Surprising Benefits of Ayurveda’s 4 Treatments That Apply Oil to the Head

In clinical Ayurveda, it’s important to be as specific as possible and provide the treatment that is the most specific possible to support a condition. Hopefully, this gives you a few ‘a-ha’s about why we recommend one over the other, when oil on the head is actually contraindicated entirely!



The first is abhyanga – just placing oil on the head or even massaging it in a bit without much pressure, like what I ask clients to do with special medicinal oils the day before they wash their hair. It’s a recommended part of the Ayurvedic daily routine or dinacharya, and part of treatment when the problem is on the superficial level: when there is dry hair or dry itchy scalp. Applying oil to the head as a home maintenance practice can be critical support to the other 3 treatments. It is particularly useful in insomnia and problems with eyesight involving requiring nourishing of the eye fluid, nerves, and muscles.

Shirodhara takes it one level deeper to the rasa & rakta channels. It’s an essential part of a clinical program when there’s certain causes of headaches and scalp problems, and burning sensations in the head, and recommended for tendency for premature greying or hair loss with.


In fact, shirodhara is a type of seka, or pouring treatment. In Ayurveda, streaming liquids continuously over a local area, full body, or head treats the rasa & rakta dhatus – and if you think about it it makes sense – use flowing liquid to treat the fluid tissues that flow through tubes. So if your practitioner determines a contributing factor to your health imbalance to be rooted or showing up in the blood or lymph, you’re likely to be recommended an appropriate seka pouring treatment that the flowing tissues respond to. This alongside appropriate nourishment which will, of course, produce the best quality rasa, and in turn, rakta possible can create a coherent program for healing the often troublesome problems of these superficial-flowing tissues. If you are interested in booking a Shiro Dhara appointment, we offer them at our Amsterdam based clinic.


The third way to oleate the head is picchu, a cloth plaster placed on the top of the head to which oil is added. Poultices or lepanas bring the oil to the third level of tissue, muscle or mamsa. So if the muscle in the head and face are affected, this is the treatment used. For example, it is used in muscular problems with the neck, eye weakness or twitching/moving after injury, ears, hair loss, alopecia (the hair follicle is on the layer of the skin nourished by muscle tissue). Oftentimes my menopausal clients respond well to this if there is significant pitta aggravation.


The fourth treatment is basti, which oleates the head by soaking. This is done by creating a structure around the head and filling it with warm oil. Anytime you need to reach the deeper tissues, a filling/soaking action is needed (in this case the brain) because the action of filling triggers a response on the level of majja dhatu, whose role in the body is to be filling empty spaces (think: bone marrow, spinal cord, brain, etc).

Remember, oiling the head, and even the body, is CONTRAINDICATED in several situations. Avoid these, and you can be sure you’re enjoying all the benefits and not causing yourself more imbalance!

  • Shirodhara should only be performed after the last meal was digested, minimally 2-3 hours after eating and when you don’t feel anything in the stomach.
  • You should not have a recent or current cold or fever or other indications of high Kapha or ama in the head & upper chest region, etc.
  • If you feel any blockage in your sinuses or heaviness in the head, if your nose is blocked, it is not the moment to enjoy shirodhara.
  • It shouldn’t be performed during Kapha hours (3-4 hours after sunrise and after sunset) and not after sunset, with the exceptions made in cases of severe insomnia.
  • Your practitioner will help you determine whether there is too much ama to perform this and other oil-application therapies.
  • Afterward, the person’s head should not be exposed to wind including fan or ventilation, sun, outdoors
  • Bring a wrap to cover head & keep the head warm after treatment.
  • So, basically similar rules to applying oil to the body generally.
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