Marma therapy energy points of yogic and ayurvedic healing
Marma Therapy - Energy Points of Yogic and Ayurvedic Healing
By Dr. David Frawley
Many secrets of yogic healing can be found through the study of Ayurveda, the
traditional natural medicine of India. In fact classical Yoga relies upon Ayurveda for
its language and methodology of healing both body and mind. Traditional Yoga
therapy was included in a greater Ayurvedic context of the healing arts, including the
use of diet, herbs and bodywork. A number of these factors of Ayurvedic healing are
now becoming introduced into the Yoga community. Marma therapy is another
important approach common to both Yoga and Ayurveda, which deserves a greater
‘Marma’ is a Sanskrit term for sensitive or vulnerable points on the body. Injury to
marmas quickly affects the health and vitality of a person and in the case of some
marmas can even prove fatal. Another term used for marma points is ‘varma’ points.
Varma refers to protective material or armor. Marmas are regions of the body that
were protected in battle in order to safeguard the life of the warrior.
Marmas are commonly used in Indian martial arts (Dhanur Veda) much like sensitive
body points in Chinese and Japanese martial arts. Certain marmas, touched in a
specific manner, can confuse, incapacitate, paralyze, or even kill an opponent.
Dhanur Veda trains a warrior how to recognize marma points as well as the different
blows that can be used to affect marmas in various ways.
Yet besides their usage in martial arts, marmas have an important role in Ayurvedic
medicine, which will be the main focus of our discussion here. Beside ‘lethal
marmas’, which are of more interest to the martial arts, are ‘therapeutic marmas’,
which are more important in Ayurveda. However, these two types of marmas do
overlap and all marmas have some therapeutic value as well as some degree of
Marma Points and Acupuncture Points
There is a tendency to equate marmas with acupuncture points, which they do
resemble. Marmas are points or areas on the body that can be manipulated with
either acupressure (done commonly) or needles (only practiced by some Ayurvedic
doctors in South India and Sri Lanka, where it is called ‘marmapuncture’).
Marmas vary in size from _ finger lengths or digits (the most common) to four finger
lengths or about the width of the hand. While there can be a close degree of
correlation between smaller marma points and acupuncture points, this is not always
the case relative to the larger marmas. Acupuncture points are usually smaller in
size and more specific in location.
Marmas in turn are not related to the meridian system of Chinese medicine but to
the chakra, nadi and srota-systems (channel-systems) of Yoga. For example, chakra
points like the top of the head (adhipati marma) or the third eye (sthapani marma)
are also important marma points. Similarly, the end points of various nadis like the
palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, the corners of the eyes, ears or nostrils are
important marmas as well.
Ayurveda also treats marmas with massage, oils and aromas more commonly than
with either acupuncture or acupressure. So while we can draw a comparison between
marmas and acupuncture points and their treatment, we should not confuse the two
Nature of Marma Points
Marmas are of various compositions relative to the tissues that make them up,
defined as bone, tendon, muscle, nerve or vein, including relative to channels that
carry the doshas (biological humors) and channels that carry thought and emotion.
Many marmas are a combination of several such factors. In this regard, all major
joints like the elbow, knee, wrist and ankle contain significant marmas.
While many marmas are on the surface of the body, like points on the hands or feet,
others are internal like the heart and the bladder, which are large marma regions.
Blood vessel marmas, likes those in the neck, are another type of internal marma.
Many marmas are on peripheral regions of the body like the arms and legs. The head
has the greatest concentration of marmas, with special marmas governing the eyes,
ears, nostrils, mouth and brain. Yet marmas can also be found along the front and
back of the trunk as well.
Yet besides anatomically defined marmas, which are the same in everyone, other
marmas unique to an individual’s special anatomical structure also exist. These can
result from injury, from postural distortions and other changes in our physical
structure brought on by various factors from our life-style to the aging process.
There are 107 prime classical marmas according to the Sushruta Samhita, one of the
oldest Ayurvedic texts, which also mentions marmas relative to the practice of
surgery. However, besides these primary marmas are many other marmas, up to
360 according to some healers. To some extent, any sensitive point on the body of a
person is a kind of marma or vulnerable location. The skin itself can be regarded as a
greater marma zone in which all the other marmas are contained.
Marmas are also locations in which the doshas of vata, pitta and kapha can be held,
along with their subtle essences of prana, tejas and ojas. As sensitive zones, marmas
can hold various emotions like fear (vata), anger (pitta) or attachment (kapha), as
well as the gunas or primary qualities of sattva (calm), rajas (aggression) and tamas
(inertia). In this regard the concept of marmas goes beyond modern medicine and its
purely physical definitions to the main principles of mind-body medicine.
