The castor oil bath is one of the best kept secrets for self-care that I've found. It's luxurious, messy, unctuous, uplifting and cheap! I've found the effects beneficial for muscular aches, arthritis and even shortening respiratory infections and skin rashes.
Addition (11.12.14): Please be aware of your body as you try new practices and start slowly and follow all the directions. This is a rest day practice and you'll want your schedule clear for at least 12 hours after for rest. Start with the low end time-wise (5 minutes) and see how it effects you. As always, you are your own guru and your body is your responsibility and joy. I offer this description of what I do to help you decide what you might want to try. I give no medical advice. This is a self-care technique that you can choose to include in your wider self-care regimen.
The bottle of castor oil (if you choose to use castor oil) is 10 bucks and you use half a bottle. The rest of the stuff you probably have on hand, and every bit of it is modifiable for your needs. This is a weekly self-care routine that aids the body in strong practices and is the perfect practice for a rest day.
Traditionally in many cultures oil represents love. Oiling the body has positive effects that are both obvious and subtle: the skin is moisturized and lubricated and you feel cared for. Since the skin is the largest organ of the body, caring for it cares for all it protects.
Castor oil is said to effect even the muscles, ligaments and tendons, releasing metabolic byproducts and making the skeletal support system supple. According to this article, its global effect on the body is due to its low molecular weight. Avoid strong practice or exercise for 24 hours after the oil bath.
The traditional oil to use is castor. Castor oil is thick and sticky and some folks are averse and use other skin care oils. Castor is specifically recommended for Kapha constitution and for the weekly oil bath. Some options are sesame for Vata and sunflower or coconut for Pitta, as mentioned in this article on a related practice, abhyanga, or daily self oil massage.
I get food grade castor oil at Whole Foods and use half a bottle each week, about 8 oz. Find about half an hour - longer if you can :) - where you can close the door and be in the bathroom alone. You'll be sticky and oily, so there will be very little taking care of business.
Pour your hot bath before you start. I use Hugo Naturals bath bombs (rose-sandalwood is my fave :) and either EO bath gel (until they discontinued rose geranium!) or 365 no scent shower gel as bubble bath. Get something to sit on that you don't mind staining (I use my old bolster, you can also use a towel. You'll want to put down a bath mat or towels over the floor.
Put on music, grab your meditation timer - the Insight Meditation Timer is my fave. Set timer for 15 minutes.
Get your drinking water and book for when you're in the bath.
Sit on your cushion of choice. You'll be here for 15 minutes so, so the cushion is helpful.
You can warm the oil in a pitcher if you'd like - sit the pitcher in a hot water bath on the stove until it's warm or if you use a microwave, start with 10 seconds and test - be careful not to overheat.
Or go straight from the bottle, which I do when I'm short on time (most of the time).
Pour over the center of your head. Lots. Allow to drip down. Tilt your head, pour in ears. Stop and massage into scalp, face, neck and throat. Pour over arms, swipe over armpits. Pour a line across the top of your back and let it drip while you cover chest and abdomen. Then massage oil into back.
Stand up briefly and oil hips, buttocks, thighs, knees.
Sit down and oil lower legs and feet.
Start the meditation timer (5-15 minutes).
Seated meditation focusing on the breath, observing the coming and going of thoughts without getting caught up in their stories.
When the gong goes off, proceed to the tub. You're very oily!!! Be careful not to slip, always maintain 3 points of contact, just like rock climbing. Put down a rubber bath mat and do what you need to make sure you're safe.
Massage shampoo into your scalp before you dunk your head.
RELAX! Stay in the tub at least 15 minutes to soak oil in as well as remove excess.
When you're ready to get out, get out onto bath mat. Dry off. You'll still feel a bit moisturized. That's good. You can wash the extra oil out in a shower now or let it soak til next day. When you're done, put your socks or slippers on your feet for extra skid protection. Turn the hot water on and run the shower for at least 2 minutes, guiding the water over every part of the floor as accessible and sponging the rest while you are safely on dry land. Cleansing the oil from the tub is necessary for everyone's safety! Do this before you get in for a shower for your safety.
Rest as possible during the next 24 hours. No vigorous yoga practice for 24 hours. Iyengar says not to do this after dark, though I must confess I often do and have found no adverse effects. Avoid while menstruating and if pregnant.
Launder linens as soon as possible. I've read that the castor can be flammable. I haven't had that problem, but thought I'd let you know it's sometimes mentioned. I just launder immediately, hot water, my usual soap (365 baby laundry enzymatic soap - the only thing I'm not allergic to :)
Let me know what you think! Remember to take a moment to appreciate the effort you're putting into to taking care of yourself. Revel in that appreciation. It's better than wine.... which is saying something ;>