By Sharon Stathis
(Original 5 April 2008, Revised 13 July 2016)
Ayurveda (pronounced I-yoor-vay-da) is the ancient, traditional health system of India. When the principles of Ayurveda are brought together with contemporary Western reflexology, we have a powerful marriage of knowledge, and a new and dynamic approach to wellness.
I have called this new advance in health care Ayurvedic Reflexology.
This innovative form of reflexology is currently riding a wave of global acceptance amongst practitioners. I’m delighted and encouraged by the feedback I’m receiving regarding the efficacy of this work.
Ayurvedic Reflexology is not ‘just another’ form of reflexology. By way of introduction, let me share with you how different and exciting this therapeutic approach is. Here are some comments made by attendees of Ayurvedic Reflexology workshops.
This course is wonderfully different. Marma points and kasa bowl work are exciting and new, and kinder on the hands. L. A., Brisbane, Australia 2004
Fantastically inspiring – I wish I had known about this earlier. M. G., Copenhagen, Denmark 2006
Ayurvedic Reflexology is simplistic, insightful, energising, easy on the physical body for the practitioner. K. H., Belfast, N. Ireland 2007
I wish your treatment could be bottled, as it is the best form of reflexology. I wish more reflexologists learnt and practised this form of reflexology ……” P. H., London 2007
It was a new aspect for me – a new way of appreciating Reflexology in a new, more spiritual way. M. A., Athens, Greece 2105
Excellent – really like the integration of Science/TCM/Reflex/Ayurveda/Spirituality. This style feels much more in line with My Being & Beliefs than Ingham Reflex. A. A., Vancouver, Canada 2016
The purpose of quoting these testimonials is to emphasise that Ayurvedic Reflexology has something special to offer practitioners and their clients. It is a new and dynamic approach to health that helps meet the well-being needs of communities today.
In this article I will discuss various aspects of Ayurvedic Reflexology that include:
- Ayurveda fundamentals
- Ayurvedic massage
- hand techniques
- the bronze kasa bowl
- dynamic vital energy centres (marma points)
- Ayurvedic Reflexology – benefits, contraindications, procedure
- East meets West
As previously mentioned, Ayurvedic Reflexology is the successful combination of two effective approaches to health care, Ayurveda and Reflexology. Reflexologists and most other body workers trained in Western methods are familiar with the way in which reflexology contributes to health and wellness.
At this point in time many Western therapists are not familiar with Ayurveda and its bodywork techniques. Let me introduce you to this exciting area of knowledge and provide you with some meaningful insight into this complex and profound system of mind-body medicine.
Ayurveda – some basic concepts
Ayurveda provides us with the oldest recorded form of medicine. It is loosely referred to as ‘the mother of all forms of medicine’. The original principles of Ayurveda were developed by the great Indian sages (rishis) many thousands of years ago. Ayur (or ayus) means ‘life’ and veda and means ‘knowledge’. So Ayurveda is the study of the knowledge of life.
The Ayurvedic approach to health and wellbeing is based on the concept that there is a deep connection between mind, body and spirit. The philosophy of Ayurveda states that there is no separation between the physical body and the mind. One cannot maintain physical health if the mind is unhappy. Ayurveda has a spiritual basis, and encourages individuals to embrace healthy spiritual practices.
“Restoring wholeness in body, mind and spirit is what we are all seeking, both individually and collectively.” say Frawley et al 1
Ayurveda acknowledges an inextricable connection between humans and everything else in the universe. It is not surprising then that Ayurveda strongly advocates that we embrace a harmonious and respectful relationship with Nature. Ayurvedic medicine is based on the Laws of Nature and utilises naturally occurring substances for healing purposes. These include herbs, vegetable oils, essential oils, minerals and gemstones.
Ayurveda has made significant contributions to other major medical systems such as Greek (Unani), Tibetan and Chinese Medicine. They share many similarities. In Ayurveda, the energy or life force that is present within every living thing is known as prana. In Chinese medicine this vital energy is referred to as chi (or qi). Health and wellbeing on all levels are dependent on prana. It is obtained from the food and liquid we ingest and the air that we breathe.
I like Robert Svoboda’s 2 description of prana “According to an ancient analogy, prana is the life force that strings the body, mind and spirit together like beads in a strand of breath”
Prana flows within the body through micro energy channels called nadis (similar to the Chinese meridians). These thousands of channels permeate the energy fields, including the dense physical form – the body. The nadis facilitate the flow of prana through the major energy centres, the chakras, and to all body areas. If the flow of prana is sluggish or blocked, the inevitable outcome will be an absence of health (dis-ease) within the organism.