Marma and Prana
Marmas are most closely connected with prana or our vital energy. They serve as
‘pranic control points’ on the body, where the energy of prana can be treated,
controlled, directed or manipulated in various ways. This is perhaps the key to their
Many strictly anatomical marmas are still important pranic zones, like points by the
heart or the head, because our anatomy is created by and serves to hold prana.
Prana and vata dosha (which is connected to prana), for example, reside and
accumulate in the empty spaces in the body, particularly in the spine and the joints.
So many marma points are located in these regions. Even in a particular marma
area, the main pranic point in it may shift or move over time, which means that the
prana at a marma is more important than the general structure of the marma itself.
In addition, just as there are special marma points unique to a person’s anatomical
structure, there are also marma points that are unique to a person’s energy
patterns, expression or psychology. There are non-physical marmas located in the
sphere of prana around a person, in the aura, like certain points above or behind the
head. Even the more obviously physical marmas are an expression of a deeper
energy that is the most important factor, not simply their anatomical location.
Besides the classical fixed marmas, we must also recognize such variable and
changing marmas. We should view marmas and marma therapy more in terms of
prana and energy than in simply physical location or physical manipulation.
Marmas are important diagnostic as well as therapeutic points. The pulse itself is one
of the prime ‘vessel’ (shira) marmas in the body, where the patient’s energy can be
read and understood. Ayurvedic practitioners routinely palpate various marma points
for diagnostic purposes during patient visits. Marma points are important regions for
gauging the doshas, their level of accumulation and their possible disorders,
particularly relative to vata dosha, which governs pain and trauma. Any painful point
on the body becomes a kind of marma as long as the pain exists.
Marma therapy is an important tool of both disease prevention and disease
treatment in Ayurveda. It can be used to balance the doshas, to increase agni (the
digestive fire), for detoxification (reduce ama), as well as to promote energy
(vajikarana) and aid in rejuvenation (rasayana). It can be part of special clinical
methods (like Pancha Karma) but also part of self-care and our daily health regimen.
For example, massaging marma points on the head, like those around the eyes,
ears, nostrils and mouth, is an important way to stimulate one’s mind and senses in
the morning. Relative to diseases, marma therapy is particularly good for arthritis
and other structural problems, as well as for treating any type of nerve pain or
The treatment of marmas, though having many methods, is primarily a matter of
therapeutic touch. Ayurveda employs massage and pressure (like acupressure) to
marma points. It has various techniques for massaging marma points either by
themselves or along with partial or full body massage (usually the best procedure) In
its typical fashion, Ayurveda uses special medicated massage oils or tailas, generally
herbs prepared in a sesame oil base, of which dozens of different formulas exist
manufactured by various Ayurvedic pharmacies. Certain massage oils applied to
specific marmas will result in special therapeutic effects to increase energy, reduce
toxins, create flexibility or bring about the changes necessary for true healing to
The use of aroma therapy is another important tool for treating marmas, either with
massage oils or by themselves. Aromatic oils have a strong ability to influence Prana
and alter our energy. Marmas can be massaged or anointed with different aromatic
oils, as per the location and conditions. As marmas are sensitive points, they are
regions that aromas can penetrate easily and influence the entire body through
Stimulating oils like camphor, eucalyptus or cinnamon are used for opening up
energy at marma points, while cooling and sedating oils like sandalwood or khus
serve to calm or consolidate the energy. Applying camphor, menthol or eucalyptus to
the marmas at the side of the nostrils to remove congestion is such a stimulating
marma therapy, while applying cooling and calming sandalwood oil to the third eye
to treat headaches is such a sedating approach.
Marma Therapy, Yoga and Prana Therapy
While much of marma therapy consists of massage and direct touch, another
significant portion consists of energy treatment or pranic healing, in which touch may
be light or even indirect. In this regard, the prana of the healer is as important as
the physical manipulation of the marmas. We can compare this to the martial arts in
which a master with a strong chi or prana can stop or knock down an opponent with
his own energy, using only a light touch or no touch at all. An Ayurvedic healer with
a good prana can have a strong healing effect by his prana alone, even without using
any significant touch or physical manipulation. This more subtle or sattvic form of
touch is often best for treating the mind, emotions and deeper consciousness of the
A good marma therapist must therefore cultivate his or her own prana. This requires
Yoga practices for the creation of additional prana (pranayama) and the ability to
withdraw or focus prana on to a particular point (pratyahara), which may be a point