5 Benefits of a Shirodhara Treatment

A shirodhara treatment’s benefits extend beyond the feelings of relaxation you are likely to have with any bodywork treatment—awaken your intuition, improve your sleep, improve your Vata dosha and more.

Ayurvedic bodywork is an ancient and powerful tool for bringing body, mind, and soul into harmonious balance. While traditional Swedish massage works primarily on the physical level, Ayurvedic bodywork address multiple layers of your being. From exfoliating dead skin cells, moving lymphatic fluids, and erasing muscular tension to balancing doshic elements, dissolving ama (toxic residue in the body and mind), and mitigating the stress response, Ayurvedic treatments have a long history of facilitating physical health, emotional well-being, and soul connection.

Numerous treatments exist under the umbrella of Ayurvedic bodywork. When visiting an Ayurvedic spa or medical facility, treatments are selected based upon your goals, state of health, and prakruti (doshic imbalance). Most often, a series of three to six treatments is recommended to detoxify the body and rejuvenate the mind. However, there are several stand-alone treatments that are powerful enough to offer measurable benefits with a single session. Shirodhara is one such example.

The word shirodhara originates from two Sanskrit words, shiro (head) and dhara (flow). It is a form of treatment in which warm, herbalized Ayurvedic oil is poured onto your forehead. Initially, the oil is streamed in dosha-specific patterns from the right to left temple. After several minutes, the stream is set to the middle of the forehead where it flows continuously for the duration of the treatment. The oil pour lasts approximately 30 minutes and is preceded by a full-body srota or abhyangha massage, both of which include cranial activation and scalp manipulation.

While there is no doubt that the shirodhara treatment is soothing, there are also five distinct shirodhara therapy benefits.

1. Counteracts the Effects of Stress

The benefits of shirodhara kick off as an ideal treatment for reducing high levels of mental stress. It induces calmness, promotes tranquility, and facilitates relaxation. The steady pour of warm oil encourages what cardiologist and founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute, Dr. Herbert Benson, termed the relaxation response. As your body enters deep relaxation, stress hormones decline while hyper-alert brain patterns (beta waves) transition into relaxed-alert ones (alpha waves). Dr. Benson described the relaxation response as the body’s way of turning on the parasympathetic nervous system, that part of the nervous system which conserves energy, slows heart rate, and relaxes muscles. One (small) study showed that the shirodhara treatment significantly impacts those measurable markers of relaxation by decreasing respiration rate, reducing diastolic blood pressure, and slowing heart rate.

Given that nearly every modern disease has some link to stress, minimizing its deleterious impact is a valuable tool for generating lifelong heath. The relaxation response directly counteracts stress by reversing its physical equivalents. A single one-hour session of shirodhara treatment may invoke such a powerful relaxation response that the effects of stress can be mitigated for hours, or even days.

2. Reduces Anxiety

As brainwaves have been shown to synchronize with external stimuli, the gentle, repetitive stimulation to the center of the forehead is the likely mechanism by which the shirodhara treatment reduces anxiety. As the warm oil streams onto the center of the forehead, it activates a powerful Ayurvedic energy point known as ajna marma. This same physical point is known in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as yin tang and belongs to a category of acupuncture points termed extraordinary points, or those which stand on their own. In both the Ayurvedic and TCM models, activation of the point between the eyebrows is said to relieve anxiety and agitation. Fortunately, in this case, no needles are required! The shirodhara stimulates the powerful energy point in the forehead, thus working to dispel anxiety.