Prana naturally flows, via major nadis, down through the limbs towards the fingers and toes. The application of Ayurvedic Reflexology techniques supports and reinforces this directional flow of pranic energy.
Ayurveda and health
Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine recognise and honour the uniqueness of each individual. It naturally follows that unique constitutional differences require individualised health management plans.
Ayurveda’s holistic approach to wellness is very different to the reductionist method of medicine that we are familiar with in the West. Usually, with the Western approach, people exhibiting the same outward symptoms are all treated in a similar manner.
The basic theoretical concept of Ayurvedic medicine involves three bioenergetic principles (doshas) that are involved with the regulation of all natural processes within the organism. Many readers will be familiar with the terms vata, pitta and kapha. These are the three doshas of Ayurveda.
Each dosha contains five essential elements within it. In a similar fashion to the Chinese system of medicine, Ayurveda is based on a five element theory. The five elements of Ayurveda are earth, water, fire, air and space. Everything in the universe is comprised of these elements. This includes all animals – even us.
Two of the five elements predominate in each dosha. This predominance gives vata, pitta and kapha their distinct and different qualities. Each of us has a unique combination of the doshas which, in turn, provides us with our personal characteristics e.g. physical attributes, personality, behavioural traits. This unique doshic combination is referred to as prakruti (or prakriti). It is our basic constitution.
Physical and mental health will be preserved as long as the doshas maintain their dynamic balance. In the Ayurvedic system of medicine, illness is perceived as a deviation from the optimum balance of vata, pitta and kapha. This deviation results from the aggravation of one or more of the doshas. The resulting imbalance is called vikruti (or vikriti). Individuals will manifest vikruti in a variety of unique ways.
Western medicine focuses on treating illness. With Ayurveda the emphasis is on prevention of illness rather than cure. Most of us are constantly exposed to a multitude of physical and mental pollutants. These pollutants can be caused by internal and external factors e.g. inappropriate dietary regimes, over or under exercise, emotional and mental stress, environmental pollutants. Even different climatic conditions and our age can affect our delicate doshic balance.
If health is to be maintained, pollutants and aggravated doshas (if in excess) need to be removed. To do this, detoxification procedures are routinely administered in professional Ayurvedic clinics. Diagnosis of doshic imbalance is made by appropriately qualified health professionals before specific corrective regimes are ordered.
“In Ayurvedic medicine, prevention starts with a lifestyle that is in harmony with the changing cycles of nature.” Dr. John Douillard 3
As part of the preventative strategy, Ayurveda provides guidelines for wholesome daily living practices that will support an individual’s prakruti and help them to maintain homeostasis. These practices include dietary regimes, exercise (usually yoga), meditation and self-massage.
Body massage is an integral part of the Ayurvedic system of healing. Massage 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. Various forms of massage play a significant role in Ayurvedic treatments and in self-maintenance regimes.
In Ayurvedic clinical treatments, body massage (abhyanga) with oil (snehana) is usually followed by a form of sweat therapy (swedana) to remove superficial wastes and toxins from the skin. The primary aim of this form of massage is to mobilise internal toxins and wastes (including disturbed doshas) and move them towards the alimentary canal for elimination.
Daily, self-massage, in its various forms, is strongly encouraged to help an individual maintain health. Self-massage is usually recommended in the morning, before breakfast. A ten to twenty minute all over body (or wherever you can reach) massage with oil (usually sesame) is followed by a warm (not too hot) shower.
Shortcuts can be taken if time doesn’t allow for total body massage. Usually the head (including face & ears) and several important, vital energy centres are a must.
The areas of interest here that resonate with Western reflexologists are, of course, massage of the extremities. Ayurveda includes massage of the hands (hasta-abhyanga) and feet (padabhyanga) as an essential part of healthy living. Hand massage is usually applied in the morning. Alternatively, foot massage is often recommended at night to calm the mind in preparation for sound sleep.
“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.” 4
As we know, there are often exceptions to the rule, and above all, common sense needs to prevail! I try to maintain my daily, self-care routine, but sometimes this requires flexibility. For example, if I am very tired at night, my footwork will have to wait until the morning. For me, the quality of foot work is more important than when it is performed!
