Castor oil bath: the Ashtanga yoga Saturday practice.

Via on Dec 5, 2010

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On Saturday I spent 10 minutes covered in oil while resting in corpse pose.

The castor oil bath is known in Ashtanga circles as Saturday practice and if you were to believe all of the benefits it is said to have you would think it is a magical potion, it might be. In my own case it has helped me with knee problems, and I point to it when someone asks me how come I was finally able to enter the lotus position a few years ago even though both my meniscus-es have been removed due to early childhood rough playing.

The bath is said to be so powerful that common wisdom recommends taking it very easy on Sunday practice (i.e.: the day after), as the body is prone to be much more supple and stretching might seem easier, tempting one to go further than usual and increasing the chance for injury.  If you are thinking of trying it, it might be useful to talk to a teacher before attempting, just to be on the safe side.

The benefit of the bath is in the heat that the oil produces in the body, every time I bathe I feel the warmth, it feels almost as if I had a suit on me that is trapping and then releasing impurities.  Further benefits among others are the reduction of pain and inflammation, and a healthy glow.

Pouring Castor Oil

So how does one do it?  I usually get this oil which used to be sold only in organic or specialty supermarkets but is now available almost everywhere. I use one medium bottle per bath. Then I follow these steps:

1.- Ensure that you have a surface covered either with a towel or some sort of floor protection. Things are about to get messy.

2.- Sit on the towel , pour oil on your head,  and massage the scalp, then continue by pouring oil all over your body and gently massage it.

3.- Lay in corpse pose and relax for about 10 to 15 minutes.  Best not to overdo it, especially the first time, as you are testing the effect that this practice will have on you.  Better to be gentle.

4.- Carefully (as all surfaces you step on will be slippery if you rubbed your feet), step into the shower and remove the oil.  I use this citrus soap, which works very well as it seems to cut the grease, should you follow that link, or whenever you purchase it, make sure it is the citrus one.  I also use soap for my hair as a first shampoo because I find it far too greasy to move into my usual products.  Then shampoo one or two times and condition if you want to.

5.- Once you think you have taken all the oil out of your body, it may be a good idea to soap up again.  The oil is very sticky and you probably have not taken it all out, I know because this happens to me every time.

6.- Clean the shower so the next person coming in does not slip and fall.

7.- Get dressed and take it easy.  Just to give you an example, I am writing this post after taking the castor oil bath and I am feeling a mix of relaxation, a sense of wellbeing, and an urgent desire to lay down.  As soon as I am done writing I will do just that.  Be especially careful not to go under the sun after a practice, and if you live in an area with cold weather, dress warm.  Drink plenty of water.

A castor oil rubbing

8.- Finally, and perhaps most importantly be careful in your Sunday asana practice. Some people report that they do not feel anything different, but many others (including myself sometimes) get hurt by pushing too hard.

It is recommended to do this every Saturday consistently.  I find that for me this is not always possible as life seems to have a way to take over from time to time, but whenever I can I go ahead and do it and find it very rewarding.

If you want to take pictures of your Saturday practice, have a friend or partner help you out, unless you don’t mind the camera getting greasy, I was lucky enough to have a good photographer at hand.

If you happen to be new to Ashtanga yoga and curious about it, here are 21 things I wish I knew before I started practicing.

A castor oil bath

About Claudia Azula Altucher

Claudia Azula Altucher has studied yoga for a long time. Her only focus these past eight years has been on Ashtanga through which she studied at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India (three study visits so far), and at Centered Yoga in Thailand (focus on practice, philosophy and pranayama). Currently she studies at Pure Yoga in NYC. She has taught yoga classes in both Spanish and English. She is also the Author of: 21 Things To Know Before Starting an Ashtanga Yoga Practice (you can get a free PDF at her blog). She writes daily at ClaudiaYoga.com And you can follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ClaudiaYoga

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29 Responses to “Castor oil bath: the Ashtanga yoga Saturday practice.”

  1. Learn something new every day! I thought castor oil was something that kids were afraid their mother's would force them to take when they were ill in Victorian times.

    What is it about castor oil that makes it right for this type of application?

    Bob W.

    • I am with you there I thought the same thing at first… I believe it is the warming effect of the oil, especially if you really cover yourself in it you can't but feel very warm.

  2. Andrew says:

    I have never heard of this practice, but am going to try it now!

  3. @Andrew, that is good, just go easy

  4. Fran says:

    I've used castor oil packs for years in my (holistic health) practice, usually either for over the liver or for injuries. It is highly anti-inflammatory and detoxifying. It comes out of the work of Edgar Cayce, and Rudolf Steiner, just to name two. But even though I knew it was part of the Ashtanga lineage, I never tried the whole body Saturday practice approach until you shared your experience. So thanks, Claudia. I'm liking it a lot!

  5. Andrew says:

    By the way Claudia: I love your blog. I'm an avid reader and a big fan. :-)

  6. @Fran, thank you! you know? I have heard about those packs, but never quite understood how they work… maybe I should do some research on it, will look in your blog too.

