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Ayurveda massage therapy in Kerala

AYURVEDA MASSAGE | KALARI MASSAGE

Kalari Ayurveda massage, is the traditional massage of Kalaripayattu. It originated in northern Kerala, created as a scientific healing system to strengthen, rejuvenate and repair a warrior physically and mentally in order to face any kind of difficulties life may put in front of him.It is often used to treat the fatigue and occasional injuries sometimes received during the intense Kalaripayattu training, the performance of which can dynamic and quite demanding. Kalari massage developed hand in hand with Kalaripayattu at a time in India when Kerala was ruled by the Warrior class or caste. Combat or war was not unknown at this time.

Combat situations require a warrior’s mind to be as agile,supple and alert as his body. Kalari massage addresses the mind/body requirements. In both combat and training, occasionally, bones are broken or dislocated, people may have the “wind knocked out of them” or they may also become unconscious. These issues may be directly addressed by the Master using Ayurvedic, and the often secret knowledge of the Marman points. Ancient tradition holds that the Master that was teaching martial arts was also the local “physician” who held the skills and knowledge necessary to heal these injuries.

Kalari massage treatment

KALARI MASSAGE AND AYURVEDA MASSAGE

Kalari massage and Ayurveda massage share the same origin, the discovery of Marmam. The main difference between the two, is that in the practice of Kalari massage, the practitioner may use the feet as well as the hands to perform the massage to the body of the client.

In Kalari massage, using the feet to massage instead of the hands, the kalaripayattu master uses ropes suspended from the ceiling to help support their body weight while using the feet to apply an appropriate amount of pressure on the vital parts of the body of the patient, in a smooth and flowing movement, this is known as utsadana. Working with the hands to perform kalari massage is known as samvahana. The pressure used by the Master on the patient will vary according to the patients physical fitness level and body constitution as well as any injuries, acute or chronic, that the patient may be experiencing.

full body massage

Kalari massage is a full body massage with an Ayurvedic, medicated herbal oil to stimulate the Marmma(energy) points on the body. This oil is not only good for blood/lymph and energy circulation but also the renewal back to normal functioning of cells, tissues and organs. It is also known for removing the toxic waste products occurring naturally during training or after injury. Kalari Massage relieves various ailments such as back pain, muscle stiffness, joint dislocations, and soft tissue injuries to name but a few. It is known to stimulate various all major organs and systems, including the central nervous system which regulates all the systems of the body(Immune, Circulatory, Musculoskeletal, Endocrine…) Different ailments demand specific massage techniques which the master selects with the patient’s condition and constitution in mind.

The force, speed and number of movements utilized, as well as the type of herbal oil will vary according to the patient’s age, physical strength and endurance, and their particular health issue. The Master may use oils specifically developed for these conditions, which he will mix himself, often from the healing plants growing locally, using the knowledge passed down from generation to generation, from master to pupil. When the massage client has no specific ailments, the massage oil used for kalari massage is the same as that used by the Kalaripayattu practitioner, which is applied to the body directly prior to training.The specially developed Ayurvedic herbal medicinal oil is applied, according to a person’s body composition and the accessibility of nerve points, due to their individual body makeup and in order to enhance the patient’s mental acuity, physical capability, overall health and flexibility of the muscles.

 Ayurveda massage in Wayanad, Kerala

Kalari massage increases body flexibility and reduces the body fat composition in a similar, but more effective, way to the Ayurveda massage. The veins and arteries, responsible for the delivery of nutrients and healing factors and the removal of waste products in the body, become more elastic and more highly functioning. The organs most responsible for the removal of toxic wastes from the body such as the kidneys, lungs, liver and small/large intestines, are strengthened and perform more efficiently. This will cause the skin to shine with health as these organs and systems of the body function optimally

This is all achieved through the stimulation of nerves and nerve points(marman) from the kalari massage techniques, bringing the client back to their own natural and perfect harmonious balance. It will essentially enhance the body’s own healing capabilities by improving the function of the Central Nervous System and the Immune System. This ancient system of Kalari (and Ayurveda) Massage has been passed on from Master to student for many generations, and is is still practiced perfectly in Kadathanadan Kalari Sanagm, under the skillful hands and feet of K F Thomas Gurukkal.

