Marma-Point Massage: A
Gift From India
ongoing evolution of massage techniques,
sometimes it pays to stop peering into the
future and, instead, unearth hidden treasures
from the past. Marma-point massage, stemming
from Ayurveda, the ancient healing system of
India, is just such a gem.
marma-point massage has been utilized for
thousands of years, it's just recently been
introduced to the Western world. Now, spas
worldwide are offering marma-point massage. With
training, this therapy can be added to a spa's
menu, or offered as a spa-type therapy by a
massage therapist in private practice.
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Where consciousness meets
The guiding principal of Ayurveda is disease
prevention by harmonizing the body's rhythm with
nature. One way to create this balance and align
the body's healing energies is through marma-point
therapy is a mind/body/spirit massage," explains
Elaine Molloy, an instructor of Ayurvedic
medicine in Salem, massachusetts. "It goes way
beyond the physical to penetrate the body on a
deeper level. It's on that level that true
healing takes place."
a Sanskrit word meaning hidden , or secret. By
definition, a marma point is a juncture on the
body where two or more types of tissue meet,
such as muscles, veins, ligaments, bones or
joints. Yet marma points are much more than a
casual connection of tissue and fluids; they ar
intersections of the vital life force and prana,
marma points are where consciousness meets
matter; where deep silence resides in the body."
says massae therapist Pamela Haynes, former
owner of Ayurveda Plus Rejuvenation Center in
Portland, Oregon, and now an Ayurvedic massage
therapist at the Barefoot Sage Spa, also in
Portland. In Ayurveda, marma points are thought
to house the three pillars of life, otherwise
known as the doshas.
According to Ayurvedic philosphy, doshas make up
a person's constitution. The trinity includes
vata (air), pitta (fire) and kapha (earth).
Everone is born in a state of balance, or
prakriti. During the aging process, factors such
as anxiety, lackluster diet, or poor sleep
habits cause disharmony among the doshas. Over
the years, doshic imbalances begin to block the
movement of free-flowing energy in the body.
Eventually, the stagnation opens the door to
physical and mental discomfort and disease.
Enter marma massage.
behind massaging the marma points is to cleanse
blocked energy, also called chi, by either
arousing or calming the doshas. Like a
television with three channels, each marma point
has three receptors that align with the three
doshas. During a marma-point massage, the points
are stroked in a deliberate sequence using
specific essential oils.
"Strictly speaking it's not a massage as defined
by hands kneading tissue," explains Molloy.
"Marma massage is more like a very light
stimulation of points on the body."
107 marma points cover the human body. They
range in size from one to six inches in
diameter. The points were mapped out in detail
centuries ago in the Sushruta Samhita, a classic
Ayurvedic text. Major marma points correspond to
the seven chakras, or energy centers of the
body, while minor points radiate out along the
torso and limbs. The points cover both the front
and back body, including 22 on the lower
extremities, 22 on the arms, 12 on the chest and
stomach, 14 on the back, and 37 on the head and
neck. (The mind is considered the 108th marma.)
Each has its onw Sanskrit name given by Sushruta,
one of the founding fathers of Ayurvedic
points are located and measured by the finger
widths, called anguli. Unlike the tiny,
pin-pricked-sized points in comparable
therapies, like acupuncture, marma points are
relatively large and easy to find.
historians believe that other point therapies,
including acupuncture, acupressure and
reflexology, grew out of the science of marma.
The key difference is that most other point
practices work through the body's network of
energetic currents, or meridians. Marma points,
on the other hand, bridge the gap between the
physical and energetic bodies by carrying
energetic information between the mind and the
body's organs and tissues.
point is the junction between physiology and
consciousness," says Ed Danaher, director of the
Pancha Karma department at the Ayurvedic
Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "They are
vital points on the body where vata, pitta, and
kapha are present in their subtlest forms."
Marma-point massage dates back to southern India
circa 1500 BC. Masters of kalari, an ancient
martial art, first discovered the power of marma
points. In battle, kalari fighters targeted an
opponent's marma points as a way to inflict pain
and injury. According to kalari lore, people
have 12 marma points that, when hit with a
knockout blow, can cause instant death. These
areas were so important that soldiers even used
armor to protect their horses' marma points
while riding into battle.
with their ability to kill, however, comes an
ability to heal. Wounded kalari fighters were
nursed back to health with marma therapy.
