Posted by: Rhett Hatfield | June 16, 2009

How to Give a Shirodhara Part 6: Traditional Shirodhara Technique

How to Give a Shirodhara Part 6: Traditional Shirodhara Technique

A Quick Note About Me:
My name is Rhett Hatfield and in addition to being the owner and Director of Education for the Body Wisdom Massage Therapy School I am am indigenous therapies researcher in Asia and South East Asia and normally spend several months there every year. You can read more about me and my travels in the Blog section Body Wisdom Global

Section 6 Overview:
Having covered all the preparations for Shirodhara in sections 1-5 we are now ready to perform the actual technique itself in the traditional way.  In truth the proper preparations for giving Shirodhara are just as important if  not more important than the actual treatment itself.  If you Rhett-and-Teacherhave not followed these posts up until now you might want to take a few minutes to review the background and preparations that have brought us to where we are now.

Links to sections 1-5
Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #1: “Intro.”
Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #2: “The Droni (table)”
Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #3 “Shirodhara Pot and Stand”
Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #4 “Preparations of Medicines”
Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #5 “Final Preparations for Treatment”

Medicines to Taken the Morning of:
As stated previously the best time for Shirodhara is in the morning on an empty stomach.  In some cases the Ayurvedic physician will prescribe medicine to be taken in the morning.  Normally this will Gandharvahaatadi kashayam which is both a laxative and digestive.  However if Pitta is in predominance for proper evacuation of the bowels a decoction of grapes and Haritaki is better.

Spiritual and Other Preparations:
All preparations and materials should be completely prepared before the patient enters the room for Shirodhara
and the practitioner should have taken care of their own calls of nature, washing of hands and cleansing of teeth and mouth (this is traditional).  When the physician calls the patient should wash the feet once more and enter the treatment room and stand before the “lamp” facing the East.  Traditionally in the treatment room there will always be a table with an arrangement of traditional Hindu items including a lamp, incense holder, pictures of the sacred Hindu deities and sometimes a picture of the physicians teacher.  The patient will then offer his own prayers to his deities (Gods) and pray for the success of the treatment to come.  In India there are very few if any undertakings in life than do not have prayers and offerings attached to them and Shirodhara is no exception.  Now the patient seats himself on the table and the physician (practitioner) stands at his side and mentally pays homage to his teacher and God.

Note: Whether or not you or I agree with the Hindu religion, in the interest of documenting a traditional therapy as I found it in the country of origin (in this case India) I have included the Ayurvedic approach in its entirety including their approach to spirituality.

Offerings at Altar

Anointing the 7 Vital Points:
As mentioned in Section #5 of this series, it is traditional before starting the Shirodhara to rub Rasnadi powder mixed with a little oil on the 7 vital points in the body.  There are 3 vital Marma points on the head including the crown of the head and the other four points are at the center of the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.  These points are to be massaged in a circular fashion and in a direction that is appropriate for each side of the body.

Anointing the Body with Oil
In most cases just prior to the Shirodhara the practitioner will anoint the body of the patient with oil.  Ksheerabala oil is the oil most commonly used for this purpose and the massage itself is called Abhyanga.  Abhyanga is performed with warm oil and the course of the massage is rotated through seven traditional positions of the body including sitting, prone, side lying and supine and is done in a particular pattern, direction and certain order until completed.


Final Preparations:
After the Abhyanga, the patient is brought into a sitting position and a piece of cloth or rolled gauze is put as a band around the head just above the eyebrows with a knot on the side (the knot is placed on the side for comfort when the head rests on the Droni table).  The purpose of the gauze headband is to prevent any oil from entering the eyes during the Shirodhara.  A pillow covered with vinyl or plastic (to prevent absorption of the oil) is placed as a headrest for the comfort of the patient and the patient now lies down on the table and gets comfortable.

The Shirodhara Process:
There are two attendants necessary for a traditional Shirodhara.  Attendant #1 will take care of the Shirodhara pot and attendant #2 will be responsible for heating the oil and replenishing the oil back into the pot as it runs out over the course of the treatment.  These attendants should be a well practiced team that can work efficiently and also silently throughout the treatment.


Attendant #1 will adjust the height of the shiro pot and position it so that the string is hanging right over the center and 2 inches above the top of the forehead of the patient.  This attendant will bring the pot back off of the head of the patient and attendant #2 who will have already warmed the oil to the proper temperature will fill the pot with oil.  While the oil is being transferred into the Shiro pot attendant #1 will hold their finger over the hole at the bottom of the pot preventing the oil from beginning to flow out.  After the Shiro pot is completely filled with the warmed oil (or other liquid depending on the type of Dhara) attendant # 1 will remove their finger from the pot allowing the oil to flow on to the table first so that the stream of the oil can be adjusted properly.  Only when the stream is flowing properly will attendant #1 bring the oil stream onto the forehead of the patient.