THE AYURVEDIC MASSAGE HEALING TECHNIQUES OF KALARIPAYATTU TRAINING

yoga massage

As a holistic art, there are many aspects of Kalaripayattu, including healing techniques and preventative measures. Before training begins, the student applies special herbal oil, made by the master, to the entire body. It is used to enhance flexibilty, to alleviate aches and pains in the muscles and joints which often accompany vigorous physical exercise, and to help keep the body temperature cool. As an added benefit, the oil promotes soft, smooth skin. This multi-purpose Ayurveda oil is also used for Kalari marma massage, which is practiced by the Gurukkal for students and the public alike.

Ayurveda Bundle (Kizhi) Massages

In the event that an injury or strain is sustained that can not be treated by the routine Kalari or Ayurveda massage, the Master may supplement the treatment with a bundle massage. Hot fabric bundles, filled with herbs, leaves or rice are saturated in healing oils and pressed into the body to aid with its healing. This technique has been adapted from the Ayurveda massage method to suit the needs of the Kalari athlete. Making the bundles from scratch is an essential skill that must be learned by the Master who often grows the necessary plants next to their Kalari. There are three main types of bundle which can be used for treatment: the leaf bundle, the navara bundle and the podi bundle.

Leaf Kizhi Bundle

The filling of the leaf bundle consists of a variety of Ayurvedic medicinal leaves, herbs and medicinal plants. These ingredients are gathered by the Master and shredded, removing the fibrous sinew from the organic matter. The torn fragments are then boiled in a mixture of various medicinal oils. The period of time for which the leaves are boiled is undetermined and changes with each bundle made. It is up to the intuition of the Master, gained from experience, to decide when the perfect time is to take the mixture off the stove. After this, the mix is removed from the heat, the oil is drained and the pile of oily leafy matter is wrapped in a cloth. The cloth is bound by a strip of fabric very tightly into a compact bundle and as excess oil is squeezed through the cloth it is collected in a pan for later use. The end result is a stiff bundle with a handle from where the fabric strip is bound around the cloth.

The bundle is applied immediately after the Kalari massage. It is first placed in a pot of medicinal oil and heated. Ideally the bundle will be made as hot as possible without actually burning the receiver of the massage, this will open up the pores of the skin as much as possible and allow the medicinal oil to be absorbed into the body through the skin. The bundle is gently but firmly pressed to the body, every inch of skin is covered except for the face and head. If there is a particular injury felt in a specific area, that area will be focused on more than elsewhere so that it absorbs as much oil as possible.

The injuries and pains that the leaf bundle can be used to treat are numerous. Deep muscle pain, joint pain and nerve damage are the primary focus but the medicinal oil can relieve discomfort in every corner of the body from the neck to the feet.

This bundle is only good for 7 days usage from the day it is made. Due to the fresh nature of its ingredients the bundle loses its healing essence and its ability to retain medicinal oil and so after one week it is rendered useless and disposed of.

Ayurveda Navara Kizhi Bundle

This bundle is stuffed full with a specific variety of rice called navara. The first step in the process of making a navara bundle is to concoct a medicinal essence. This is created by first making medicinal water using various medicinal plants, and then distilling the water using heat, resulting in a highly concentrated healing potion. 

The freshly harvested navara rice is cooked in a pot of Ayurvedic medicinal essence until the Master deems it ready. A bundle is then formed in the same way as with the leaf bundle, again collecting excess oil in a pan for future use. 

Similarly to the leaf bundle, the navara bundle is heated and applied after a regular Kalari massage. The concoction used to heat the navara bundle is a mixture of medicinal oil and milk. The rice absorbs this mixture and releases it onto the body when applied with pressure. As it oozes from the bundle it forms a foamy paste on the skin. Over the course of the bundle massage the entire body – excluding the face and head – will be covered in this paste. Upon completion, the paste is scraped off the body using a coconut leaf and pure medicinal oil is reapplied to the skin. 

As well as offering the same benefits as the leaf bundle, the navara bundle is particularly useful for regenerating nerves and encouraging muscle growth. It is therefore especially useful to growing children and Kalari practitioners who are building muscle content.

The navara bundle is good for one use only before the rice begins to deteriorate and the bundle loses its healing ability and structural integrity. As a result it is not a very cost effective method of healing and is rarely used unless absolutely necessary.

Ayurvedic Podi Kizhi Bundle Kalari Massage

The translation of Podi is ‘powder’ and so this is literally called a powder bundle. This bundle makes use of medicinal herbs commonly found in the garden of a Kalari master. The herbs are harvested and dried over a period of weeks. The dried herbs are crushed by hand and made into a bundle in the same way as the leaf and navara bundles.

