Does shirodhara really help to soothe your mind and body?
Practised for over 5000 years, shirodhara is an amazing, unique body therapy from the ancient natural medical system Ayurveda that involves gently pouring oil (or other liquid) in a continuous stream over the forehead (‘ajna marma’- an area where nerves are highly concentrated). It can be administered as a one of the steps involved in Panchakarma or an isolated treatment. It originates from India and its name derives from two Sanskrit words: shiro and dhara. Shiro means head and dhara means to flow.
The pressure of the oil onto the forehead creates a vibration. As the oil saturates the forehead and scalp, it penetrates into the nervous system. For this reason, shirodhara has a profound impact on the nervous system. The treatment directly and immediately calms, relaxes and has a cleansing effect on the mind and nerves. Through this process, it soothes, nourishes and pacifies the doshas. Manjot told me that: “When the warm oil is being gently poured on your forehead, it induces a deep state of relaxation, soothes the nervous system, stimulates the endocrine system and awakens the third eye.” The gentle pressure and soothing warmth of the oil allows the body, mind and nervous system to experience a deep state of rest. This deep state of rest is similar to meditation.
According to Ayurveda, shirodhara is beneficial for pitta and vata doshas. When out of balance, pitta dosha exhibits as anger, irritability, frustration, and judgment. Out of balance vata dosha exhibits as fear, insecurity, worry, and experiences racing thoughts.
Preparing for a Shirodhara Appointment
- How to Get a Great Shirodhara: Seek out a qualified Ayurveda practitioner or trained therapist for the therapy.
- Scheduling the Appointment: When scheduling an appointment for shirodhara, keep in mind that you may need additional rest following the treatment.
- Dressing Appropriately and comfortably: You want to lie down and relax during the treatment, so wear something comfortable and loose fitting. In addition, remember that your hair will be saturated with oil. I suggest wearing an old shirt, something you don’t mind getting oil on.
- Eat Lightly prior to the treatment: Shirodhara has an effect on the digestive system and a full stomach is not advised. Therefore, I advise you to eat lightly before your appointment or if you can, don’t eat for a few hours before the treatment.
- Cover your head after the treatment: Prepare to cover your head following the treatment. If the weather is cool, windy or cold, bring an old warm hat, again something you don’t mind getting oil on. An old scarf works well to cover the head and hair in warmer weather. A plastic shower cap also works well once you are home.
- Avoid unnecessary stimulation: Shirodhara cleanses the mind and senses. Make use of this time and avoid unnecessary stimulation after your treatment. Avoid large crowds (concerts, restaurants/bars, large gatherings) and make the remainder of your day peaceful. This is your time for mental rest.
- Leave the oil for as long as possible: It is advised to leave the oil in your hair for at least a few hours following the treatment. Manjot told me that it is best to leave the oil in your hair overnight however, I did not follow this advice as I didn’t want oil all over my pillowcases.
What is it like?
After a vigorous head massage that stimulated every hair follicle in my head, Manjot instructed me to lie on my back and positions my head under the oil “fountain”- a metal pot with a slow-flowing spout. I closed my eyes as Manjot reassures me it will act like a balm on my constantly buzzing mind and bring a sense of clarity to my thoughts. She cocooned me in warm towels and asked, “Ready?” I nodded. I felt more gentle massaging as the warm oil poured onto my forehead and ran through my hair. When the pot ran out, Manjot added more oil. During these interruptions I realised that I was enjoying the entire experience; it was divine.
At home, instead of my usual rushed self, I felt time flowing at my pace. Perhaps the treatment has nourished my soul, as well as my scalp.
- Washing your hair: If your shirodara treatment was done with oil and you have a lot of hair, Manjot told me that the easiest way to remove the oil is to add the shampoo to your hair before adding water. The shampoo will grab hold of the oil so it can be easily rinsed out.
- Avoid Caffeine For A Few Days: Caffeine creates disharmony in the body. It disrupts all of the doshas and will have an immediate negative effect on your nervous system. Luckily for me I do not have a caffeine addiction but if you are in need of a pick-me-up try a fruit juice or a piece of fresh fruit.
- Enjoy Some Kitchari: Kitchari is a light and delicious stew that is highly nutritious and also easy to digest. Manjot advised me that enjoying kitchari post-shirodhara will assist in the cleansing process and help maintain the balance of the doshas so when I got home from my treatment I made a large pot of Kitchari. It was delicious and a great way to relax and treat myself to something wholesome and nourishing after my treatment.
Benefits of Shirodhara
It is said that Shirodhara is a great treatment for a compromised nervous system.
- Promotes deep relaxation.
- Balances one’s energy level.
- Increases immunity.
- Renews and reinvigorates the body and mind.
- Relieves stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue and insomnia through natural serotonin, dopamine, and melatonin release.
- Relieves tension, worry, fear, headaches and depression.
- Relieves hypertension.
- Maintains good health.
- enhance well-being, clarity, a sense of calm and immunity.
- Regulates mood and gives feelings of pleasure and relaxation.
- Helps mental focus and concentration.
- If you are in need of rest and relaxation, the process will provide you that.
- If you are well rested the process will enhance your clarity and perception.
- Balances vata dosha.
- Stimulates the 3rd eye and crown chakras, and awakens intuition and inner wisdom.
- Assists with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), jetlag and hypertension.
Who Should NOT Have Shirodhara
Shirodhara is suitable for any dosha or constitution however there are some contraindications. It should NOT be given:
- To women in their third trimester of pregnancy.
- To those with a rash or sunburn on the forehead or scalp.
Other contraindications* include:
- Brain tumor
- Recent neck injury
- Abrasions or cuts on the head
- Acute illness
- Severe weakness
- Exhaustion, fainting or spontaneous sweating
If you have an aversion to oil then it is also not recommended for you.
* A contraindication is a condition or factor that serves as a reason to withhold a certain medical treatment due to the harm that it would cause the patient.
Getting back to the original question posed: Does shirodhara really help to soothe your mind and body? Why not try it and find out for yourself?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Is there something you’d like to add? Have you had this treatment and what was your experience like? Join us in the discussion!
P.S. This post is part of my Ayurveda series, if you found this post interesting, please check out some of my other posts in this series: Being healthy in Ayurveda, Oil Pulling and Tongue Scraping, Abhyanga & Skin Brushing, and Pinda Sweda.