India is a country of great diversity. This diversity is reflected in the many and varied interpretations of hasta-abhyanga and padabhyanga techniques. The massage can generally be summarised into three major components: applied hand techniques, the kasa bowl and marma therapy. These are the exciting additions to the Western reflexology and massage regimes that make Ayurvedic Reflexology so special.
Applied hand techniques
The Ayurvedic hand techniques will be familiar to Western exponents of massage. They include lots of friction movements like rubbing and stroking, which stimulate the local cardiovascular and lymphatic circulations, and the flow of prana.
Friction movements can be applied in a variety of ways. Therapists can use the pads and sides of fingers and thumbs, the knuckles, the palms and the heels of the hands. Movements are usually applied briskly to stimulate local & systemic circulations, and can be helpful when applied with care over bony prominences e.g. bony joints of the hands and feet.
Rubbing and stroking techniques provide reflexologists with effective and alternative ways to work reflex areas on the hands and feet. This statement might be a little challenging for those who have only used contemporary thumb and finger ‘walking’ techniques. I have used these alternative ways of working for many years, and found them to be fabulous!
I’ve come across so many reflexologists who reluctantly have given up or at least reduced their clinical practice due to the development of repetitive strain injuries (over-use syndrome) in their wrists and hands. The Ayurvedic Reflexology way of applying reflexology has brought relief and hope to many practitioners. e.g.
I feel that I will be able to practice now – I had to stop due to arthritis, but this method is fantastic. M. H., Belfast, N. Ireland 2007
I found the therapy quite powerful and much easier on my hands than standard reflexology. H. D., Miami, USA 2007
Sesame oil is traditionally the most commonly used lubricant for Ayurvedic hand and foot massage. Care needs to be taken when purchasing sesame oil – cold pressed and organic is best. The oil should be a straw colour and have a slightly sweet and ‘nutty’ smell.
Unfortunately, much of the sesame oil available in the West has been over processed. It is often bleached and deodorised to make it more attractive to Western therapists! This has an adverse affect on its therapeutic properties.
When I was first introduced to Western reflexology, talc was used extensively as the interface between the practitioner’s hands and the client’s skin. After several years I preferred to use a cream or lotion, and ultimately produced my own. However, once introduced to sesame oil and a variety of different application techniques, there was no turning back.
Although it has its own therapeutic properties, sesame oil provides an excellent base for the addition of herbs and essential oils when a specific healing effect is required. Importantly, sesame oil provides just the right amount of ‘slip’ for friction work. Sesame oil is the perfect lubricant for Ayurvedic Reflexology.
Metals are extensively used in Ayurvedic treatments. The kasa bowl is a metal bowl manufactured at a cottage industry level in the North-West of India. The kasa bowl is well known and used amongst Ayurvedic practitioners that I have met in the Pune district. I was surprised to discover that this wonderful bowl is not commonly used for therapeutic bodywork throughout all of India.
The word kasa (or kasya, or kansya) is from the Sanskrit word kansya which means ‘bronze’. The bowl is traditionally meant to contain seven metals that relate to the various body tissues. However, I have subjected one of the Indian bowls that I use to laboratory assay here in Australia. It is composed mainly of two metals, copper being the major metal component and tin being the minor metal – literally a bronze bowl.
The conductivity of the metal interacts with the energy field of the body. This interaction aids homeostasis by helping to balance the doshas, particularly pitta and vata. As we have already established, balanced doshas means good health. This simple tool is not to be underestimated!
The Kasa bowl is traditionally used for massaging the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.
A well oiled kasa bowl is briefly rubbed on the palm of your hand to warm it. It is then applied to the skin of the recipient’s hand or foot with light, fast, stroking and circular movements. There is no need to hold the bowl tightly. If the bowl is well oiled, it can be held loosely, and easily guided across the skin surface.
Contact with the surface of the skin should not be interrupted until the massage with the bowl has been completed. I know of no rules regarding the length of time the bowl can be used. I would suggest starting with around three minutes on each hand or foot in a session. More or less time could be appropriate. The basic guidelines are: use your intuition and don’t overuse it. I consider it important to clean the bowl well (physically & energetically) after use.
The kasa bowl has been such an important and exciting discovery for me. I believe it has significantly added to the efficacy of my therapeutic work. Farida Irani (from Sydney, Australia) first introduced me to the kasa bowl during my first contact with Ayurvedic techniques in 2001. I believe that the Kasa bowl has led to a small revolution in how many of us are now using it to work the hands and feet!