    @Andrew, thank you

  7. Samantha says:

    Kudos to the photographer.

  8. Brandy says:

    So does the castor oil applied this way detoxify your system or are you mainly using it to help w/ stretching?

  9. dan says:

    I use sesame oil (cold pressed & organic) followed by ground mung beans (too fine a powder will clump; a hand-held shower head is very useful for clean up, but a mesh drain is essential). I use only a thin coating of oil, which my skin absorbs in about 15 minutes. Some soaps clog pores, and ground mung beans do a great job of unclogging and cleaning.
    Oil baths are part of ayurvedic practice, your dosha might indicate another oil more beneficial.

  10. @Brandy, yes releasing toxics is one of the effects of the bath.

    @Dan that is interesting.

  11. Lola says:

    HI Claudia! Great to see you posting here on the Elephant :) I knew about the ayurvedic oil baths but never about an Ashtanga-specific bath as part of the practice. Thank you for the great information! I also wasn't aware of Castor oil's anti-inflammatory properties. I recently pulled some of the muscles inserting around the greater trochanter and had a lot of swelling, tenderness, and stiffness and may incorporate some of these ideas as I continue to heal.

  12. Hi Lola, thank you. I am sorry to hear about your pulling of some muscles, wish you healing. These baths helped me very much in practice, as long as I was very cautious they eventually eased things up. I wish you a swift recovery.

  13. Kimberly Johnson kajyoga says:

    Castor oil has an apanic (downward moving energy) effect. (therefore recommended for tight intenstines and also for getting women to go into labor). It's chemical properties also share something with elastinours properties of connective tissue, because castor oil is extremely effective at breaking up scar tissue.

  14. Andrew says:

    I read somewhere that Almond Oil is an acceptable substitute because it is easier to wash off. Any experience with that? Do you smell like a nut after?

  15. @Kajyoga, thank you for your info, I actually had the opportunity to speak to a South Indian man after writting the article and he said just that, only the tight intestines part effect is obtained by drinking it rather than applying it as a massage. As per the breaking up scar tissue, it is good to know…

    @Andrew, again speaking to this man from South India he also said that they use almond oil, as well. I did try using it once and when it comes to the smell there is no way to tell one way or the other, the skin looks lustrous in my case, but there is no smell

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  18. Juliet says:

    Hi Claudia, Ever since reading your article I've wanted to try this bath and integrate it into my weekly routine. This morning I did exactly that! I know it's Friday, but I found this blog post that says women should observe this practice Friday and men Saturday, which works better for my schedule anyway since I'm in yoga teacher training weekends and cannot rest Saturdays. http://ayurvedichomeremedies.blogspot.com/2010/02

    So, I was going to ask how to properly clean my hair, because, obviously, I did not do a good job! I'm not getting back in the bath, so I'm going around with grease head pinned up so it doesn't get on anything. :) But in your instructions above it does say after using the Castille Citrus soap in your hair a couple times also wash an additional couple times with shampoo. That is the step I skipped. I did not lay in Savasana either. I stood in the tub with the shower running for steam without standing under the spray while I rubbed it all in.

    WOW, very messy, but I feel great! I will see now how my day unfolds.

    • Juliet sorry I took so long to respond… GREAT! you tried it, sounds good… as per the hair, yes if you skipped washing with the soap first I can imagine how greasy it would stay… The laying in savasana is important because the oil takes a few minutes 10 to 15 to take effect.

      I am curious now about how you felt on the next day or practice…

  19. [...] Castor Oi Bath – The Ashtanga Yoga Saturday Practice Claudia Azula Altucher has studied yoga for over eleven years in the traditions of Iyegar, Ashtanga, and Sivananda. Her only focus these past fiver years has been on Ashtanga through which she has studied at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India, and at Centered Yoga in Thailand where she attended the Intensive training certification with primary focus on practice, philosophy and pranayama. Currently she studies at Pure Yoga in NYC. She has taught yoga classes in both Spanish and English. She believes that yoga expands beyond culture and language and has contributed to both Spanish and English blogs on yoga. Her approach is to infuse daily life with yoga wisdom in very practical ways. She writes daily at ClaudiaYoga.com http://www.twitter.com/ClaudiaYoga [...]

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  22. Buna says:

    As kids ! i remember that every Saturday , our mother used to give us this castor oil bath ! It was a MUST DO Activity … But as we grew up and got busy with our own life this practice faded away …. How I wish I could get back the luxury of a Saturday oil bath … If nt castor , sesame seed oil is also very beneficial to health .

  23. patricia says:

    i would like to try this, i smoke for 15 years and i have stop, would like to take all those toxins out my system. but i also swim everyday, i was wondering how this 2 will work. thanks.

  24. Karen says:

    Hi Claudia, I have been doing the bath for the past 2 months and have sometimes found that the next day leaves me feeling a bit anxious, I've even had a panic attack the day after. I am also always incredibly stiff the next day following the bath and not flexible at all as is whats suggested one would feel. Is this because I am releasing such a deep level of toxins that need a bit more time to flush out? I have an epsom salts bath the next day to help draw everything out. Thank you

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