It may sound funny, but one of the handful of practices I’m trying really hard to faithfully do is a daily sesame oil massage. It’s really a sesame oil smear, since it’s hard to give oneself an actual massage.
At a few different times in the past I’ve gotten into doing these regularly, and every time (just like the “morning pages”) they were simply transformative for me. One of the times was four years ago as I was trying to decide whether to leave my job and go freelance. I honestly think that the clarity and calm I got from the oil was a factor in my courage to leave that job. (Fortunately, when I later slid away from the oil massages, I didn’t go back and regret that decision!)
I’m not sure why they’re so powerful. Ayurveda, the thousand-years-old Indian system of health, is very big on these, and that’s how I learned about them. They’re particularly valuable (a) during the winter, and (b) for people of certain constitutions. That would be me. They’re supposedly very beneficial for people who are by nature sort of dry, cold, and with lots of movement (the “vata” dosha). I have a lot of that in me, and all of those gallons of wine and beer I poured into my body over the last many years sure didn’t help. I can handle all of the coherence/grounding/warmth I can get.
So here’s my liquid. It’s best to cure the oil first by bringing it (carefully!) to 212 degrees F and then letting it cool. Each day you warm a small amount by setting a container in another container filled with warm water. You coat your entire body with the oil and then rub your skin vigorously — circular motions on the joints and length-wise motions on the limbs. (There’s a nice description in A Woman’s Best Medicine as well in as various places on the internet.) Afterwards, shower and go about the day…
I sometimes give myself a hard time about the time required. It’s hard to slow down and do this seemingly useless thing. I try, though, to remind myself of all the stupid sh*t we do every day and how this is just as legitimate a way to spend time as aimless Facebook surfing. If that’s not convincing, I point out that 10 to 15 minutes per day is nothing compared to the three or four or five hours I spent intoxicating myself and ruining all chances of productivity (even productive staring out the window) several times a week. So far I’m winning this argument.
What I feel on days when I’ve done the oil is hard to express. I feel contained and soft. Warm. Less scattered. More grounded. I feel that this practice was fundamental in my ability to take those first steps away from alcohol and continues to be instrumental in my ability to stay away for, what, these 57 days. I’m clutching pretty hard to this slippery substance and it’s healing me.