One of the most interesting parts of my Ayurvedic journey has involved my introduction and research into marma therapy. Due to the vast amount of knowledge now available on this subject, and its important role in Ayurvedic Reflexology, I have included a significant section on it here.
Marma means ‘sensitive’ or ‘vulnerable area’. Marma points were commonly mentioned in ancient Ayurvedic texts. However, valuable information on marmas may have been lost as a result of foreign invasions into India. Today there is a resurgence of interest in marma therapy, particularly in the West. This is probably due to the popularity of yoga and its associated practices.
Traditionally, marma therapy is used to detoxify, tonify and rejuvenate. The marmas are the equivalent of the Chinese acupuncture points. When comparing the two systems there are similarities as well as many differences regarding the location, size and functions of these points.
Marma points are larger than most acupuncture points (or areas) and consequently much easier to locate. There is considerable variation in the size of individual marma points. Small sites are referred to as ‘points’ and the large ones as ‘regions’.
The average finger width of the person receiving the marma treatment is used as the unit of measurement (anguli) to locate the individual marma points and describe their size. The equivalent in the Chinese system is cun.
Marma points vary in size from half of one anguli to four anguli. Because of individual differences, the precise location of a marma point can vary from person to person. It is thought that the body contains over 200 marma points. Of these, 107 (some say 108) are considered to be major (or primary) marmas.
As with other Ayurvedic practices, there are regional differences within India regarding information about marma points. This includes the spelling, the location and the size of individual marma points and marma regions. There are also different philosophies regarding the methods of treating the marmas. I found it difficult when sourcing information on marma therapy, as some of the factual information regarding marma points was contradictory, or at least, confusing.
I find the history of marma points fascinating. These amazing points have a very interesting past. In ancient times Indian warriors used the knowledge of the marma points to inflict injury and even death on their enemies.
It was known that injury to a marma point would interrupt the flow of prana and vata in the immediate area. The injury could have minor, severe or even fatal consequences. The outcome was dependent on the particular marma point involved and on the severity of the injury.
Surgeons who treated the injured warriors, had the opportunity to observe the physical effects of injury to specific marmas. Consequently, attending doctors were able to gather a vast amount of information on the influence that the individual marma points had on body function.
So powerful are these points, that even today, Ayurvedic surgeons will avoid incising them. I’m pleased to say that currently the knowledge of these vital energy centres is used in a positive way – for diagnosing and healing energy imbalance.
Marma points still play a central role in a South Indian martial and healing art called kalarippayattu, practised mainly in Kerala. However, much of the information regarding marmas is still cloaked in secrecy. As a general rule, teachers of this ancient art will often only share the knowledge of the vital points with senior, trusted students.
Benefits of marma therapy
Marma points act as ‘relay stations’ along the body’s subtle energy circuitry. If the marma points are functioning well, prana will flow along the nadis without interference. However, if they are not, energy will become sluggish or stagnant at the site of a marma point. This is where marma therapy plays a vital role in health maintenance. Marma therapy incorporates the stimulation of these points to help maintain the optimum flow of prana.
The significance of marma therapy cannot be overestimated. Frawley et al 5 make this profound statement “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,……..”
The following is a summary of the main benefits of this dynamic therapy.
• removes energy blockages and improves energy flow
• releases and eliminates stored wastes and toxins
• helps release stored negative emotions
• helps with stress reduction (calms the mind and emotions)
• eases fatigue and helps energise
• helps restore doshic balance
• treats specific health issues
• maintains health and aids prophylaxis
• assists rejuvenation therapy
• gives pain relief
I’m sure this list will be of great interest to reflexologists, as the benefits of both therapies are so similar. It is in the area of marma points (particularly location and function) that I draw comparisons with our contemporary reflexology.
Marma therapy techniques
As previously mentioned, there are varying points of view regarding the application of marma therapy. Here, I share some of the more commonly used therapeutic techniques. The list is by no means complete.
- The marmas are massaged with gentle, brisk, circular movements using either the thumb, index and/or middle finger. If using the right hand, the direction is clockwise. Conversely the left hand works in a counterclockwise direction. (Some practitioners use only clockwise movements with either hand.)
- As a general rule it is best to use the thumb when working the marmas, as the thumb projects the main pranic power of the hand.
