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The use of pressure points for massage and acupuncture has become a popular topic in natural healing today. In Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India, these pressure points are called marmas, meaning ‘vulnerable’ or ‘sensitive’ zones. Such points can be used specifically for the diagnosis and treatment of disease or generally for promoting health and longevity. Marmas are integral to all Ayurvedic therapies from simple self-treatments to complex clinical procedures. They form one of the main pillars of Ayurvedic thought and practice.

Marmas are also an important aspect of the science of Yoga, with which Ayurveda is closely connected. Yoga not only has a sophisticated system of physical postures, it also recognizes the power of Prana or the life-force, which is reflected through the marma points on the surface of the body. An understanding of marmas can add greater efficacy to any level or type of yoga practice whether using the body, the breath or the mind.

Just as acupuncture points are used in both Chinese medicine and in Chinese martial arts, marma points are also used in the martial arts of India, like the Kalari tradition of South India. Martial arts emphasize how to strike these vulnerable points with force and precision in order to counter attackers. The existence of such vital regions demonstrates that the body is not simply a physical mass but an intricate energy field with points of power through which we can control both physiological and psychological processes.

Marmas are part of a greater ‘sacred physiology’ that maps out the body according to subtle energy currents and power points. The body has its own special sacred points just as the Earth has its sacred sites and energy currents according to sacred geography. We must learn this sacred geography of our own body in order to attune ourselves both to the Earth and to the greater cosmos.

Marmas are key energy centers for the practice of yoga on all levels from yoga postures (Asanas) to deep meditation (Dhyana). Yoga postures affect the energy held in the limbs, joints and spine, which all contain important marmas. Asanas can be used to stimulate and balance marmas in various ways. Similarly, certain marmas can be manipulated while a person is performing various asanas in order to augment their effects. Marmas connect to the nadis (subtle nerves) and chakras (energy centers) of the subtle body and the mind. They govern the interface between the physical and subtle (pranic) bodies and the interchange of energy and information between them. This means that marmas are important for healing the subtle body as well as the physical body. Through using marmas we can restore the proper connection between the subtle body (our internal energy, moods and emotions) and the physical body (our material condition), resulting in increased health and vitality on both levels.

Today these Vedic martial arts are best preserved in South India, where traditional martial arts like Kalari Pay at (in Kerala) and Kalari Payirchi (in Tamil Nadu) are still commonly practiced. The highest form of martial arts is called Marma Adi or Varma Adi, in which the knowledge of marmas is central. From this art of self-defense originated the Varma Kalai or Varma Chikitsa, Marma or Varma therapy. Expert physicians in this therapy were highly regarded and often became royal physicians.

The spiritual traditions of India have always emphasized the principle of Ahimsa— non-harming or non-violence as the basis of spiritual practices. Monks were not allowed to use weapons for self-defense, so martial arts were taught to them for unarmed self-protection. The Buddhist text Milindapanha, a dialogue between King Milinda and the monk Nagasena, dating from the second century BCE, explains unarmed self-defense as one of the nineteen monastic arts. Such martial arts gained prominence when Buddhism spread beyond the boundaries of India into China, Indonesia and Thailand, where the monks no longer had the protection of the kings that they generally had in India.

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