The Shirodhara Stream:
The height of the string over the top of the forehead should be about 2 inches above so that the stream does not strike the forehead too hard nor too soft.  The thickness of the stream should neither be too thick or to thin but rather of a thickness that is pleasing to the constitution of the patient.  The stream should be moved back and forth over the forehead of the patient continuously without stopping.  This is the traditional way and my consultations and training with many Ayurvedic doctors confirms that it is considered dangerous from an Ayurvedic perspective to allow the stream to just run over the center of the forehead for expended periods of time or even for the entire length of the Shirodhara as is commonly practiced in spas these days.  The speed of the movement should be of a medium and consistent speed throughout the length of the Shirodhara. The temperature of the oil should be constantly monitored throughout the treatment and the oil heated as necessary to maintain the proper temperature.   This and constantly refilling the Shirodhara pot to keep the pot at least 1/2 full is the job of attendant #2.  Another job of the attendant #2 is to periodically drain excess oil from the hair and keep the oil in the Droni moving toward the collection area and into the transfer pot.

All these factor are very important as well as monitoring the condition and reaction of the patient throughout the treatment and can only be learned under the supervision of a qualified teacher and not via a post such as this one.

When the Shirodhara is complete, usually after 30-60 minutes but can be as long as 90 minutes if given in a series of 7 or 14 sessions  (refer to previous posts in this series) the stream must be moved off of the head of the patient and NOT allowed to drip, drip, drip to completion over the forehead.  During this time is is VERY important to maintain a completely silent environment and not be milling around cleaning up items etc.  It is very likely that the patient is in a very deep state of relaxation and possibly deep inner reflection as well.  Because of this complete silence and stillness should be maintained for at least a period of 10-15 minutes to allow the session to completely resolve and integrate.

Post Treatment:
After the period of resolution the patient can be invited to sit up right on the table and the excess oil is blotted from the hair.  Right after the treatment the patient is taken to the shower area the the previously prepared Amalaka herbal infusion is poured over the head and the whole body.


Normally green gram or other flour is rubbed on the body to remove the excess oil.  Soap is not used in the traditional approach.  Afterward a towel or cap is placed on the head (depending on the temperature) to make absolutely certain the the head does not get cold.  It is considered VERY important that the head not become chilled at any time!!  The client can then go somewhere and lie down in an relaxing environment for full resolution.  If using oil, leaving the oil on the head for a couple of hours after the treatment allows the healing benefits of the Shirodhara oil to continue.

An traditional Ayurvedic doctor will normally advise the patient on the proper foods to eat and possible medicines to take according to the condition and constitution of the patient post treatment.

Clean Up:
All surfaces and equipment should be completely cleaned and sanitized after the treatment in preparation for the next client or patient.

In the final installment of this series I will discuss several options for performing a modernized Shirodhara.  See you then …. !!

Please let me know what you are thinking by commenting on this post


Rhett Hatfield, Owner/Director of Education Body Wisdom School
“750-1600 Massage Therapist Certification Programs, 5 Different Career Tracks.” Create your “custom massage certification program” of anywhere from 750-1600 hours of World Class Massage and Bodywork Education.  CEU Programs available

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  1. […] of Medicines” Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #5 “Final Preparations for Treatment” Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #6 “Traditional Shirodhara […]

  2. […] of Medicines” Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #5 “Final Preparations for Treatment” Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #6 “Traditional Shirodhara […]

  3. […] of Medicines” Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #5 “Final Preparations for Treatment” Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #6 “Traditional Shirodhara […]

  4. […] of Medicines” Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #5 “Final Preparations for Treatment” Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #6 “Traditional Shirodhara […]

  5. […] of Medicines” Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #5 “Final Preparations for Treatment” Link to How to Give a Shirodhara Part #6 “Traditional Shirodhara […]

  6. […] Read the rest here: How to Give a Shirodhara Part 6: Traditional Shirodhara Technique […]

  7. Lots of wonderful information on this site! Thank you so much & I’m looking forward to part 7…

  8. Is Shirodhara Part 7 posted?

    • Hello Brenda … I am just putting together some materials so that I can show a couple of “modern” versions of the Shirodhara treatment. It will probably still be a few weeks or so. Sorry for the delay. Are you a student or practitioner of Shirodhara?

      Be well …
      Rhett Hatfield

  9. Good information! Looking forward to see “modern version of Shirodhara”.
    loving kindness,

  10. Thank you for these fascinating posts on Shirodhara!

  11. I understand that the oil is captured and recycled back into the pouring pot during the treatment. At the end of the treatment is the oil discarded, or can it be used again for the same patient at the next shirodhara?

    Kind regards, Andrew.

    • Hello Andrew …

      If the shiros are close together the oil can certainly be saved and used a couple of more times. However in a “perfect world” I would rather use fresh oil for each shiro. This does use up precious resources and can be very costly especially if the preparations are made with true Ayurvedic blends specifically for shiro. The practice of using the same oil over again for “other clients” (I am have seen this in India BTW and elsewhere) is absolutely a no-no for hygienic and energetic reasons.


  12. Thanks for clarifying that Rhett.

  13. It is wonderful to hear about these traditional Ayurvedic therapies here. Sounds wonderful. Thank you for your articles.

  14. I read thorugh the complete 6 parts.. i have fixed an appointment for shiro dhara massage and wanted to know more about it. Your site was of great help.. As an indian , do really appreciate your interest towards our culture and presenting it exactly the way it is. Vanakkam… 🙂

    • Glad to know the information was helpful Vanakkam and hope you enjoy your shiro dhara or series of shiro dharas.

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