- To enhance the flow of energy or circulating fluids around the marma, the thumb can be used to press or hold the marma point.
- Another philosophy advocates that (with either hand) clockwise movements stimulate a marma and counterclockwise movements clear blocked or stagnant prana. Initially, fast, light counterclockwise movements are used, spiralling out to the periphery of the marma, followed by fast, light clockwise movements spiralling back in to the centre
- Essential oils can be used on the marmas to enhance the effect of the treatment.
- Herbalised oils can be applied to the marmas to treat specific doshic imbalances.
- The marmas can be treated with various forms of heat applications.
- Yogic breathing techniques (pranayama) can also influence the therapeutic effect.
- Chanting of mantra (mantra chikitsa) can help to clear and energise marmas.
- Visualisation of specific colours can be effective. (Colours can be used with mantra.)
- Crystals can be used.
- A few practitioners treat marmas with needles, in a similar way to acupuncture points.
These powerful points need to be treated with care and respect. It is important to have appropriate knowledge before applying specific healing techniques to the marma points. As in other powerful, natural therapies there are also the mandatory ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ associated with marma therapy.
Suggested guidelines for energising marma points
I would like to begin by sharing with you that both Dr. Avinash Lele and Dr. Subhash Ranade (co-authors of Ayurveda and Marma Therapy) have confirmed with me that working each individual marma point on the hands or feet during a reflexology session will not do any harm to the recipient. In fact it will be beneficial in helping to direct the energy (prana). They have suggested each point be worked for approximately thirty seconds.
The following guidelines have been complied from information received in a study session I had with Dr. Subhash Ranade in Pune, India in December 2005. They are in reference to working an individual marma point for specific therapeutic purposes.
• Never use force on a marma point. (A marma point can be held or massaged.)
• Use an appropriate skin lubricant when working marma points.
• Always work marma points with the same name on both limbs, in the same session.
• Use the thumb to massage each point in a clockwise direction.
• Begin by massaging each point for 30 seconds per day.
• Slowly build up to a maximum of 3-5 minutes per point daily (by the end of the first week).
• Stop working a marma point after 3 continuous weeks.
Here are a few more guidelines and some further information: The reason for using a suitable lubricant when massaging marmas is because excessive friction may be caused if the skin is too dry. Excessive friction can aggravate (vitiate) the doshas and create energy imbalance.
Marma therapy will be more effective if the hands or feet are massaged first, before working the marmas. Massage opens the energy in the local area, causing it to be more receptive to marma work. In short, an area is vigorously massaged before marma therapy to stimulate energy flow. If required, brief, gentle massage can be applied after marma therapy, to quieten and calm the area.
According to Dr. Avinash Lele, it is traditional practice that no more than five marmas are treated at one time. Isn’t it fortunate that there are five primary marma points on each hand and foot!
Some, who have advanced knowledge of the marmas, believe that the vital spots are influenced by the lunar cycles, and are not always active (i.e. containing prana). If they are in an inactive state, the marmas would not be vulnerable to harm and would not respond to localised treatment.
Dr. Lele has asked me to reinforce amongst attendees of my workshops that they remain aware of their current limitations. He is confident that in the 21st century, more information about the nadis and the marma points will become available, and then the work will become more popular. I eagerly await the arrival of new information.
Marmas and reflexology today
Reflexologists and massage therapists are already working marma points every time they work the hands or feet. Unfortunately, most don’t know they are doing it. It’s time for the knowledge of these points to be shared amongst Western body-workers. Such knowledge can greatly enhance therapeutic outcomes for clients.
According to eminent Ayurvedic practitioner Atreya Smith 6 (France) “Marmas are similar to the pressure points used in reflexology and acupressure. In fact, it is the system of marmas that is the origins of these systems and acupuncture. Their use in the context of the Ayurvedic system greatly enhances their results.”
I’m sure many Western trained reflexologists will consider this a controversial statement. However, Atreya is not alone with his point of view. If space permitted, I could quote other authors who are in agreement with him.
I am also a convert to this train of thought. There are meaningful connections between contemporary Western reflexology and traditional Ayurvedic hand and foot work. For me, it is through the study of the marma points that I have considered the possibility that our Western reflexology has its roots in this ancient work.
Frawley 7 reminds us of the untapped potential at our finger tips when he states that
“Therapeutic regions, like marmas on the arms and legs, are the most important for treatment purposes.”
