Shirodhara comes from the two Sanskrit words “shiro” (head) and “dhara” (flow). It’s an Ayurvedic healing technique that involves having someone pour liquid — usually oil, milk, buttermilk, or water — onto your forehead. It’s often combined with a body, scalp, or head massage.
Ayurveda is a holistic health approach that originated in India thousands of years ago. It focuses on rebalancing the life forces, called doshas, within your body.
Shirodhara is said to have relaxing, soothing, and calming effects on the body and mind.
Research also suggests that shirodhara may help:
Keep in mind that most studies looking at the benefits of shirodhara have been pretty small, using only a handful of participants. Still, none of them suggest that the treatment has any negative effects.
If you’re new to shirodhara, it’s best to work with a professional who’s been trained in Ayurvedic practices (more on how to find one later).
At the start of the appointment, you’ll be asked to lie on your back and relax.
Next, the practitioner will heat up the liquid so it roughly matches your body temperature and place it in a bowl. They may hold the bowl over your head or use a stand.
Either way, the liquid will gently drip through a small hole in the bottom of the bowl, landing between your eyebrows. Your eyes will be covered with a lightweight barrier for protection.
The whole process generally lasts anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. It might involve a massage before or after the treatment.
There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing a liquid, and preferences vary across practitioners. Others might use different liquids for different effects.
Sesame oil is widely used because it’s a relatively neutral oil and mixes well with essential oils, which are sometimes used to enhance the experience.
Other oils that might be used include:
- sesame oil
- coconut oil
- ksheerabala oil
- mahanarayan oil
- clarified butter (ghee)
Some practitioners may opt for:
- coconut water
- animal milk
In addition to essential oils, practitioners might also add a variety of Ayurvedic herbs.
Be sure to tell your practitioner about any allergies or skin sensitivities you have ahead of the appointment.
Shirodhara is pretty safe. The main risks involve the liquid being too hot or getting into your eyes, which shouldn’t be an issue with an experienced practitioner.
If you have extra-sensitive skin, you might also want to ask about doing a patch test with the liquid first, just to make sure it won’t cause any irritation. Always dilute essential oils in a carrier oil.
If you have any cuts or open wounds, especially on your face, it’s best to hold off on trying shirodhara until they heal.
Finding a practitioner
If you’re interested in trying shirodhara, start by looking for practitioners in your area.
If you’re not sure where to start, check out the National Ayurvedic Medicine Association’s database of practitioners. Some wellness spas also offer shirodhara.
Before making the appointment, be sure to ask them any lingering questions you have, and whether there’s anything you should do to prepare for the appointment.
If you’re looking for a way to relax or are interested in trying out Ayurvedic medicine, shirodhara is a great, low-risk option to consider. Just be sure to work with an experienced practitioner to avoid any mishaps.