach the eyes through nadis, providing nourishment.
In a study published in 2016 by researchers at Pune’s Sumatibhai Shah Ayurveda Mahavidyalaya, 60 individuals suffering from eye strain were split into two groups, one which received only oral medication while the other received both the medication and foot massages for a period of 60 days.
In the group that received only the medication, a reduction in symptoms was only seen in 33 per cent of the individuals, while in the cohort which received both the medication and foot massages, 70 per cent of individuals reported reduced symptoms.
In another study from Iran’s Hamadan University of Medical Sciences, researchers sought to test the ability of foot massages to improve sleep quality in patients hospitalized due to ischemic heart disease. They found that there was a significant improvement in sleep quality for patients who received the foot massages.
Research has shown that foot massages have also been seen to have a positive effect in improving the quality of sleep for mothers with sleep disorders in the post-delivery period and post-menopausal sleep disturbances, and in people suffering from multiple sclerosis and with end-stage liver disease.
According to Dr Sonia, an associate professor at SDM Institute of Ayurveda and Hospital in Bengaluru, padabhyanga is a dinacharya (to be practised every day) procedure and is effective at helping manage insomnia and stiffness in the foot due to disease.
“A slight massage for 10-15 minutes on a daily basis, especially before going to bed, helps a person get relaxed,” she says.
Anyone can practise padabhyanga, but it should be avoided by those who have open, ulcerative or infected wounds on their feet. People with skin disorders, suffering from fever, indigestion or any other injuries should also avoid the therapy.
The medicated oils are usually selected after looking into the body type (prakriti) of an individual, the age group they fall into, and the season. While the procedure can be performed at any time of the day, for treating conditions like disturbed sleep, stress and anxiety, it is preferred if the massage is done before going to bed.