By Rajeev Gurukal
Working to make the body a pliable tool for the mind, kalari massage can stretch, soothe and pummel you into a state of vigor, vitality and well being
Kalarippayat, southern Indian state Kerala’s martial art form, aspires to spiritual transcendence, disciplining and stretching the combatant’s mental and physical resources to ever-new limits.
Combat situations demanded an extremely agile, strong and supple body, which would instantly obey the signals of an alert and sharp mind. For the ancient martial arts exponents, uzhichil orkalari massage was one way to prime the body and sharpen reflexes.
Today, this form of massage is the focus of renewed interest as growing numbers of people are attracted to its healing and rejuvenating effects. There is a whole science behind the unique techniques employed by skilled masseurs trained in the art of kalari massage based in ayurveda. Ayurveda works at stimulating the self-healing mechanics of the body, using herbal medicines, medicated oils and massage. Kalari massage, which not only affects the body but also the mind, involves physical exercises, yoga therapy, pranayama and meditation.
During kalari massage, skilled masseurs take into account an individual’s age, needs and health problems. A massage in which the masseur applies varying degrees of force and weight with his legs, while holding on to suspended ropes for support, is known as utsadana. When the masseur works just with his hands, it is known as samvahana. When two masseurs work together at the same time, it is called suparithala kriya. The various methods followed are detailed in ancient texts such as Maipayattu.
Uzhichil is a natural technique to prevent and cure diseases. It involves the movement of vital energies in the body. This is possible by applying pressure on the vital points, muscles and nerves using appropriate herbal oils with therapeutic value.
Kalari massage includes techniques of balancing the chakras or energy centers and saptha dhatu (seven tissues in the human body—plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow and semen), stimulation of nadisuthra points (ayurvedic acupressure), working with marma or vital points, and the awakening of prana.
Uzhichil, when accompanied by the balancing of chakras, effectively regulates the proper flow of vital life force through the chakras. According to yoga, disharmony on the physical, mental or spiritual levels can be corrected in this manner. The chakras can be balanced by placing the hands gently over them, a few inches above the physical body. In this process, you may be receptive to a flowing or warm sensation on your palms. This is actually the transmission of universal energy, which helps harmonize the biological system of the body.
The masseur uses nadisuthra kriya to apply pressure with the fingers, thumb or palm of the hand at certain points on the body. These pressure points are areas where there is a high concentration of life energy. Pressure can stimulate blood circulation and the flow of vital force by relieving congestion in nerve endings and muscles.
Based on Susruta Samhita, a very ancient ayurvedic text, marma therapy is a system of treatment of the vital points of the body, which are mainly the junction points of blood vessels, ligaments and nerve centers. Marma adi, which involves striking vital points on the human body, is one of the most refined and sophisticated technique of Indian martial arts. The marmani, a person skilled in marma therapy, has a thorough knowledge of the human circulatory system, the nervous system and every aspect of the human anatomy.
The marmani, using varying degrees of force to strike the body at different vital points, can produce astounding results. When used in warfare by a skilled combatant, these blows can cause instant death, slow death, paralysis or great pain. The results vary according to the power and velocity used by the combatant.
A marmani also knows how to revive a seriously injured person. A timely touch, a slap, the use of specialized massage techniques or a gentle blow on another vital point can save a dying man. This technique is called marukai preyogam. It results in the stimulation of impulse, the magnetic power and the innate human dynamism, and helps in recovery from injury or in the cure of a disease.
Ayurveda postulates that everything is constituted of the pancha mahabhutas or the five elements—ether, wind, fire, water and earth. A living being has an additional element: prana. This energy gives life and animation to the living organism. Through food, drink and breathing, prana circulates through the body. Then it moves through energy channels, where it might meet with blocks. Nadisuthra kriya, marma therapy and massage remove these blocks and aid the circulation of vital energy in the body.
In uzhichil, the masseur follows certain strokes with a sharp slap delivered with the flat of the right palm on the lower part of the spine. It is intended to awaken prana and the nerves that originate there. In the same way, the slap on the top of the head (crown) is intended to awaken the senses.
The feet are the most responsive and sensitive area of the body. They are a mini map of the human body with every gland, organ and body part represented there.
Along with massage, stimulating a specific point on the foot by applying pressure affects a specific part of the body, by releasing blocked vital energy. The blood circulation in the feet may be affected because gravity pulls toxins and waste materials downwards. Massage and stimulation of foot points can break up waste materials deposited there and improve circulation.
Different ailments require specific massage techniques, which the masseur selects keeping the individual’s condition in mind. The speed, force, number of repeated massage movements, the type of herbal oil used and the system of massage will vary depending on the patient’s physical strength, age and ailment.
Three types of kalari massage—suksa, raksha and katcha thirummu—are used for different purposes. The sukha thirummumassage affords relief from body aches and muscular pains, and provides physical relaxation and rejuvenation. In the raksha thirummu massage, specially prepared medicated oils are used. Patients suffering from ailments such as rheumatism, paralysis, headache, muscular problems, nervous weakness, back pain, disc prolapse, stomach trouble, asthma, anxiety, sexual disorders, irritability, obesity, feelings of insecurity and agitation can get relief with this massage. It is particularly useful in promoting sleep, for calming psychotic individuals, and for helping depressed people to relax. It is also recommended for drug or alcohol addicts on a rehabilitation program.
The katcha thirummu massage, given to increase a person’s body flexibility and physical endurance, is particularly efficacious for those who practice martial arts and classical dance. Combined with yogic postures, it gives pliability and suppleness to the body.
Regular kalari massage increases body flexibility and reduces fat. The veins and arteries become more elastic, the skin begins to glow and the body becomes more efficient. Massage improves blood circulation and clears the body of toxins. Organs like kidneys, rectum, and lungs are strengthened and work more, efficiently, as is the case with digestive organs like liver and small intestines. Bone, joint, muscle and nerve centers also work better after massage.
The inability to handle stress can cause a breakdown in the body’s defense system, leaving one prone to illness and disease, By reducing tension and calming the mind, kalari massage can improve mental alertness and attention span, and by helping body organs function efficiently, it can keep one disease free and in a state of positive health.
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