Shirodhara is by far the most iconic treatment of Ayurveda. It is considered the King of all treatments, as it treats a wide variety of conditions in Ayurvedic clinical practice.
The name Shirodhara, comes from the two Sanskrit words Shiras meaning ‘head’ and Dhara meaning ‘to pour’. This deeply relaxing and nurturing treatment involves the continuous pouring of warm medicated oil over the forehead, using a pot with a tap that controls the flow of oil. The oil is gently poured from side to side across the forehead, at times resting over the midpoint of the forehead.
The mechanics behind Shirodhara
Shirodhara affects the body in several ways:
- Warm oil poured over the forehead improves blood supply to the brain, by dilating local blood vessels.
- Pressure- and temperature sensors in the skin of the forehead stimulate a somato-autonomic reflex (relaxation response) via the trigeminal cranial nerve.1
- By relaxing the mind and central nervous system, it exerts its main effect of balancing Vata.
- In addition, it also affects the other two Doshas, Pitta and Kapha. In simplistic terms, Vata, Pitta and Kapha can be equated to the nervous, endocrine and immune systems respectively. Interestingly, recent studies confirm the effect of Shirodhara on these systems, e.g. a reduction in anxiety, a decrease in the hormone noradrenaline, and enhancement of the immune system.2
How does Shirodhara help?
1. Reducing anxiety and insomnia
Shirodhara is traditionally used for a variety of mental conditions, including anxiety, sleep disorders, stress, headaches and migraines. A recent study showed a significant reduction in anxiety levels, which were sustained for at least 3 weeks after completion of the Shirodhara treatments.3 Shirodhara benefits the slow wave sleep states needed for the restorative effect of a good night’s rest. It reduces nocturnal awakenings and sleepiness during the daytime4, thus resetting our circadian rhythm or inner clock.
2. Lowering blood pressure
Studies have confirmed that Shirodhara reduces both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. It also slows the heart rate, which is increased under stressful situations.5
3. Reducing menopausal symptoms
Shirodhara is helpful in the management of the physical, mental and emotional aspects of menopause, including night sweats, palpitations, hot flushes, irritability, anxiety and sleep disturbances.6
4. Inducing a meditative experience
The deeply relaxing effect of Shirodhara is similar to the states experienced during deep meditation. It slows the breathing rate and increases the alpha rhythm of the brain (associated with wakeful relaxation), thus altering the state of consciousness.7
Shirodhara can be considered as a Marma (energy point) therapy, as the stream of oil is positioned over a point in the middle of the forehead known as the Sthapani Marma. This point corresponds to the Ajna (third eye) chakra in Yoga. The meaning of the word Sthapani is ‘to be fixed or established in a place’, in this case denoting the ability of the point to hold your attention during meditation. During Shirodhara, the mind is naturally drawn to this point due to the pleasant sensation of the oil pouring over the forehead - another reason for the meditative effect experienced.
"I contacted Colette seeking help with recurring tension headaches... With the very first Shirodhara treatment my headaches improved and I began to sense more vitality and an overall sense of improved wellbeing. The Shirodhara is an amazing experience – calming, relaxing and completely de-stressing." - Frank
How will you feel during a Shirodhara treatment?
A Japanese researcher in the field of psychometrics has created a list of ten markers of altered states of consciousness, induced by traditional healing techniques such as meditation and acupuncture. Interestingly, most clients undergoing Shirodhara report similar experiences. One particular study on Shirodhara focused on these markers and found that participants experienced a higher occurrence of these states than the control group.
Mind as a cause of disease
Ayurveda recognises the psychosomatic role that the mind plays on the body. All diseases have some mental component, whether it is fear, anger or lethargy (increasing Vata, Pitta or Kapha respectively). According to Ayurveda, the subtle channels of the ‘mind’ are located over the entire body. Thus, our minds affect every cell and organ in our body, having a significant effect on our state of health and disease. It is for this reason that Shirodhara has such a far-reaching effect on the body and is able to re-establish balance in the nervous, endocrine and immune systems. The applications of Shirodhara in clinical Ayurvedic practice are many, treating conditions such as skin, digestive and hormonal disorders, and more.
1. Uebaba, K. et al (2008): Pharmaco-physio-psychologic effect of Ayurvedic oil-dripping treatment using an essential oil from Lavendula angustifolia. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2008;14(8):947-56.
2. Uebaba, K. et al (2008): Psychoneuroimmunologic Effects of Ayurvedic Oil-Dripping Treatment. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2008; 14(10):1189–1198.
3. Rastogi, S. et al (2016): Effects of shirodhara in generalized anxiety disorder. Association of Humanitas Medicine. 2016; 6(4).
4. Tubaki, B. R. et al (2016): Manasamitra Vataka and Shirodhara treatment Preserve Slow Wave Sleep and Promote Sleep Continuity in Patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Co- Morbid Generalized Social Phobia. Current science. 2016; 111(2): 283-292.
5. Kundu, C. (2010): The role of psychic factors in pathogenesis of essential hypertension and its management by Shirodhara and Sarpagandha Vati. Ayu. 2010; 31(4):436-41.
6. Santwani, K. et al (2010): An assessment of Manasika Bhavas in menopausal syndrome and its management. Ayu Journal. 2010; 31(3).
7. Dhuri, K.D. et al (2013): Shirodhara: A psycho-physiological profile in healthy volunteers. Journal of Ayurveda Integrative Medicine. 2013; 4(1).