Ayurvedic physicians palpate marma points at the skin surface for diagnostic purposes. Signs of energy imbalance at the site of marmas can include characteristics such as heat, cold, dryness, dampness, redness, pallor, swelling, and various forms of touch sensitivity which range from dull ache to sharp pain.
Reflexologists routinely attribute such symptoms and observations on the hands and feet to localised problems, or maybe some form of dysfunction in related reflex areas. Now there can be another explanation – congestion at marma points that may indicate doshic imbalance. New opportunities emerge for therapists as they become familiar with the locations and characteristics of the marma points on the hands and feet.
There are many techniques for working the marmas, and all involve working with care and sensitivity. Marma therapy is powerful and is best learnt from an experienced professional. I agree with Dr. Lele that the practice of marma therapy will expand and develop in the near future, particularly amongst energy-based therapists.
Marma points on the hands and feet
There are five (some say more) marma points occurring in each hand and foot. Identical points are located on opposing limbs. Many of these marmas influence peripheral circulation as well as hand and foot function. This information is invaluable for reflexologists and massage therapists who are working with clientele who may be experiencing problems in these areas.
The incorporation of appropriate marma point work into reflexology and massage sessions adds an exciting dynamic when therapeutic outcomes are being considered.
Marma points left foot
The above diagrammatic representations of the marma points on the left foot include two additional point locations according to an eminent Ayurvedic body-worker, Harish Johari (author of Ayurvedic Massage).
Limited space does not permit me to describe the characteristics of the hand points. The marma points of the hands are very similar to the foot points. I have provided phonetic pronunciations and a brief overview here of the location and size of the foot points, plus the benefits of working them.
Marma points on the feet
1. Gulpha (gool-fa) marma
locations (medial & lateral): over the subtalar joint immediately inferior to the medial and lateral malleoli
size: 2 anguli
• energises the reproductive system
• helps reduce excess fat deposits
• promotes healthy joints and bone growth
• helps relieve skeletal pain
• assists the flow of prana to the feet
• maintains functional movement of the feet by influencing the health of the foot joints
2. Kurchashira (koorr-cha-shee-rra) marma
location(s): plantar surface – at the midpoint of the mid-tarsal joint (Johari identifies two additional sites on the dorsal surface)
size: 1 anguli
• helpful for digestion and agni in general
• helpful for reproductive function
• promotes visual acuity
• calms the nervous system and the vata dosha
• promotes a healthy muscular system
• has considerable influence on the muscles of the feet
3. Kurcha (koorr-cha) marma
locations (anterior & posterior): plantar & dorsal surfaces, extending across the foot; main site is over and beside lateral head of 1st metatarsal bone, approx. two anguli proximal to Kshipra
size: 4 anguli (main area of point is marked)
• aids digestive processes by improving agni
• improves flow of prana, particularly to the head
• helpful for overall sensory acuity
• promotes visual acuity
• helps relieve mental stress
• aids mental acuity
4. Kshipra (ksheep-rra) marma
locations (anterior & posterior): plantar and dorsal surfaces – distal webbing between the first and second toes (the webbing between the other toes is also important)
size: ½ anguli
• supports heart function
• provides lubrication for the heart
• supports lung function
• provides lubrication for the lungs
• stimulates the lymphatic system
• improves the flow of prana, especially in the legs
5. Talahridaya (ta-la-hrree-dah-ya) marma
location: plantar surface only, in line with the 3rd toe; over the 3rd tarsometatarsal joint (immediately distal to the centre of the sole of the foot)
size: ½ anguli
• supports heart and lung function
• helps strengthen the immune system
• aids circulation in lower abdomen and legs
• good for receiving healing energy
• is calming, ‘grounding’ and can help release negative energy
• controls the motor function of the feet
We have already established that Ayurvedic Reflexology is the dynamic combination of traditional Indian hand and foot massage philosophy and techniques, with that of contemporary reflexology. The natural integration of these two powerful therapies provides therapists with new perspectives and new opportunities to enhance their current regimes.
Ayurvedic Reflexology offers therapists a variety of effective, easy to apply techniques. I mentioned earlier that many practitioners experiencing hand problems associated with their work are excited about this new and ‘kinder to the hands’ approach to therapy.
