December 5, 2010

Castor oil bath: the Ashtanga yoga Saturday practice.


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, 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

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