Practitioners used marma-point massage to
stimulate healing in areas that corresponded to
the soldier's injuries. If a warrior suffered a
blow to the small intestines, for example, the
marma point on the back of the calf, which
corresponds directly with the upper intestine,
would be massaged to trigger a healing flow of
energy to the injury. Eventually, Ayurvedic
physicians around India learned of the
technique's powers and brought kalari masters
into hospitals to teach the art. Soon,
marma-point training became mandatory for
surgeons, who would take great pains to work
around specific points lest they risk a
patient's life. Today marma-point massage is
still a respected component of Ayurvedic
There are no official educational standards for
those seeking to call themselves marma-point
massage therapists. Some practitioners complete
hundred of hours of apprenticeship alongside
Ayurvedic masters, while others glean the basics
from weekend workshops. Whichever the case,
mastering marma massage isn't something that
spent a five-year apprenticeship with an
Ayurvedic physician, studying the technique.
isn't something you can learn in a weekend
workship," she says. "Marma [points] aren't
something to play around with.
advice to those wanting to learn the technique
is to search out an apprenticeship with an
Ayurvedic healer, or attend an in-depth training
session offered by one of the nation's Ayurvedic
on the other hand, feels that most students can
learn the necessary basics in a few months. For
massage therapist interested in marma-point
therapy, she recommends getting a solid
foundation in Ayurveda. In her 12-week Ayurveda
class for massage therapists, she waits until
week eight to introduce marma-point therapy. The
wait ensures that her students have a sure
footing in the teachings of Ayurveda. "You can
learn marma massage without knowing the doshas,
" she says, "but you wouldn't have a true
understanding of what you're doing.
the first things to learn are the locations and
qualities of the basic marma points. While the
thought of memorizing the position and width of
107 points may be daunting, one can easily start
by learning the names and qualitites of the most
apparent ones. Many marma points are naturally
sensitive areas that most massage therapists are
familiar with, such as the temples, the base of
the skull, and the backs of the knees.
Eventually, you can expand your knowledge to
include a wider breadth of points.
important is the ability to discern what
imbalances may be present in a client's doshas.
This can be as simple as having the client
complete a questionnaire on diet, ailments and
behavior patterns, or as complex as teaming up
with an Ayurvedic physician who can provide a
full doshic evaluation. Typically, this
evalution includes an in-depth questionnaire,
examination of the tongue, eyes and nails, and
taking wrist-pulse measurements. (In Ayurveda
there are multiple pulses measured in the
wrist.) The final preparatory step is to choose
one or more essential oils that either
complement the client's doshas or brings her
back into balance. For example, a marma-point
massage therapist may use oil that is high in
pitta energy, such as sunflower oil, for a
client whose pitta dosha is low.
knowledge of essential oils is helpful," says
Molloy. "You need to know the differences
between oils that are stimulating versus those
that are relaxing. Your body instinctively loves
the smell of what heals you, so you don't want
to use an oil that aggravates the doshas."
When it comes to massageing the marma points,
the subtlety of the technique cannot be
overstated. Using one or more fingers (depending
on the size of the point), the massage therapist
starts with a light touch, becoming increasingly
firm over the course of one to three minutes per
point. Working only as deep as the client feels
comfortable, the therapist's motions can be
either direct or circular. Clockwise movements
stimulate and energize a marma point, while
counterclockwise motions break up blocked energy
held within a point.
feel each point releasing," says client Rick
Doak, of Portland, Oregon. "The flow of energy
in my body was very dynamic, not subtle at all."
tried many different styles of massage before
discovering marma-point massage. "Normally,
after a regular massage, I feel good for a day
or two and then it wears off," he says. "With
marma massage, something happens that makes me
more in tune with my own energy, like a built-in
reminder of how to relax. It gave me a
long-lasting sense of calm."
some massage therapists may weave marma-point
stimulation into other techniques, purists will
argue that it is best done on its own. A typical
marma-point massage session lasts between 60 to
90 minutes, during which the therapist either
covers all 107 points briefly or concentrates
her attention on a handful of key points. The
difference lies in the expertise of the
practitioner and the needs of the client. Either
way, the experience can be deeply relaxing and
massage had a tremendous effect on the energy
moving inside my body," says Donna Selby, a
chi-going instructor and client of Haynes. "It
was like a winding down thta went to the root,
to a stillness. I went deeper into the
experience than I ever went with deep-tissue
massage or acupuncture, and the feeling lasted
to a growing thrist for holistic health care,
Molloy predicts that the surge in interest for
both marma-point massage and Ayurveda will
continue to climb.
popularity will grow as more and more people
look beyond Western medicine for ways of
healing," she says. "Besides, when I teach my
students marma massage, they fall in love with
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Catherine Guthrie is a free-lance health and
medical writer who lives in Louisville,