Let’s look now at specifically combining Ayurvedic techniques with reflexology. Ayurvedic Reflexology is not a complicated procedure. Many reflexologists will be surprised and delighted at how easy it is to combine Ayurvedic techniques with current practices.
The benefits, special care and contraindications associated with Ayurvedic Reflexology, are the sum total of those relating to Ayurvedic hand and foot techniques, and those relating to contemporary reflexology.
Contraindications and special care
It is important to obtain appropriate medical knowledge of the person receiving Ayurvedic Reflexology before commencing the procedure. Any special needs or contraindications that have been identified, must be considered throughout the application.
Western trained reflexologists are already familiar with special needs and contraindications associated with their therapy. For those not familiar with these, I have listed some important ones below. Common sense is the keyword here. The very young, the elderly, the frail, and the very sick will usually respond best to short, gentle applications of reflexology.
Those with specific conditions such as pregnancy, type 1 diabetes and serious illness can usually derive enormous benefit from reflexology. But there are important guidelines to be followed in these situations. People with these conditions are best placed in the hands of professional reflexologists.
People with the following conditions may be precluded from receiving reflexology.
These conditions include:
acute trauma to the hand or foot e.g. severe bruising, severe sprains & strains, bony fractures, lacerations, burns
abnormal skin conditions of the hand or foot e.g. weeping eczema/dermatitis, open wounds & sores, inflammatory skin conditions, fungal infections, infectious verrucas (warts)
circulatory disorders of the upper or lower limbs e.g. severe varicose veins (foot), inflammatory conditions of the vessels (lymphatic & cardiovascular), thrombosis
After an extensive literature search, I was unable to find any contraindications to padabhyanga or hastabhyanga. The following list of contraindications to padabhyanga was sourced from a tele-conference I had with Dr. Lele in January 2006. Most of these contraindications are similar to those associated with reflexology.
According to Dr. Lele, the contraindications to padabhyanga are: toxin induced coma, lymphatic infection, blood infection (e.g. septicaemia), thrombosis, thrombophlebitis.
The benefits of padabhyanga, hasta-abhyanga and reflexology are almost identical. They are also similar to the benefits of marma therapy (listed in this chapter under the heading “Benefits of marma therapy”.) The benefits of Ayurvedic Reflexology are the combination of all of these.
benefits of padabhyanga (compiled from various sources):
• helps calm the mind
• promotes quality sleep
• promotes circulation in the feet and legs
• nourishes the skin on the feet
• aids foot health (alleviates pain, improves muscle tone and strength)
• helps maintain eyesight and hearing
• helps calm and maintain the vata dosha
• helps prevent sciatica
The benefits of hasta-abhyanga are the same as the above if “hands” and “arms” are substituted for “feet” and “legs” respectively. The only exception is the last bullet point “helps prevent sciatica”. It is my personal experience that footwork is the most effective here.
The Ayurvedic Reflexology procedure
In all forms of Ayurvedic massage, emphasis is placed upon the preparation of the massage therapist. If the therapist has a pure heart, is well prepared (mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually) and is focused, the healing process will be enhanced. This principle also applies to Western body work.
I have included below, general principles that are usually observed during the application of Ayurvedic massage. There are many different forms of massage, and many and varied interpretations of those forms. This list provides you with a general guide only. I am guided by these principles during the application of Ayurvedic Reflexology.
- In India it is preferred that the professional therapist and the client are the same sex – for psychological comfort. (In the West this is not usually practical for Ayurvedic Reflexology.)
- At the commencement of the massage, the practitioner energises his/her hands. This is repeated, as required, during the session.
- Ayurvedic massage is generally brisk and stimulating, especially when used for prophylaxis.
- When massaging a male, the right (solar side) hand or foot is massaged before the left.
- When massaging a female, the left (lunar side) hand or foot is massaged first.
- Prana naturally circulates along the limbs in the direction of the fingers and toes, through the hands or feet to the tips of the digits. This directional flow is reinforced during massage.
- Skin areas over joints are usually worked firmly (unless inflamed) with circular movements to improve the local circulation and to release any stagnant prana or vata.
- Massage oil is always warmed before application, preferably over water.
- Traditionally a bowl of salty water is placed near the massage table to absorb any ‘heavy’ energy that might be directed towards it.
The hands-on component of a clinical session of Ayurvedic Reflexology sessions is approximately forty-five minutes. One foot (or hand) is completed before moving to the next. The two feet (or hands) are worked in their entirety. This includes meaningful work on all surfaces.
