By Sharon Stathis
During a trip to India in early 2006, I searched unsuccessfully for the elusive traditional Indian foot massage, Padabhyanga. It seemed that Western reflexology was on offer, not the traditional footwork. Recently I had the good fortune to return to India for a wonderful Hindu wedding. During that visit, my feet were treated to Padabhyanga by Dr. Bharati Lele and Dr. Nandan Lele. Both are doctors of Ayurvedic medicine.
They were using the ancient healing wisdom of India – “Ayurveda”. The Ayurvedic approach to health and wellbeing involves balancing the energies in the polarities (head and feet). It is recommended as a daily self-help routine. For reflexologists who are not familiar with Ayurvedic techniques, let me introduce you to this exciting area of knowledge.
The vital energy techniques that are incorporated in Padabhyanga are central to our health and wellbeing. When Padabhyanga is brought together with contemporary Western Reflexology, we have a powerful marriage of knowledge, and a new and dynamic approach to health care.
A brief look at Ayurveda
Ayurveda, the traditional medicine system of India, is the world’s oldest recorded healing system, with written records dating back 4,500 years. Ayurveda is considered to be the mother of all forms of modern medicine.
“Ayur” means life and “veda” and means knowledge. So Ayurveda is the study of the knowledge of life. It is not just a system of medicine, it is a pathway to healthy living. Ayurveda places emphasis on maintaining a healthy immune system to help prevent disease formation. Regular detoxification and daily, self-help massage form part of the prophylactic routines.
Within Ayurvedic philosophy, wellness and the ability to heal are dependant upon the unimpeded 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 supplied with the vital life force known as “Prana” which provides the whole being with energetic nourishment.
Body massage is an integral part of the Ayurvedic system of healing. 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.
Padabhyanga has a very special place within the Ayurvedic tradition. It is helpful in the prevention and treatment of illness. It is suggested that Padabhyanga is practised as a daily ritual, especially before retiring at night.
“According to the Indian scriptures, diseases do not go near one who massages his legs and feet from knee to toes before sleeping, just as snakes do not approach eagles.” 1
India is a country of great diversity. This diversity is reflected in the many and varied interpretations of Padabhyanga techniques. Padabhyanga can be summarized into three components: hand techniques, the Kasa bowl and marma therapy.
1 Hand techniques
The hand techniques include friction movements like rubbing and stroking, which stimulate the local cardiovascular circulation and the energetic flow. The application assists the directional flow of energy in the lower limbs. The energy flows down the legs and through the feet towards the toes.
Sesame oil is the most commonly used lubricant for Padabhyanga. Although it has its own therapeutic properties, it can also act as a suitable vehicle for the addition of herbs and essential oils to help obtain a specific healing effect.
2 Kasa bowl
Metals are extensively used in Ayurvedic treatments. Copper and tin are the major constituents of the authentic Kasa bowl that I use. The rounded surface of the warmed and well oiled bowl is rubbed on the plantar surface using circular and stroking movements.
Apart from feeling wonderful for the client, the kasa bowl has many health benefits. It helps draw toxins from the body, and helps balance foot and body temperature. The kasa bowl is a powerful tool when used specifically on the marma points.
3 Marma Therapy
Marma points are vital energy centres that are located throughout the body. They have considerable impact on our health and wellbeing. So powerful are these points, that Ayurvedic surgeons will not incise them. The marma points directly influence the function of the internal organs of the body. They also influence the relationships between organs.
Many marmas and acupuncture points share similar locations. However, the size and functions of the points differ. The marmas are much bigger than acupuncture points and consequently much easier to locate and work. There is considerable variation in the size of individual marma points.
Marma therapy is used to detoxify, tonify and rejuvenate. “Treating them (marmas) can release negative emotions and remove mental blockages, including those of a subconscious nature (like addictions). This means that there is an important psychological side to their treatment.” 2
To demonstrate how profound this therapy is, Frawley et al states that “Through working on marma points, we can control our Prana. Through Prana we can control our sensory and motor organs, and eventually our entire mind-body complex,” 3
Five of the 107 primary marma points are located on each foot (and hand). Frawley et al states that “Therapeutic regions, like marmas on the arms and legs, are the most important for treatment purposes”. 4
We know that reflexology has a profound effect on mind/body function. Reflexologists are already working marma points whether we know it or not. However, with further knowledge of the marmas and the correct working techniques, we have the potential to significantly increase the effectiveness of our foot (and hand) work.
The marmas located in the extremities occur on both sides of the body. Some of the points have an anterior and a posterior aspect. As a general rule, when treating foot (and hand) marmas, the corresponding marmas on both limbs are treated in the same session. Importantly for reflexologists, four of the foot marmas have a direct influence on foot health and function.
There are many techniques for working the marmas and all involve working with care and sensitivity.
Combining Padabhyanga and Reflexology
I believe the practice of marma therapy will expand and develop in the near future, particularly among energy-based therapy practitioners such as reflexologists. As experienced reflexologists, we can enhance the effective work we already do, with the knowledge from ancient Padabhyanga. The benefits obtained by combining these two holistic approaches are magnified.
I have called this dynamic duo “Ayurvedic Reflexology”. In developing Ayurvedic Reflexology I have remained within the principals of traditional reflexology. I have been delighted to observe the benefits my clients have obtained from this truly holistic approach into maintaining health and wellbeing.
1. Johari, H. Ayurvedic Massage Healing Arts Press, Vermont USA, 1996. p. 62.
2. Frawley, D., Ranade, S., Lele, A. Ayurveda and Marma Therapy: Energy Points in Yogic Healing Lotus Press, Twin Waters USA, 2003. p. 34.
3. Frawley, D. et al. op.cit. p. 41.
4. Frawley, D. et al. op.cit. p. 29.