Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Saturday Oil Bath

The Saturday oil bath is probably one of the most indulgent aspects of the Ashtanga tradition.  Saturday is rest day, but that doesn't mean it is devoid of ritual.  It is the day of the castor oil bath.  I realized that I have referenced the oil bath before, but a brief search of my posts surprised me.  I don't think I ever told you what I do.

I started doing oil baths before I found out it was an ashtanga tradition.  It was a part of the seasonal ayurveda cleanse I began doing a few years ago.  Then I learned that it was traditional to take a castor oil bath on Saturdays.  One of the benefits is the removal of excess heat that builds up from a week of practice.

Here's what you need for the oil bath (castor oil baths are not recommended if you are pregnant):

Castor oil - beginners might start with a lighter oil.  My first oil baths were with grapeseed oil, which is very light, to help balance out my Kapha nature.  Then I began incorporating sesame which is a bit heavier.

Coconut oil - traditionally castor oil is also used for the hair.  But my hair is thick, curly, and tangly.  One battle with castor oil told me it wasn't the right choice for my head.  Some would argue that I'm missing out on the best part since the body releases a lot of heat through the head.

A dry brush - you can get one at WF or other health stores.  It's a good investment.

Essential oils (optional) - castor oil has a very mineral odor.  I add some of my favorite essential oils.

An old towel or two - Do NOT put this in the dryer after use.  There is a risk of fire.  Machine wash and air dry.  Eventually discard.

Some nice music (I use my savasana mix) - maybe some inspirational reading (Meditations from the Mat) - candles and or incense to set a relaxing mood

Baking soda for clean-up


1.  Fill the sink with hot water and put your oil bottles in to warm the oil. This will make applying castor oil much easier.

2.  Lay out your towels where you'll be applying the oil, get the rest of your set-up ready and then get naked.

3.  Use the dry brush to gently work away dry skin.  Use circular motions on the joints and long strokes on the arms, legs and torso.

4.  Starting with the head and working towards the feet (switching oils if that is your preference), gently massage the oil into your skin, paying particular attention to areas that are achy, stiff or have pain.  I have always been astonished at how much more oil can be applied to areas where I have problems.  It's like the injury just sucks it all in.

You can do this sitting or standing, but I find standing is easier to do a more thorough job.  

5.  Sit or lie down.  They say that you should start with 5 minutes and work your way up to an hour. The castor oil experience can be pretty intense.  You may feel tingling or heat in the body.  Meditate or read while you wait.

6.  Rinse it all off in the shower.  Shampoo the hair before adding water to thoroughly remove oil from hair.  Be careful in the shower of slippery feet - you may want to towel them off before you get in.  You can continue to rub the oil in with the pores opening in the hot shower.  Then soap up and rinse.

7.  Use an old towel to towel off and put on some older pjs or other clothes that you don't mind getting some residual oil on.  Sprinkle baking soda on the shower floor to soak up any oil and eliminate slippery surprises for others in your house - my husband definitely appreciates this.

For the rest of the day, you may notice that you feel a little tired as you would after exercising.  Take it easy and drink lots of water.

For more on this, Claudia has a few nice posts here and here.  Also, my friend Kate, who originally taught this method to me in the Ayurveda seasonal cleanse, has more info here, see her pdf on abyanga, the ayurveda name for this method.   


  1. Thank you for this blog information. I have read Claudia's before but it's always nice to hear other peoples aspects or thoughts as well. I have to wait to try this ritual because of my pregnancy. How much castor oil do you use for your bath? And have you found a particular soap that removes the oil when showering?

    Thank you,

  2. Good question. Since I use it right out of the bottle, I haven't paid much attention to how much I'm using. But if I had to guess, I would say it's between 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup each time depending on how much my body soaks up that particular day.

    For soaps, I just use Whole Foods sandalwood bar soap. I'm ok with a certain amount of oil residue. If you were more particular, there is a powder that is applied in Indian to remove it all.

  3. Do you know what that powder is and if it's available anywhere here in the states? I've never tried the ritual so I'm not sure how I'll react to the residue.

    Thank you for the information.


  4. Hi Brianna,
    Kimberly Flynn says it is a mix of soap nut and "green powders." I think that you can find soap nut here in specialty Indian markets - there's one by my work, so I'll look into it. Banyan Botanicals may also carry it. I'm not sure what the "green powders" are. She also suggests almond oil instead of castor if you're worrying about rinsing it off.