The Ayurvedic Reflexology routine, applied to the hands or feet, can be summarised into four areas of action applied in the following order: mobilise, stimulate, energise, finish.
I will provide here a brief overview of the techniques that are used, with some of their localised and systemic effects.
Techniques include shaking, stretching, pushing, kneading and rotating. Mobilisation loosens muscles, tendons and ligaments. Joint mobilisation helps mobilise stagnant vata dosha and prana that may have accumulated in the joint spaces. I recommend using minimal oil with these techniques.
Techniques include friction movements that can be applied with the pads and sides of fingers and thumbs, the knuckles, the palms, and the heels of the hands. Direct thumb or finger pressure can also be used here. Stimulating techniques have a direct affect on the circulation of blood, lymph and prana and offer reflexologists alternative ways to work reflex areas.
Energising work is done with the kasa bowl and by working the marma points. The specific benefits and application techniques of kasa bowl work and marma therapy have already been discussed elsewhere in this chapter. In summary, the goal of these two wonderful forms of therapy is to enhance the flow of prana and help balance the doshas.
The kasa bowl plays a small but very important role in the Ayurvedic Reflexology routine. The action of the bowl is profoundly relaxing and adds an extra dimension to the reflexology procedure. Clients really enjoy the warm, soothing feeling of kasa bowl work. I regularly use the kasa bowl on my own feet, and it really does feel fabulous.
On any given surface of the hands or feet, the marma points are worked after all the mobilisation, stimulating techniques and kasa bowl work have been completed. Marma point work is subtle, and further work in the area could cause energy disruption.
The majority of marma points can be worked from more than one aspect i.e. medial & lateral or anterior & posterior. I routinely work each point for thirty seconds (as recommended by Drs. Lele & Ranade) during a session.
The finishing movements are slow and gentle in comparison to the stimulating techniques. Long, slow effleurage movements work well here. They help to consolidate the procedure, and leave the receiver feeling nurtured and relaxed.
Out of respect for yourself and for the person you have been working with, I strongly encourage the use of techniques that formerly separate the energy fields of giver and receiver. This is usually done after the last point of contact, and leaves the energy fields of both persons separate and intact.
Whether applying Ayurvedic Reflexology to others or yourself, the order still remains the same – mobilise, stimulate, energise, finish. Obviously, techniques will need to be modified when doing your own foot or hand work.
East meets West
The above techniques are the dynamic additions that I combine with my knowledge of the reflex areas of Western reflexology. This amalgamation of Eastern and Western healing traditions is the cornerstone of Ayurvedic Reflexology.
As I travel through India, I have observed the increasing use of Western style reflexology. I remember an occasion when I tried, unsuccessfully, to procure a session of traditional Ayurvedic foot massage in an Indian clinic. Instead, the young gentleman proudly offered me Western style reflexology. “West is best”, seems to be the catch cry in some areas of India today. My concern is that traditional body work might be the loser.
I feel it is appropriate to close this chapter with the words of Karan Singh 8, former Indian ambassador to the U.S., former Minister of Health for the Indian Government, and author of The Religions of India.
She states “At a time like this, a new synthesis between Eastern and Western approaches to healing would be of considerable value, not only in terms of the medical aspect itself, but in the broader context of the growth of a holistic global consciousness.”
OH, EAST is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!
The Ballad of East and West by Rudyard Kipling 1889
1. Frawley, D. Yoga & Ayurveda – Self Healing and Self Realization Lotus Press, Twin Waters USA, 1999, p. 7
2. Svoboda, R. Ayurveda – Life, Health and Longevity, The Ayurvedic Press, Albuquerque, USA, 2004, p. 38
3. Douillard, J. The Encyclopedia of Ayurvedic Massage North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, USA, 2004, p. 8
4. Johari, H. Ayurvedic Massage Healing Arts Press, Vermont USA, 1996, p. 62
5. Frawley, D., Ranade, S., & Lele, A. Ayurveda and Marma Therapy: Energy Points in Yogic Healing Lotus Press Wisconsin USA, 2003, p. 41
6. Atreya (Smith) Secrets of Ayurvedic Massage, Lotus Press, Twin Waters USA, 2000, p. 58.
7. Frawley, D. et al. op.cit. p. 29
8. Sheikh A., Sheikh S. Eastern and Western Approaches to Healing, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, USA, 1989, p. v.