Snehana is a Sanskrit word which can mean many things, as is true with Sanskrit in general. Snehana can mean self massage with oil, oiling internally, and it can also mean love, lubrication, flow, saturation, or opening up.
I just recently finished guiding a lovely group of folks through the Autumn Cleanse Workshop I have been running twice a year for several years, and we all use the method of oleation as part of the cleanse process. In Ayurvedic cleansing, after we have cleaned out the system by simplifying our diet and removing some of the major offenders, we begin to ingest oil in increasing amounts, specifically ghee, beginning with 1 tablespoon and working up to 5 tablespoons by the fifth day.
What we are doing with this process is using the oil to infuse our bodies on a cellular level in order to pull fat soluble toxins (which covers most toxins) from the fat cells in our body, to the intestines, where we then use herbs like Triphala to purge the toxins from our system while simultaneously toning the intestines and nourishing the intestinal tract. Our body stores toxins that we can’t deal with safely in our fat cells so that it won’t overwhelm our system on a day to day basis. Oleation helps to unlock the toxins from the cells and unpack the toxins in a safe, effective, and gentle manner.
In addition to internal oleation, we also use external oleation, or abhyanga, self massage with herbalized oils, to further nourish and protect our external skin (as opposed to our internal skin of the digestive tract), while also pulling toxins through the largest organ of our body, the skin, and one of the major routes of detoxification, which include the skin, small intestine and colon, and liver, as well as the lymphatic system, which is primarily in the gut. Self massage is associated with the vata dosha, or the dosha of air and ether. Vata dosha is associated with the nervous system and with the sense of touch. Using your own hands to release dopamine and serotonin into the body as well as nourishing the tissues and protecting the nervous system is a wonderful addition to your daily ritual, or dinacharya.
Another form of snehana, or oleation, is nasya, or the application of herb infused oils to the nasal passages. Nasya is a wonderful and simple practice with profound and far reaching benefits. Typically nasya oil is infused with herbs to help increase mental clarity and stability, clear the subtle channels of the mind, remove phlegm, and lubricate the sinuses and cervical lymph in order to avoid over active mucous production due to dry mucous membranes. I have been engaging in nasya daily for years now, and when the winter colds and flues come around, I rarely get them. In part due to my regular cleansing and healthy lifestyle, and in part due to protecting the ‘gates’ so to speak.
Oleation also helps our bodies to remember how to burn fat for fuel and reset our blood sugar so that we can go through our days eating three meals a day without snacks and feel good, steady, and strong.
Snehana is the love, lubrication, saturation, and opening up of our beings so we can function at our highest level and, being in harmony with ourselves, harmonize the world around us as well.