In the same way as the other two, the podi bundle is used after a regular Kalari, or Ayurveda, massage. It is heated in medicinal oil prior to application. 

The podi bundle is, by far, the longest lasting and most economical bundle of the three. Because its contents are thoroughly dried before it is assembled, it keeps its ability to retain medicinal oil for up to six months after its creation. Due to it requiring less effort than the other two it is used much more commonly, however its use is occasionally restricted by the availability of its ingredients. 

The podi bundle specialises in pain relief and increasing blood circulation around the entire body. This in turn benefits the nervous system as blood begins to reach previously neglected nerves. It also can be used to treat joint and muscle pain in a similar way to the leaf bundle.

Kalari Ayurveda Massage oil

Kalaripayattu Ayurvedic massage oil
Before training begins, the kalaripayattu student applies special herbal oil, made by the master, to the entire body.

Medicinal oil is an essential part of Kalaripayattu. Used in both training and the Kalari ayurveda massage, medicinal oil has been applied by Kalari warriors for hundreds of years. The knowledge of how to create the various types of medicinal oil – of which there are more than thirty – must be learnt by all Masters before they can claim the title of Gurukkal.
The oil is applied to the entire body from the neck down before training or before an Ayurveda Kalari massage. It acts as an insulating layer over the skin to trap heat within the body and keep the muscles and tissues warm. This increases body flexibility for the physically demanding training routines and keeps the muscles limber and malleable for the deep tissue massages. The powdered herbs that are key ingredients in the oils have healing qualities to them and the application of the oil is excellent at reducing joint and muscle pains. Furthermore, regular use of the oil will result in glowing healthy skin.
The use of Kalaripayattu medicinal oil has its origins, like many aspects of Kalari, in Ayurvedic medicinal practices. For centuries it was recommended by Ayurvedic doctors that people apply medicinal oil every day (or at the very least twice weekly) as an effective way of boosting the immune system. In a technique called techukuli – techu meaning ‘apply’ and kuli meaning ‘bathe’ – the majority of Keralan people use the oil to clean themselves. 

Kalari Oil – All Purpose Training and Massage Oil

Kalaripayattu Training and Massage Oil


There are two or three dozen individual types of medicinal oil that a Kalari Gurukkal has the knowledge to make. Of these, two are commonly used for training and massages, the others cater to specific requirements and can be made on demand depending on the patient and the situation. 
One of the more commonly used oils is simply called Kalari oil. It is made by the Gurukkal – or a very senior student – over the course of a three day process. The first step is to mix several types of medicinal herbs in a vat of water and boil it. Usually the mixture is reduced by about three quarters in volume before it is taken off the heat. The result is a highly concentrated herbal mix known by Ayurvedic practitioners as kashayam. The Gurukkal then adds a mixture of about twenty more herbs, crushed to a powder, to the kashayam. After some time and a few more processes, the Kalari oil is ready. 

Kalari Mukkute Oil – For Ayurveda Massage and Kalaripayattu Training


A second common oil – but harder to make than the Kalari oil – is called Kalari Mukkute oil. The key ingredients of this oil are sesame oil, coconut oil and ghee which is where it gets its name – Mukkute translates to ‘three combined’. The process for making Mukkute oil begins with the reduction of a kashayam using four specific medicinal plants. The kashayam is then mixed with over thirty different varieties of powdered herbs. Again the process takes three days to complete. This oil is considered to be a better version of the Kalari oil but is not quite as commonly used due to its extra complexity.

Kalari Marmani Oil – For Pain Relief and Ayurvedic Massage


Another example of the many oils made by the Gurukkal is called Kalari Marmani oil. This oil is made in a much quicker process than the other two, taking just one day to make. It is essentially a  highly reduced mixture of sesame oil and powdered herbs. Unlike the other two all purpose oils Marmani oil has a specific use. It is applied to combat chronic pain of muscles and tissues.

full body massage for woman

Kalari Oils – The Secret of the Gurukkals


The complex processes that go into refining these oils take a long time to learn and often require the intuition of the master to move from stage to stage. Experience is crucial when it comes to making them because one mistake and a whole batch could be made unusable. The knowledge of how to make these oils is a closely guarded secret by Kalaripayattu Masters with each Kalari having its own unique versions of the recipes. In Kadathanadan Kalari Sangam the recipes for over twenty five oils are kept by Thomas Gurukkal and the other Masters, recipes that have been passed down from Gurukkal to student over many generations and hundreds of years.

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