Shirodhara- Ayurveda in India – Treatment & Therapies

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.

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Abhyangam – Ayurveda in India – Treatment & Therapies

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.

What Does ‘Shirodhara’ Mean?

The term shirodhara is a union of two words: ‘shir‘ meaning head and ‘dhara‘ meaning pouring in a stream or sprinkling. Thus, shirodhara means the pouring of a liquid medicine in a stream over the head of a client for a stipulated amount of time.

Shirodhara is a type of ‘murdha taila’ procedure which means application of oil on the head or ‘murdha’. Application of oil can be done in various ways:

Shiro Abhyanga – Massaging the head with herbal oils for a fixed duration of time, usually 30-40 minutes.

Shiro Seka / Shiro dhara – A procedure in which the herbal oils or medicated liquids (milk, buttermilk, et cetera) are poured in a stream over the receiver’s head for a fixed duration of time, usually 35-45 minutes or 60 minutes.

Shiro Pichu – The application of a cotton pad dipped in oil over the head.

Shiro Basti (Vasti) – Procedure in which a dam is constructed over the head of a seated client (in sitting position) using a leather cap or any other suitable material. The cap is sealed to the head with wet flour of black gram and filled with herbal oils and held there for a stipulated time.

3 Types Of Shirodhara

  1. Sneha dhara uses herbal oil (tail) or ghee.
  2. Ksheer dhara uses milk infused with herbs.
  3. Takra dhara uses buttermilk infused with suitable herbs.

Sneh Dhara

An Ayurvedic practitioner can make use of different herbal oils and ghee based on his or her wisdom and experience. Different oils can be mixed and used depending on the practical experience and judgment of the practitioner. For example, Lakshadi oil may be used in pitta disorders and Dhanwantram oil or Mahanarayana oil may be used in Vata disorders.

In predominance of Vata, Kapha or Vata-Kapha imbalances, warm oil is generally used. In case of Pitta predominance or Pitta imbalances, cool (room temperature) oils and other liquids are used. In Pitta disorders, luke warm oil like Chandan Bala Lakshadi oil can be used. If the Pitta is also accompanied by Vata vitiation, then luke warm herbal ghee like Brahmi ghee or saraswat ghee can be used for the shirodhara.

Ksheer-dhara (pronounced shee-r)

This is another type of shirodhara in which medicated milk or milk infused with herbs is rhythmically poured on the forehead from a specific height and for a specific time period allowing the milk to run through the scalp and into the hair.


Takra-dhara is a type of shirodhara in which herb infused takra or butter milk is poured from a specific height and for a specific time period continuously and rhythmically, allowing the takra to run through the scalp and into the hair.

Why Shirodhara?

Consider the human body as an inverted tree. The roots are at the top and the branches point downwards. The head of the human body will be the root of this tree. The central portion of the body made up of the thorax and abdomen will be the trunk of this tree and the limbs, both upper and lower, will be the branches of this tree.

Just like the roots nurture and control all the activities and well being of the tree, the head is the operational center of the entire body. It controls the function of the brain and spinal cord. It has many marmas or vital points and is the house of the master endocrine gland, the pituitary. It is one of the seats of Vata dosha (Prana Vata in particular) and also houses subtypes of Kapha dosha (tarpak kapha) and Pitta dosha (sadhak pitta).

Through the respective nerve centers in the brain, the head also controls the sense of hearing, smell, taste and sight.

So as the three dosha are represented in the head region, any vitiation in the dosha can cause respective disorders with widespread repercussions in the whole body. Here shirodhara, through use of various mediums like oils, ghee and buttermilk, pacifies these dosha and works on the entire body indirectly. Shirodhara will make the head region strong so that the entire body works smoothly.

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 treatment is advised for the prevention of many psychosomatic disorders. In a healthy individual, prevention of diseases pertaining to the body, mind and sense organs is the foremost indication.

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.1 Shirodhara with milk has also proven effective in treating insomnia.2 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.

Jet Lag

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 a Vata soothing oil or Bhringaraj oil and apply to the head before bed or find a local practitioner to receive the treatment.


Raktagata Vata is an imbalance of Vata dosha that may be correlated with hypertension. Shirodhara has proven effective in lowering blood pressure.3  

Healthy Individuals

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.

More Indications Of Shirodhara

Various ancient texts of Ayurveda have advised use of oil on the head, like shirodhara, for the following indications.

  • Headaches of various types like cluster headaches, migraines, tension headaches, headache originating at the temples, using herbal oils or milk infused with herbs
  • Burning sensation in the head.
  • Consequences of head injuries
  • Hemiplegia or paralysis
  • To control vitiated Vata dosha
  • Diseases of Vata origin, mainly degenerative diseases
  • Diseases of Pitta origin, mainly inflammatory diseases
  • Dryness of the head region
  • For healthy and long hair
  • For itching of the scalp
  • Premature greying of the hair
  • Low level of vitality or ojas
  • Cracked lips
  • Heart disease
  • Agni mandhya or sluggish metabolism
  • Certain diseases of the ear
  • Certain diseases of the eye
  • Psoriasis like skin lesions
  • Loss of memory and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Diabetic neuropathy (as an adjunct with other treatments)
  • Proper neuro-muscular coordination
  • To delay aging4

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.


Article resource: The Ayurveda Experience


Ayurvedic Treatments


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