Shirodhara is an amazing, unique body therapy from the ancient natural medical system Ayurveda. Shirodhara has a profound impact on the nervous system. That means, the treatment directly and immediately calms, relaxes and has a cleansing effect on the mind and nerves.
In the western alternative medicine world, I personally do not know of another therapy that has a similar impact on the nervous system, apart from an established meditation practice.
Because information on shirodhara is a bit scattered, I’ve compiled everything you need to know about shirodhara therapy into this one article. You’ll learn who benefits from shirodhara (and who does not), how shirodhara works, how to ensure you get a great shirodhara and how to prepare for a shirodhara treatment.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Is there something you’d like to add? Have you had this treatment and what was your experience like? Join us in the discussion.
Who Benefits From Shirodhara?
Shirodhara is a great treatment for a compromised nervous system. Shirodhara can help relieve symptoms of anxiety, stress, fatigue and hypertension. It relieves tension, worry, fear and headache as well as depression. It regulates mood and gives feelings of pleasure and relaxation.
Shirodhara can also assist with the following conditions:
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Shirodhara reduces excess vata dosha which is the primary dosha out of balance in PTSD. According to Alakananda Ma of the Alandi Ayurveda Gurukulam, shirodhara done with an appropriate Shirodhara Oil containing nervine herbs will deeply soothe the nervous system and help ease the symptoms of PTSD.
Insomnia and Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD)
Shirodhara is traditionally known for it’s ability to assist with sleep problems. Research proves the treatment effective alone and also when coupled with herbal support. Shirodhara with milk has also proven effective in treating insomnia. The process stimulates the pineal gland which produces melatonin, the regulator of the wake-sleep cycle. It calms an unquiet mind and induces rest. If your insomnia stems from working the night shift and your wake-sleep cycle is out of sync with the natural rhythms of the sun shirodhara can assist in removing fatigue, restoring energy and re-establishing harmony in the doshas or constitution.
If you’re a frequent flyer and your daily sleep rhythm is often out of sync and you suffer jet lag, shirodhara can help reset your daily pattern of waking and sleeping as well as remove built up fatigue. Travel with Vata oil or Bhringaraj oil and apply to the head before bed or invest in a portable shirodhara unit.
Shirodhara has proven effective in lowering blood pressure.
Shirodhara is also a great treatment for the healthy individual looking to maintain health and enhance well being, clarity, calm and immunity. Shirodhara promotes deep relaxation, relieves fatigue and renews and reinvigorates the body and mind.
It also balances one’s energy level. If you are in need of rest and relaxation, the process will provide you that. If you are well rested the process will enhance your clarity and perception.
Shirodhara increases immunity by relieving stress and worry, and balancing the Ayurveda mind-body types or doshas so that your constitution remains strong.
Shirodhara gives deep rest and renewed energy producing an ageless and youthful countenance. Shirodhara relieves stress, worry and excessive thought. It gives total relaxation as if from meditation. This naturally relaxes and rejuvenates the face and softens worry lines.
Who Should NOT Have Shirodhara
Shirodhara is suitable for any dosha or constitution however there are some contraindications.
Shirodhara should NOT be given to women in their third trimester of pregnancy and to those with a rash or sunburn on the forehead or scalp.
Other contraindications include brain tumor, recent neck injury, abrasions or cuts on the head, fever/chills, acute illness, nausea, vomiting, severe weakness, exhaustion, fainting or spontaneous sweating.
If you have an aversion to oil then it is also not recommended for you.
What is Shirodhara?
Shirodhara is an ancient Ayurvedic therapy. Warm oil (or other liquid) pours in a continuous stream over the forehead or ‘ajna marma’, an area where nerves are highly concentrated. The pressure of the oil onto the forehead creates a vibration. The oil saturates the forehead and scalp and penetrates into the nervous system.
The gentle pressure and soothing warmth of the oil allow the body, mind and nervous system to experience a deep state of rest, similar to meditation.
Shirodhara is traditionally done as part of the Panchakarma cleansing process using specially prepared shirodhara oil. It is also safe and effective as a stand-alone therapy.
How does shirodhara work?
There are a few ways to look at how shirodhara works it’s magic.
According to Ayurveda, shirodhara is beneficial for Vata and Pitta dosha. When out of balance, Vata dosha exhibits as fear, insecurity, worry, racing thoughts. Out of balance Pitta dosha exhibits as anger, irritability, frustration, judgment.
The action and qualities of the liquid used in shirodhara counters the qualities of the out of balance doshas. It soothes, nourishes and pacifies the doshas through the application of the liquid to the forehead, scalp and nervous system.
In the Spring 1995 issue of the journal of The Ayurvedic Institute ‘Ayurveda Today’, Ayurvedic practitioner Ed Danaher explains how shirodhara affects stress.
Stress, according to Ayurveda, is a state of imbalance of prana vayu, sadaka pitta, and tarpaka kapha. Shirodhara reestablishes the functional integrity between these three doshic subtypes and thus helps alleviate stress.
According to this study, the gentle pressure of the oil falling onto the forehead may also play a role in inducing rest.
