The world is speeding up all around us. Countless distractions command our attention—from what’s new on social media to those never-ending to-do lists. From one minute to the next, most people live with minds in a state of unrest, running at top speed from the moment of waking until they pass out at night.
While this has become the “normal” state of being these days, it is certainly not natural. So it is no wonder that more people are asking their practitioners about shirodhara. This Ayurvedic treatment is known to calm the mind, making it an ideal treatment for those who suffer from the modern ailments of feeling run down, stressed out, and mentally exhausted.
What Is Shirodhara?
Shiro means “head,” and dhara means “dripping oil as if a thread.” Shirodhara as a treatment consists of a stream of warm oil run continuously on the forehead. Traditionally, the oil is run from a copper vessel held about six to eight inches above the forehead. Modern technicians sometimes use machines for shirodhara, but I don’t recommend those as the electromagnetic energy interferes with the herbal oil and the healing process of the subtle body.
The purpose of shirodhara is to calm the nervous system. Inherent in this process is choosing an oil that has qualities which support the mind and body to come back to balance. Shirodhara oils contain herbs such as ashwagandha, brahmi/gotu kola, and bhringaraj. Banyan’s Shirodhara Oil is a nice blend of these herbs and also includes shatavari and skullcap. The person giving you the treatment may determine that a different oil is appropriate for you, and will adjust it according to your vikriti (state of imbalance) and the season.
How It Is Done
There are several ways to administer shirodhara. My preferred method is to first slowly run the oil over 16 marma points on the forehead, and then let the oil run continuously on a single point in the center of the forehead. The person receiving this treatment will feel additional rejuvenation from the focus on the marma points, which aids the release of tension and encourages the flow of prana.
The actual shirodhara process typically takes 20–30 minutes, but the best results are achieved by first doing snehana, or a slow application of herbal oil to the body. This soothes the body and mind, preparing you to receive the healing. Your head will be coated in oil during this treatment.
After Your Shirodhara
To maintain the sense of peace, avoid electronics for at least three hours after your treatment. And it’s best to keep the head covered for a few hours with the oil in it (use an old towel). If you can wait, wash your hair the next day, making sure you cover your pillow with a towel before you go to bed. When you do wash your hair, apply shampoo to your oily head before wetting it, working it thoroughly in. You may need to reapply shampoo a number of times before the oil is completely removed.
Deeply calming and balancing for vata and pitta dosha, shirodhara clears prana vaha srota (the energetic channels in the head). Shirodhara can also awaken the third eye (ajna chakra), release old memories, and bring deep inner focus.
The feeling after a shirodhara treatment is a welcome sensation of deep relaxation, inner calm, and peace.
People often say that they feel as if they are in a waking meditative state, the effects of which continue for weeks.
When to Do Shirodhara
Shirodhara is a powerful treatment. While it is growing in popularity in the West, it is important to remember that Ayurveda works with the individual, so your state of mind and body must be considered before undergoing any treatment.
This therapy is one of the more common treatments offered before panchakarma and, for many people, is also useful during panchakarma. It is a good stand-alone treatment if you are seeking to calm a busy mind, recover from sensory overload, or relieve excessive stress or overwhelm. However, the greatest healing that shirodhara offers is a stronger connection between the head and the heart. In other words, this treatment attunes us to our higher nature.
When to Avoid It
Because shirodhara requires you to lie completely still for 20–30 minutes, if you’re especially mentally agitated you may be unable to stop moving for that long. If your nervous system is overstimulated with caffeine or other stimulants, you may not be able to calm down, turning the otherwise soothing drip of shirodhara oil into an irritating experience. In any case, it’s best to start with at least one session of snehana before having a shirodhara treatment. This will calm the doshas and bring greater peace to the mind, making the shirodhara treatment much more effective and enjoyable.
Like most Ayurvedic treatments, shirodhara is designed to reset the body’s natural healing mechanisms. Done with care and right intention, shirodhara can bring us back to our natural state of bliss, allowing us to find inner peace no matter what is happening in the world around us.