Wednesday, March 25, 2009

'Auto' Engineering - The Marma Way

One of the first gifts a boy child receives is a toy car! The plastic car graduates to the battery-operated model with blinking lights, then to a collection of matchbox cars and eventually the authentic ‘to scale’ collection that grows exponentially in size, from majority to middle-age, fuelled by the need to keep alive the ‘boy’ in us all.

Of course, the spirit of curiosity that dismantles the plastic car by the end of the evening, diminishes to cosmetic appreciation of design and trimmings by the time we pay frightful sums for ‘to scale’ versions and comprehensive medical checkups.

During the course of the evolution through the auto-toy chain, we step into Dad’s shoes, driving the family and girlfriend in his car, before marriage demands the purchase of a sleek four-door family pride to transport wife and offspring!

Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost have exited our Formula One memories, replaced by bruising battles between Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher and now Lewis Hamilton, witnessed from the confines of a sofa, sipping beer with buddies on Sunday afternoons.

We love to drive cars; we revel in the ‘need for speed’ fantasy on the computer and live in endless fascination of Ferrari engineering but live in trepidation of a breakdown on the road simply because our auto knowledge is, for the most part restricted to the cosmetic. So, when we get stuck we call AA for “Help”!

We are drivers of the ‘auto’ mobile, the sophistication of which overshadows F1 engineering – the human body. The sharp learning curves of everyday life drive us round the bend but we remain ignorant about our psycho-physiological marvel; unable to read the warning signs and intuitively understand how to tweak our engineering for improved performance.

Centuries before Jean Todt fine-tuned Ferrari into a racing superpower, Sushruta - one of the founding fathers of Ayurvedic medicine –mapped the schematics of body engineering detailed in the classic Ayurvedic text, Sushruta Samhita.

Marma-point massage dates back to southern India circa 1500 BC. Masters of Kalaripayattu the ancient martial art targeted an opponent's marma points as a way to inflict pain and injury. 64 of these are considered as ‘kula marma’ (deadly points) of which 12 marma points when hit with a knockout blow, can cause instant death.

The word marma is of Sanskrit origin; mru or marr word meaning hidden or secret. The Sanskrit phrase, Marayate Iti Marmani, means there is likelihood of death or serious damage to health after infliction to these places and hence these areas are called marma.

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 so much more than a casual connection of tissue and fluids; they are intersections of the vital life force and prana, or breath. Marma can also be associated with terms such as tenderness, secretion or vital places.

Combat situations demand extremely agile, strong and supple bodies, which instantly obey the focused mind. The practitioners of Kalaripayattu used Kalari massage to prime their bodies and sharpen reflexes.

The highest stage of Kalaripayattu is marma prayoga, a near-extinct science being resurrected by some practitioners. According to marma prayoga, our body is crisscrossed like irrigation channels with meridians, a closed interconnecting system through which ‘prana’ flows in the body. Marma shastra believes there are 26 meridians in all. Of these, 12 are located in pairs on the left and right sides of the body, respectively.

Healing has always been an integral part of martial arts. As a healing technique, marma prayoga is potent. You cannot be a fighter without knowing how to heal your wounds. But nothing connects the two better than marma shastra — where the difference between life and death is just a matter of pressure. Along with their ability to kill, however, comes an ability to heal.

Wounded Kalari fighters were nursed back to health with marma therapy. Kalari practitioners used marma-point massage to stimulate healing in areas that corresponded to the soldier's injuries. Eventually, Ayurvedic physicians around India learned of the technique's powers and brought Kalari masters into hospitals to teach the art.

The idea behind massaging the marma points is to cleanse blocked energy, also called chi, by either arousing or calming the dosha (humours). 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. The therapist or the Kalari master uses nadisuthra kriya to apply pressure with the fingers, thumb or toe at marma points on the body.

There are 108 Marma points -the mind is considered the 108th marma. Major marma points correspond to the seven chakras, or energy centres 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 Ayurvedic tradition of Sushruta says that diseases are afraid of approaching a body which has been foot-massaged, just like animals in the sight of a lion.

This ancient martial art of Kalaripayattu and its healing techniques has gained a renewed significance. When fast cars and faster lives are a compulsion, we still remain warriors - not on the battlefield but in the theatre of life. Just as the engineers at Ferrari squeeze every ounce of performance from their F1 prototypes; through the practice of Kalaripayattu and marma therapy we too can reduce the drag co-efficient of tension through calming the mind, improving the aerodynamics of mental alertness and keeping ourselves disease free with flexibility, nimbleness and suppleness to corner with ease the chicanes of life.


Surendran said...

Mr. Kamath,
Thank you.
Loved reading your article. Will you suggest a book that clearly shows and explains the 107 marma points?

Anonymous said...

dear kamath its very cute information thaks a.....will u suggest me a book which gives full information abt marma ,diseases which produses due to injury to marama n its treatment........ am waiting for ur valueable infomation .

Ranjan Kamath said...

There is no written text about Marma therapy since it is an oral tradition passed from one Gurukkal to the next.
However, the most authoritative work would be "When the Body Becomes All Eyes" by Philip Zarrilli

Kirk said...

There is a book "The Ayurvedic Encyclopedia- natural secrets to healing, prevention and longevity" that details the marma points. I have become familiar with the points intuitively in the early 90's. My inner sight of these points lead me to research many books. This one is quite detailed, although I am unaware of its true historical source.