Castor Oil Bath Step by Step

Published on 20 October 2021 at 16:10

Picture: Gokulam, Mysore 2013 

Castor Oil Bath Step by Step

The castor oil bath is a household practice for relaxation, pain relief, glowing skin and full, healthy hair. It has its origins in Ayurvedic knowledge and is common in South India. It is a 'bath' in that the whole body is rubbed from head to toe with castor (ricinus communis, eraṇḍa) oil, which can optionally be enriched with e.g. turmeric and black pepper. The excess heat leaves the body through the crown of the head thanks to the lubrication. The oil is removed afterwards by washing it off with a mixture of soapnut powder and rapu powder, lentil or chickpea flour. This mixture can also be replaced with an ordinary bar of natural soap. While castor oil has countless uses and can be applied locally daily for ailments, the oil bath is an extensive weekly ritual for which one takes the time.

In this blog we explain step by step how you can proceed, but first a word about the reasons for and the effects of this pampering treatment.

Castor Oil Bath in Ayurveda

While oil therapy is best known for vata imbalance, a weekly oil bath is also essential in reducing excess inner heat (pitta doṣa in Ayurveda).

Pitta governs digestion, heat, visual perception, hunger, thirst, luster, complexion, understanding, intelligence, courage and softness of the body. (Ashtanga Hridaya XI. 2)

An excess of inner heat arises and accumulates mainly in the liver, gallbladder and small intestine and can manifest as stiffness and pain in the joints. Too high an inner fire level leads to feverishness, inflammation, infections, skin rashes, heartburn, stomach ulcers, insomnia and burnout. Excessive physical activity, a too intense āsana practice, hot weather, too much spicy and too oily (e.g. fried) food, sugar, alcohol, and wrong lifestyle in the long term can cause an unbalanced pitta doṣa to transfer via the energy channels to the deeper tissues of the nervous system, muscles and bones and settle in the form of all kinds of persistent disorders such as arthritis in joints, muscle inflammations, but also heart problems and nerve disorders.

Ayurveda considers perspiration (sweating), oil bath, oil massage and breathing improvement as essential in the healing process for everyone, regardless of your constitution. Regular (self-) massage with oil as a supplement to your yoga routine is therefore recommended for all doṣa types. Applying oil to the skin helps to liquefy the toxins so that they can be easily removed. The nourishing effect of oil penetrates the joints, bones and nerves. It 'lubricates', as it were, the nāḍīs, the subtle energy channels, so that consciousness spreads more easily throughout the body, inducing an enlightened feeling. Applying a regular natural oil such as sesame oil to the feet or head, or the area that is sore or dry, twice a week is a good practice. However, the weekly castor oil bath has the most effect. Read more about the properties of castor oil here

Castor Oil Bath in Ashtanga Yoga as taught by the Jois family in Mysore

The Jois family recommends that their students take a weekly castor oil bath on the morning of the resting day. This is the day following yoga cikista (the therapeutic primary series) when one abstains from āsana practice, usually on a Saturday. Yoga-āsana practitioners who suffer from painful knee(s) or lower back should definitely not skip their weekly oil bath as it will bring major relief.

The rest days on new and full moons however, are not suitable for this ritual. Sharath R. Jois says from experience that a castor oil bath especially at full moon increases mental instability. It is also not recommended during menstruation. After the oil bath procedure, one should avoid major physical exertion, heavy work, sunbathing and bathing in cold water for the rest of the day. Although Sharathji is not a fan of massage, and Pattabhi Jois also advised against hard massage for daily āsana practitioners, it is definitely nice if your partner can help you rub the oil in!

If you are ever in Mysore, you can receive a traditional castor oil massage at the Three Sisters Yoga Śala. These three sisters continue a lineage of indigenous Ayurvedic therapies, and are experts in sattvic cooking. Under the late Pattabhi Jois they learned vinyasa krama.

Castor oil bath step by step

  1. Heat the oil in a bain-marie (place the glass bottle of oil in a pan with water on the hob), slightly above lukewarm. 
  2. Take a warm shower, this first round can be with or without soap. Your skin should not be dried off completely, damp skin makes it easier to rub in the oil.
  3. Using your hands, patiently massage the entire body and hair with the heated oil, starting with the crown of the head. Do not skip a millimeter of skin, and also go between your toes. Attention! Once you have rubbed the soles of your feet, be careful not to slip. Your hands are also greasy so you can't hold on safely.
  4. Let the oil soak in for a while. You can sit or lie on specially reserved towels for this. Make sure that you do not cool down too much, the room must be pleasantly warm. You can just relax, perhaps do a body scan in a lying position or play soft music. This step only takes 5 minutes to begin with, as initially the heat that rises to the surface may leave you feeling restless, angry, or skin rash may develop after the procedure. Once you have a weekly routine, you can increase your time per week by 5 minutes each time, up till 20 minutes.
  5. Wash off the oil under a warm shower with a mixture of soapnut powder and rapu powder, lentil- or chickpea flour. This mixture can also be replaced with an ordinary natural bar of soap. You will notice that the skin feels nourished and possibly still a bit greasy. Keep in mind that this can wear off during the day and following night, so wear appropriate clothing. Spend the day with relaxing activities.

Tip: after point 5, repeat the procedure again from point 3. By applying the castor oil in a double layer, it penetrates deeper in the second round and the effect is enhanced.

Note: castor oil is very greasy and difficult to remove. Immediately clean your bathroom with soap and unclog the drain by pouring boiling water on it.

Sources: Ayurvedic Healing, A Comprehensive Guide. David Frawley

Recommended Reading: http://aylibrary.blogspot.com/2012/01/castor-oil-baths.html


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