Published Internationally 2004

Ayurvedic Reflexology: A New Dimension

By Sharon Stathis

Ayurvedic Reflexology is a new concept which describes a dynamic therapy that deserves pride of place in our wellness programs. It involves the easy integration of Ayurvedic foot massage philosophy and techniques with the knowledge of contemporary Reflexology.

Many years ago I remember discovering some line drawings of the feet in a published article. Marked on the feet were small dots called “marma points”. The accompanying information stated that they were energy centres. However, no further information was given.

I had previously studied the Chinese acupuncture points on the feet and I could see that most of the marma points were in different locations. My curiosity was aroused. However, several years passed before I was able to explore the significance of these marma points and their powerful connection with healing through Ayurveda.

What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is the world’s oldest recorded healing system. Written records date back 4,500 years. Before that time, the knowledge of Ayurvedic medicine was passed on through the spoken word and by observation. “Ayur” means life and “veda” and means knowledge. So Ayurveda is the study of the knowledge of life.

Ayurveda is the folk medicine for much of India. For many people in that country, the principles of Ayurveda permeate all aspects of living. Ayurveda encourages good eating habits, healthy thoughts, sound personal relationships, and a harmonious and respectful relationship with nature. Ayurvedic medicine is based upon the Laws of Nature, and utilises naturally occurring substances for healing purposes, such as herbs, oils and minerals.

Ayurveda states that health is directly dependant upon harmony within oneself. Our inner harmony has a positive influence on our thoughts, feelings, physical actions, relationships and physical health. The goals of Ayurveda embrace personal happiness, fulfilment of life purpose and freedom from disease.

The Ayurvedic philosophy views disease as a helpful message that some negative patterning in our life needs to be changed. Ayurvedic medicine places significant emphasis on disease prevention. Ayurveda strongly encourages healthy personal habits that include regular detoxification and self-help massage as prophylactic measures.

Within Ayurvedic philosophy, wellness and the ability to heal are dependant upon the movement of energy within the body. This circulation of energy is facilitated via the chakras and a network of fine energy pathways called “nadis”. The body and mind are nourished with the vital life force known as “prana” which is transmitted throughout this network.

Ayurvedic Massage
Body massage is an integral part of the Ayurvedic system of healing. It is routinely administered in many Indian homes by family members, and has many uses. It promotes healthy growth in the young, helps adults maintain health and vigor, and is an aid in preventing the onset of degenerative diseases in the aged.

Foot massage is called “Padabhyanga”, and it has a very special place within the Ayurvedic tradition. It is helpful in the treatment of illness, and significantly prominent in the area of preventative medicine. In India, padabhyanga is commonly practised as a daily ritual, especially before retiring at night. There is a wonderful ancient Indian saying:

“Disease does not go near one who massages his feet before
sleeping, just as snakes do not approach eagles.”

India is a country of great diversity. The many dialects and melding of religious practices have impacted upon the techniques and words that are used within Ayurvedic practice. Just as we have many methods of reflexology application, so to are there various methods of Padabhyanga. However, the movement of energy is uniformly accepted as a focus for the foot massage.

Benefits of Ayurvedic foot massage include:
• helps to calm the mind
• helps maintain eyesight and hearing
• promotes quality sleep
• improves peripheral circulation
• aids foot health (alleviates pain, improves muscle tone and nourishes the skin)
• helps prevent sciatica
• helps to calm and maintain the “Vata dosha” which, when present in excess, is regarded as the
major cause of illness (dosha is the name given to a specific body temperament or energy type.)

The benefits of the massage may be enhanced by the choice of the massage oil. Although the base oils that are commonly used have their own therapeutic properties, they can also act as suitable vehicles for the addition of herbs and essential oils to help obtain the required healing effect. Sesame oil is the most commonly used oil for massage. It is rich in fat soluble vitamins, has a high mineral content and has excellent keeping qualities. Sesame oil is a powerful antioxidant, is easily absorbed and is very nourishing for the skin.

In parts of India a small bronze Kasa bowl is used in the massage routine. The bowl is warmed and the rounded surface is well oiled before application. The skin surface is rubbed lightly and briskly in circular and lengthwise directions to stimulate circulation and energy flow in the area.

Ayurvedic Principles associated with the massage
• It is preferred that the therapist and client are the same sex (for psychological comfort).
• The therapist needs to be well prepared physically, mentally and emotionally.
• The therapist’s hands are energetically charged with vigorous shaking and rubbing movements.
• When massaging a male, the right foot is massaged before the left.
• When massaging a female, the left foot is massaged first.
• For both male and female, the lateral side of the foot is massaged first (to move stagnant vata).
• Ayurvedic massage is generally brisk and stimulating.
• Massage strokes are usually firmer in the direction of the toes.
• Skin areas over joints are worked firmly with circular movements (unless contra-indicated).
• Massage oil is always warmed (preferably over water) before application.
• A bowl of salt water is placed near the work area to absorb any negative energy.

The Marma Points
Marma points are vital energy centres that are located throughout the body. They are primary
seats of prana that have considerable impact on our health and wellbeing. So powerful are these points, that Ayurvedic surgeons will not incise them. The marmas interact with the chakras via the nadis, and with the internal organs via channels called ‘srotas’. The specific influence on body function, and individual relationships with the internal organs, varies between marma points.

There are 107 major marma points in the body. Five of these points are located on each foot. Most of the foot marmas occur in more than one location. There is variation in the size of the marma points. Marma point locations are determined by measuring distance with the receiver’s finger widths. As with the massage techniques, there are varied techniques for working the marmas.

Some Guidelines for working Marma Points
• It is very important that force is never used on a marma point.
• The thumb is commonly used, but the index or middle fingers can also be used.
• The pad of the working finger must be well lubricated.
• Gentle, brisk, circular movements are applied to the points.
• The right hand works in a clockwise direction.
• The left hand uses a counter-clockwise direction.
• The thumb can be held on a marma point to help mobilise stagnated energy in the immediate
• Essential oils and heat can be used on the points to help energise.

Putting Ayurveda and Reflexology together
The massage movements commonly used in India today have been significantly influenced by ancient cultural input from Europe (particularly Greece) and the Middle East. If we look at how similar the origins are of our beloved reflexology, it is easy to see why this dynamic duo is so easily integrated. The additional information and insight that we have gained as experienced reflexologists, enhance the foundation supplied by ancient Padabhyanga. With the combining of these two holistic approaches to health, the benefits are magnified.

The contraindications that apply to reflexology are also applicable to Ayurvedic Reflexology. The reflexology “thumb-walking” technique commonly used in the West is not part of the Ayurvedic Reflexology routine. The broader–based hand movements are kinder to the reflexologist’s hands, and feel wonderful for both giver and receiver.
Since I have been using these combined techniques, I have become an unashamed convert. Yet I have been able to stay within the parameters of the principles that apply to reflexology. I have been delighted to observe the benefits my clients have obtained from this truly holistic approach into maintaining health and wellbeing.

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Godgama, Dr S The Handbook of Ayurveda Kyle Cathie Ltd, London 2001
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Johari, H Ayurvedic Massage Healing Arts Press, Rochester USA 1996
Kulkarni, Prof. P &
Kale, Prof. Y Abhyanga Tantra Ayurvedic Massage Ayurveda Education Series, Pune India 2002
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