In the procedure of Shirodhara, particular pressure and vibration is created over the forehead. The vibration is amplified by the hollow sinus present in the frontal bone. The vibration is then transmitted inwards through the fluid medium of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This vibration along with little temperature may activate the functions of thalamus and the basal fore brain which then brings the amount of serotonin and catecholamine to the normal stage inducing the sleep.
Again, it is explained in modern text books of physiology that pressure has an effect on impulse conduction through tactile and thermo receptors. If prolonged pressure is applied to a nerve, impulse conduction in interrupted and part of the body may go to rest. In Dhara therapy, prolonged and continuous pressure due to pouring of the medicated liquid may cause tranquility of mind and induce natural sleep.
How To Get A Great Shirodhara
If you’re new to shirodhara and would like to receive a treatment ask your therapist to observe these three key points. Seek out a qualified Ayurveda practitioner or trained therapist for the therapy.
1. Observe Silence
No music should be playing during shirodhara, cell phones should be turned off and there should be no interruptions and no conversations taking place. Any noise will disrupt the experience of disengaging from outside stimuli and experiencing mental rest.
2. Be Mindful Of The Room’s Temperature
In cooler climates and during the cooler seasons of the year the room should be ‘toasty’ warm throughout the treatment. I keep a space heater on hand to make sure the room is warm enough.
The head will be wet with oil during the treatment so it is very important that the client does not get cold during the process. If so, the experience could become unpleasant.
Vata body types can be additionally soothed with a few layers of blankets.
In the warmer months of the year I still keep blankets on hand for the person that is susceptible to cold or has poor circulation. I make sure the temperature of the room is comfortable and avoid cold air conditioned rooms for shirodhara when possible.
3. Choose The Proper Liquid
Shirodhara oil should be carefully chosen for one’s constitution and the climate. Consult a qualified Ayurveda practitioner or trained therapist for a proper shirodhara.
I recommend Banyan Botanicals certified organic shirodhara oil. This tri-doshic blend includes five Ayurvedic herbs infused into sesame and sunflower oils. It is suitable for all constitutions and I have seen and experienced deep relaxation using this oil.
Sesame and sunflower oil can also be used. Sesame is heating and is good for vata dosha. Sunflower oil is cooling and benefits pitta dosha. The two are often blended together.
Use caution when choosing coconut oil. Coconut oil has a cooling action on the body and can actually make the body cold. It should not be used on someone that has a vata imbalance or on the vata dominant person. It may be used during the hot summer months for someone with a pitta imbalance (too much heat in the system), or it may be blended with oils that have a heating action on the body to negate it’s cold effects.
How To Prepare For A Shirodhara Appointment
When scheduling an appointment for shirodhara, keep in mind that you may need additional rest following the treatment.
Shirodhara cleanses the mind and senses. Make use of this time and avoid unnecessary stimulation after your treatment. Avoid large crowds (concerts, restaurants/bars, large gatherings) and make the remainder of your day peaceful. This is your time for mental rest.
Eat lightly before your appointment. Shirodhara has an effect on the digestive system and a full stomach is not advised.
Your hair will be saturated with oil. Dress appropriately and comfortably. Wear an old shirt, something you don’t mind getting oil on.
It is advised to leave the oil in your hair for at least a few hours following the treatment. It’s best to leave the oil in your hair overnight.
Prepare to cover your head following the treatment. If the weather is cool, windy or cold, bring an old warm hat, again something you don’t mind getting oil on. An old scarf works well to cover the head and hair in warmer weather. A plastic shower cap also works well.
Wash your hair like this
If your shirodara was done with oil and you have a lot of hair, the easiest way to remove the oil is to add the shampoo to your hair before adding water. The shampoo will grab hold of the oil so it can be easily rinsed out.
Avoid Caffeine For A Few Days
Caffeine creates disharmony in the body. It deranges all of the doshas and will have an immediate negative effect on your nervous system. If you are in need of a pick-me-up try juice or a piece of fresh fruit.
Enjoy Some Kitchari
Kitchari is a light and delicious stew that is highly nutritious and also easy to digest. Enjoying kitchari post-shirodhara will assist in the cleansing process and help maintain the balance of the doshas.
3 Tips For Continuous Self-Care
It is possible that for some people the effects of your shirodhara may not be immediately known. Continue to care for yourself and over time you will notice a change.
If the effects of your shirodhara were felt immediately follow the below three tips to maintain the peaceful qualities.
1. Keep A Proper Diet And Lifestyle
Eat well. A diet high in sugar, caffeine and refined products will eventually take its toll on the body and mind. Choose whole grains like rice, oats and whole wheat. Enjoy fresh fruit for a snack and eat vegetables daily. Choose high quality protein and dairy products. Avoid caffeine.
2. Keep A Regular Schedule For Eating And Sleeping
A regular daily routine maintains health of the doshas. Wake and sleep with the rise and setting of the sun.
Meditation is the ultimate cleanser for the body and mind and the only other process I am aware of that has the same benefits of shirodhara – relaxation, separation from thought, rest and renewal. If you are new to meditation here is a good place to start online.