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A Beginner’s Guide to Shirodhara

Shirodhara, a term derived from the Sanskrit words "Shiro" (head) and "Dhara" (flow), is an ancient Ayurvedic healing practice that has been cherished for centuries in India. This treatment involves the gentle and continuous pouring of warm oils or other therapeutic liquids over the forehead, specifically on the 'third eye' region. Designed to calm the mind, soothe the nervous system, and balance the body's energies, Shirodhara is more than just a wellness therapy; it's a bridge to holistic harmony, providing profound relaxation and spiritual awakening for those who experience it. Whether you're delving into Ayurveda's profound teachings or merely seeking tranquility, Shirodhara offers a unique path to inner peace and rejuvenation.

What is Shirodhara?

This is an Ayurvedic therapy mentioned under Murdhna tailaShiroabhyanaga (massage of the head), Shiroparisechana (sprinkling of the head), Shiropichu (placing of the cotton dipped in the oil over the head), and Shirobasti (holding the medicated liquid over the head). Shirodhara is Shiroparisechana.

It is a pouring of warm liquid over the forehead and scalp from a specific height. The forms of Shirodhara are tailadhara, takradhara, ksheeradhara, kwathadhara. In tailadhara there is a pouring of medicated oil, in takradhara medicated buttermilk is poured, in ksheeradhara milk and kwathadhara decoction are poured respectively. 

Shirodhara is indicated in the diseases like Anidra (insomnia), Manoavasada (stress), Shiroroga (diseases of the head), Chitoodvega (anxiety), Unmada (schizophrenia), Apasmara (epilepsy), Twak roga (sin diseases), Vepathu (tremors), etc.

Kaphaja roga (diseases of kapha), jwara (fever), shwayathu (swelling)on the forehead, ajeerna (indigestion), etc. are contraindications of Shirodhara.

Shirodhara – the procedure

The Shirodhara procedure can be divided into three parts:

  1. Poorvakarma (pre-operative procedure): The patient who is indicated for the procedure is selected. The equipment required are a dhara table, dhara pot, dhara varti dhara stand, and suitable medicated liquid.

Dhara table: The table is made up of wood with all four edges raised so that the oil does not flow out. At the head end of the table, there is a hole made at the center, so that oil poured can be collected down in a vessel and reused.

Dhara pot: The pot or vessel is made of brass, steel, or clay. The mouth is wide open and the sides are tapering to a central point at the bottom. At this point, a hole can be made approximately of little finger size. The vessel should hold 1.5 to 2 liters of liquid.

Dhara varti: a wick should be passed through the hole of the vessel hanging down to maintain the flow of liquid.

Dhara stand: A stand to suspend the vessel is required which is placed at the head end of the table.

Medicated liquid: The liquid should be selected depending on the conditions, dosha.

  1. Vata dosha: tila taila (sesame oil)
  2. Pitta and Rakta: ghee and cold water
  3. Kapha: sesame oil, water which is neither too hot nor too cold
  4. Vata+Pitta+Rakta: ghee and oil to be taken in equal proportions
  5. Vata+Kapha+Rakta: One part of oil and half part of ghee are taken

Pradhana karma (operative procedure):

The hair on the head of the patient can be removed if the patient is willing. Then, he/she is made to lie on the dhara table in a supine position with the palms facing upwards. Mild massage of the forehead, scalp, face, chest, and neck is done.

The head of the patient has to be raised by placing a folded towel or cloth or on a wooden piece such that the neck is neither too hyperflexed nor too hyperextended. Cotton balls are put in the ears and eyes are covered with eye pads or wet cotton. The vessel is tied to the stand four inches from the table in a suspended position.

The medicated liquid is made warm and filled in the vessel and allowed to flow over the forehead and scalp of the patient. The flow is maintained in mild oscillatory movements throughout the forehead and scalp uniformly. The speed of the flow should neither be too fast nor too slow. The liquid poured is collected in the vessel placed down below the head end of the table and reused. The temperature of the liquid is maintained.

Duration of the procedure:

As per the classics, in the cases of Pitta associated Vata and in rukshata (dryness), two and a half or two prahara is the duration, and in Kapha associated with Vata and in snigdhata (unctuousness) it is one prahara period of time. The procedure can generally be done till the patient perspires. In the present era, 45-60 minutes is the duration followed. The procedure can be done for seven days or fourteen days, or the duration also depends on the condition.

For the patients with well-built and good strength, on every alternative day administration can be done. Those who are moderately built and can tolerate the procedure at a moderate level, administering at an interval of every two days, and those who are weak and cannot tolerate the procedure for every four days it is administered.

If the medicated liquid is oil, then for the first three days half of the total oil is used and the other half is used in the next three days. On 7th day the oil used for six days is combined. If milk is used, every day fresh milk has to be used.

Paschat karma (post-operative procedure):

After the procedure is over, the oil is removed from the head with a piece of cloth. Eyes are wiped, and any throat secretions are produced it is spit out. Wash the face with water. Remaining oil can be used to massage the body. Then, take a hot water bath and drink some warm water. The patient is asked to rest for some time. Instructions like avoiding heavy breezes, talking louder or for a long time, excess laughing, sleeping during the daytime, walking or driving/riding for a long time, stress, worry, anxiety, etc. are to be given post-procedure period.

