“When under stress, I go to my mom for a champi,” says Bengaluru-based IT professional Sudha Krishnappa.
Nestling her head in her mother’s lap for a gentle, 10-minute head massage, she says, means many comforting benefits. “Not only does it help me to get good sleep, but it also improves my hair quality,” she shares.
Krishnappa’s love for the easy-on-the-pocket head massage is shared by many across age groups in India. Champi, a popular term used to describe a head massage with or without oil, has been known to relieve stress and improve one’s hair and scalp health.
‘Relaxing and invigorating’
“A gentle head massage is both relaxing and invigorating. The action helps to reduce anxiety and to promote sleep,” says Dr Adarsh Shetty, of Bengaluru’s Atmabhav Integral Wellness Centre.
Ayurveda refers to the head as a superior organ (uttamanga in Sanskrit) as it protects the brain and contains the sensory organs namely the eyes, the nose, the mouth, and the ears. Accordingly, this vital organ deserves to be treated with an oil massage that has far-reaching benefits.
Research upholds the caress
A 2016 study conducted on healthy women by South Korean researchers chronicled the effect of scalp massage on their stress hormone, blood pressure, and heart rate. The study noted positive effects on all the three aspects that were monitored.
A 2002 study titled Massage Therapy and Frequency of Chronic Tension Headaches and published in the American Journal of Public Health found a head massage effective and helpful in relieving tension-related headaches and their frequency.
A caring gesture
Touch is one of the most expressive ways of establishing a connection between two individuals. This therapeutic connection is backed by research that found that tactile (touch) gestures, especially from loved ones, counteract stress and the ageing process besides serving as overt signs of care and affection.
The scalp is home to a network of nerve endings and receptors that communicate sensations and are connected directly with the brain. This is called the somatosensory circuit. During a head massage, the touch stimulates and increases the production of `happy’ hormones serotonin and dopamine in the brain.
This point is highlighted in a 2004 study conducted by researchers from Touch Research Institute, University of Miami School of Medicine. The study evaluated the effect of a head massage on women who had undergone breast cancer surgery for Stage 1 and 2 tumours.
The researchers found that the champi therapy reduced anxiety, depression, and anger as immediate effects in the participants. Among the long-term benefits were reduced depression, reduced hostility and increased levels of dopamine and serotonin.
Known as Shiro-abhyanga in Ayurveda, this line of treatment likens the human body to an inverted tree whose roots are like the human head and the trunk and branches are akin to the human limbs and torso.
Dr Jigeesh PP, senior consultant, and professor at Vaidyaratnam P.S. Varier Ayurveda College, Kottakkal, Kerala, emphasises that a head massage with oil goes beyond cosmetic purposes.
“An oil massage of the head is advised to treat health conditions such as itchiness and dryness in the scalp, inflammatory conditions, paralysis or hemiplegia, and several types of headaches,” adds Dr Anjitha J Pillai, physician and medical officer at Prana Ayurvedic Centre, Ernakulam, Kerala.
Self-care at home
“From children to the elderly, anybody can take a champi at home as a self-care ritual at least once in a week or 10 days,” says Dr Vijetha Goyal, Bengaluru–based certified nutritionist, and integrative health coach.
In her view, one should start listening to the body’s cues on what it needs and “start pampering the body, especially with simple remedies like a champi.”
Note: People with a body constitution of kapha and those with illnesses related to respiratory issues are advised not to keep the oil on the head overnight.
The champi effect
- Reduces anxiety by counteracting the levels of cortisol, a stress indicator, and improves the mood of a person
- Improves blood circulation and promotes sleep
- Stimulates hair roots and promotes hair growth
- Can alleviate stress-related headaches
- Lowers high blood pressure
Choosing the right oil
Coconut oil is one of the most widely used oils across India for applying on the hair and scalp. Other suitable oils are almond oil, sesame oil, castor oil, and oils infused with herbs.
Coconut oil has a lower molecular weight and high affinity for hair proteins. This property allows it to penetrate the hair shaft more effectively than other oils.
One can also add a few drops of essential oils – of lavender, rosemary, tea tree, or eucalyptus – to base oils such as coconut oil, almond oil, castor oil, or sesame oil.