Shirodhara – its many wonderful benefits
Shirodhara is intertwined with many Ayurvedic health and wellbeing practises and has long been associated with a means of reducing stress. In Sanskrit, ‘shiro’ means ‘head’ and ‘dhara’ means ‘flow, which is the perfect description for the slow stream of warm oil that flows down from a bowl, or dhara chatti, onto the area of the forehead between the eyebrows, traditionally referred to as the ‘third eye’.
While there are numerous health benefits that can be gained through shirodhara, its principal holistic benefit surrounds the nervous system. We have identified four of the principal ones, which we have described below:
Shirodhara can counteract the effects of stress
While practiced for many thousands of years, only with advancements in modern medicine are we able to explain why shirodhara is so effective at reducing stress. The warm stream of oil induces what Dr Herbert Benson refers to as the relaxation response. This then switches on the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxing muscles, slowing down the heart rate and conserving energy. The heart rate is slowed down as a consequence of the breathing rate also falling, which also reduces diastolic blood pressure.
Shirodhara tackles anxiety
The ‘third eye’ is also known as the ‘anja marma’ and is recognised as an extraordinary energy point in acupuncture. The constant trickle of warm oil activates the anja marma, which in turn reduces the sense of agitation and anxiety. One particular study on shirodhara treatments arrived at the conclusion: “The relaxed alert state, after Shirodhara, was co-related with an increase in alpha rhythm in EEG,” the alpha rhythm being a brain pattern recognised as representation of an increase in a sense of serenity and reduction in stress levels.
Shirodhara improves quality of sleep
How often have we heard someone say: “Don’t worry, it won’t seem so bad after a good night’s sleep”? It is impossible to overstress the importance of sleep in connection with both physical and mental wellbeing. As with tackling anxiety, the inducement of the alpha rhythm was been found to be highly beneficial for those suffering from sleep problems like insomnia. The Okayama University Graduate School of Medicine conducted a study with the conclusion that shirodhara was viable “to improve sleep quality and quality of life in persons with sleep problems.”
Shirodhara can calm your Vata Dosha
Holistically, the Vata Dosha is a combination of both air and space. When the Vata reaches an excessive level in your body, the result can manifest itself in the form of forgetfulness, fragmented thoughts, inability to concentrate and restlessness. Shirodhara has long been seen as one of the most effective Ayurvedic ‘treatments’ to reduce an excess of Vata through the pacifying properties of the stream of warm oil.
Ayurveda and Ayurvedic treatments may be a ‘way of life’, and when one or more elements of Ayurveda are combined, the results can be quite marked. However it would be a mistake to think that holistic Ayurvedic remedies cannot be enjoyed and beneficial as ‘stand-alone’ treatments. In particular, Shirodhara is a wonderful introduction to Ayurveda and may well open your eyes to a whole new health and wellbeing philosophy.