    1. I meant to share her link too,

  5. shikaakaai powder is the right choice for to wash the oil instead of shampoo.(there is no man made chemical which is equal in washing capacity like the shikaakaai. it's a nut plucked from the shikaakaai tree). Take 5 or 8 grams of the powder in a bowl and you have to make a wet paste of it by slowly adding drops of water. you have to prepare this only after soaking your entire body in gingelly oil(or the oil of you choice)and about to take bath. immediately after making the paste, you have to take the requisite amount of the paste in the palm and rub it with both palms;add little water if needed and then apply it on the head only first. Rub it till you see froth.Very quickly wash it with copious amount of water as shikaakaai should not be allowed to remain on the body after it removed the oil. then likewise wash face next and then body and then legs with groin area included. Every time wash the shikaakaai froth quickly with good amount of water.
    for taking one oil bath for men 30-50ml of oil will do. and for women it may be 75ml for the entire body. i.e, you have to apply half of it on top of the head and the remaining half to be smeared all over the body and can be allowed to soak for 15-30 mins normally and not more then that is

    1. Thanks for the info. Do you happen to know if this powder is available outside of India?

    2. I believe it must be available in USA. Many of my friends in US says that everything they get here are available there also. ( Best choice is Meera shikaakaai powder by a company called CavinCare. A Rs.2 sachet(5gms) is usually enough for a bath. 1 dollar=55 it might be a few cents in US). I think you are a US citizen :) .

    3. thanks again, strongbuddy. I'll look for it at my local Indian market. If it's not there, I'll find it online. Cheers!

  6. My sisters had asked me to add more information and make things clearer further. And that's why i am writing this again. observe these steps while using shikakai powder.

    immediately after making the paste, you have to take the requisite amount of the paste in the palm and rub it with both palms;add little water as needed and make it squamous by continuous rubbing and then run your palms all over the head to spread it on all the hair;immediately apply a palm full of water on top of the head and massage the entire head area quickly so that the water makes a frothy and slowly flowing liquid of the paste. run your fingers all over the head and behind the ears and ensure that this shikakai froth touches all over the head(hair&scalp) and behind the ear lobes. complete this in less than 30 -40 seconds(yes seconds only).. And that's it. now very quickly pour large amount of water on top of your head and clean the head area. And if you have long hair wash the remaining length of hair separately. This is how my sisters will do it. once you feel that the shikakai froth is removed ;stop pouring water and not again it is required to pour water.
    repeat the same steps part by part of the body and remove the shikakai as quickly as possible.

    while transferring the fine powder either from the sachet or from the container to the bowl do it slowly because it will easily waft through the air and reach your nose if you do it carelessly fast. And while opening the sachet tap it to have a cutting space and cut it using a scissor through the entire width of it and not just the corner alone and capsize it carefully into the bowl and lift the sachet slowly as the powder falls into the bowl. tap the sachet mildly so that no powder remains in the sachet. (tap mildly because strong tapping may send some powder waft into the air). Inhaling even a scant amount of powder or even the smell of it is considered to be incorrect by some remote villagers but i don't think so.
    i will use one and half packets of Meera herbal shikakai powder for entire body bath but my sisters use just one sachet for head and for their long hair and bath soap for the rest of the body.

    If you buy either sachet or plastic container the price is just proportionate. i.e, the sachet here is Rs.2/- for 5gms and for a 50gms plastic container it is Rs.20/-. i always buy a garland of 10 sachets for Rs.20 instead of buying a container having the same amount and same price because the powder in the container gets a bit dumb within a few days. but sachet keeps it fresh.
    both shikakai powder and gingelly(sesame)oil are readily available anywhere and give the same health benefits of any other much costlier oil and bathing powders give. keep the cost down and enjoy good health.

  7. General observations about oil bath:
    1.very economical and required once in a week
    2.avoid using hot/warm water bath if you have nerves problems .
    3.people above the age of 65-70 may avoid taking oil bath Or they may experience hypothermia and pass away.
    4.don't sleep during the day after taking oil bath. sleep will further lower the body temperature and you may get sick(but not necessarily).
    5.after taking bath,dry the hair in the open sun(for a few minutes) if possible or under the fan. do this especially if you have long hair and ensure that water is removed from hair and scalp.( i have crew cut but still i towel and thrash the hair well with hand standing under the fan)
    6. people having disc wear problem in their vertebra or having worn disc in the neck should not take oil bath.This will increase the pain further.
    7.Healthy cold prevailing in our body prevents many diseases like jaundice, cancer and other viral diseases.
    8.We can get healthy, deep sleep and good concentration in our daily activities.
    9.Side effects of severe diet control can be cleared by this good healthy habit.
    10. By giving healthy cold to our body we can have good appetite and increased feeling of taste.

    in the above 10 points 7-10 are got from a siddha doctor.
    Ok.time's up. enjoy your oil bath and have good health. see you later :).

  8. Wow! Thanks again, strongbuddy, to you and your sisters for all of your insight!

    1. I like ur 7th 8th Point.Bcos i am suffering from sleeping disorder last 2 years after one dieting program-Crash diet.After i returned to normal diet,i was sleeping gud for 2days.WHen i had a oil bath at night 7PM in the 3rd day,severe insomnia started which exists until now.
      Then,after some time,i take oil bath in the early morning at 8AM,the same day i have severe sleeping probm.May be i did some wrong.
      Could you help me. and i am just 30.


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