A light diet, easily digestible foods, and warm food is advisable after the procedure.

Benefits of Shirodhara:

Shirodhara is beneficial in conditions like chronic headaches, insomnia, anxiety disorder, depression, motor neuron disease, senile dementia, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, etc. 

A few research works are quoted below to show the effects of Shirodhara: 4,5

  1. Shirodhara was found to show significant results in the condition called Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the children between the age group of 6-16 years.
  2. Balance is improved in patients with progressive degenerative cerebellar ataxia with the treatment of Shirodhara [Sriranjini et al. (2009)].
  3. Shirodhara is said to have produced relief from the symptoms of mood swings, irritability, lack of concentration, etc. occurring during menopause [Santwani et al. (2010)].
  4. In a clinical study, Shirodhara was found to be effective in stress-induced insomnia.
  5. In generalized anxiety disorders, Shirodhara is said to have reduced daytime sleeping.
  6. Shirodhara is found to have shown an effect in the management of premature ejaculation, Vataja shira shoola w.s.r to tension headache, essential hypertension, pakshaghata w.s.r to cerebral ischemic stroke.
  7. Takradhara has shown significant results in relieving stress-induced disorders.
  8. A study has shown that shirodhara with Brahmi taila is effective in moderate to severe insomnia. 
  9. Shirodhara using medicated decoction shown excellent results in scalp itching, dandruff, scalp psoriasis, and other skin diseases.

Shirodhara mainly helps in the proper functioning of the neuro-endocrine system by its penetrating effects and causes relaxation of both physical and mental aspects of health. It also improves the functioning of sense organs, bringing the equilibrium between the three dosha it helps dosha to carry out their functions and help treat conditions like stress, hypertension, insomnia, etc.

Conclusion

Shirodhara is one of the procedures explained in Ayurveda that is a form of treatment done to the forehead and scalp. Many conditions like insomnia, chronic headache, anxiety disorder, ADHD, pakshaghata, etc. are treated with Shirodhara. The medicines and the procedure both have a therapeutic effect on both body and mind.


10 FAQs on Shirodhara:

1. What is Shirodhara?
Shirodhara is an ancient Ayurvedic therapy that involves gently pouring liquids, typically herbal oils, continuously over the forehead, particularly focusing on the ‘third eye’ region.

2. What are the benefits of Shirodhara?
Shirodhara is believed to calm the mind, reduce stress and anxiety, improve memory and cognitive function, alleviate insomnia, reduce headaches, and balance the body’s energies.

3. What liquids are used in Shirodhara?
While traditionally herbal oils are used, other liquids like buttermilk, coconut water, or milk infused with herbs can also be employed, depending on the individual’s constitution or the intended therapeutic effect.

4. How long does a Shirodhara session last?
A typical session can last anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, but this can vary based on individual needs and the practitioner’s recommendation.

5. How is Shirodhara performed?
The individual lies supine on a massage table, with their head positioned under a vessel. Warm oil or other therapeutic liquids are then poured steadily onto the forehead from this vessel.

6. Are there any side effects of Shirodhara?
Generally, Shirodhara is safe. However, some may experience temporary symptoms like sinus congestion or an oily scalp. It’s always recommended to consult with a qualified practitioner before undergoing the treatment.

7. Is Shirodhara suitable for everyone?
While many people can benefit from Shirodhara, it might not be suitable for those with certain conditions like brain tumors, recent neck injuries, or those with certain skin conditions on the forehead. Always consult with an Ayurvedic professional first.

8. How often can one undergo Shirodhara therapy?
The frequency can vary based on individual needs. Some might benefit from weekly sessions, while others may need it less frequently. An Ayurvedic specialist can provide guidance on the ideal frequency.

9. How should one prepare for a Shirodhara session?
It’s best to avoid heavy meals before the session. Wearing old clothing is advisable as the oils might drip. Also, clearing the rest of the day’s schedule can help one relax and enjoy the full benefits post-session.

10. Is there any aftercare post-Shirodhara?
It’s recommended to rest and avoid strenuous activities after the session. Some practitioners might suggest leaving the oil in the hair for enhanced benefits, while others may recommend washing it off after a certain period.


Remember, the information provided here is general and may not apply to specific individuals or conditions. Always consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner for personalized advice and guidance.

NOTE:
“This article does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on this WebSite. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call or visit your doctor.”

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References and citations

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335228848_A_CONCEPTUAL_STUDY_ON_SHIRODHARA_PROCEDURE
  2. https://www.ijsdr.org/papers/IJSDR2212110.pdf
  3. https://www.jetir.org/papers/JETIR2301599.pdf
  4. THERAPEUTIC EFFICACY AND MECHANISM OF ACTION OF AYURVEDIC SHIRODHARA: AN EVIDENCE-BASED REVIEW
  5. https://ijapr.in/index.php/ijapr/article/view/2434

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