Indian Foot Massage - Padabhyanga

by Sharon Stathis
Source: HANS e-News - May 15, 2008

The vital energy techniques that are incorporated in ayurvedic massage of the feet, called padabhyanga, are central to our health and wellbeing. When padabhyanga is brought together with contemporary Western reflexology and massage therapy, we have a powerful marriage of knowledge, and a new and dynamic approach to health care. I have called this new advance in health care Ayurvedic Reflexology.

A brief look at Ayurveda
Ayurveda is the traditional medicine system of India. It is the world's oldest recorded healing system, with written records dating back approximately 5,000 years. Ayurveda is considered to be the mother of all forms of modern medicine. "Ayur" means life and "veda" and means knowledge. So ayurveda is the study of the knowledge of life. It is not just a system of medicine; it is a pathway to healthy living. Ayurveda places emphasis on maintaining a healthy immune system to help prevent disease formation.

Body massage is an integral part of the ayurvedic system of healing. It promotes healthy growth in the young, helps adults maintain health and vigour, and is an aid in preventing the onset of degenerative diseases in the aged.

Regular detoxification and daily, self-help massage form part of the prophylactic routines. The ayurvedic approach to health and wellbeing involves balancing the energies in the polarities (head and feet). It is recommended as part of a daily, self-help routine.

Within ayurvedic philosophy, wellness and the ability to heal are dependant upon the unimpeded movement of energy (prana). Prana is the vital life force that supplies the body and mind with energetic nourishment. The circulation of prana is facilitated via the chakras and a network of fine energy pathways called nadis.

Traditional Indian foot massage (padabhyanga) has a very special place within ayurvedic tradition. Padabhyanga is considered most helpful in the prevention and treatment of illness. It is suggested that padabhyanga is practised as a daily ritual, especially before retiring at night. 

"According to the Indian scriptures, diseases do not go near one who massages his legs and feet from knee to toes before sleeping, just as snakes do not approach eagles." (1)

India is a country of great diversity. This diversity is reflected in the many and varied interpretations of padabhyanga techniques. Padabhyanga can be summarized into three common components - hand techniques, the kasa bowl and marma therapy.

1. Hand techniques
The hand techniques include friction movements like rubbing and stroking, which stimulate the local cardiovascular circulation and the energetic flow. This energy (prana) naturally flows down the legs and through the feet towards the toes. The application of these techniques assists the directional flow of prana in the lower limbs.

Sesame oil is the most commonly used lubricant for padabhyanga. Although it has its own therapeutic properties, it can also act as a suitable vehicle for the addition of herbs and essential oils to help obtain a specific healing effect.

2. Kasa bowl
Metals are extensively used in Ayurvedic treatments. Copper and tin are the major constituents of the authentic kasa bowl that I use. Using circular and stroking movements, the rounded surface of the warmed and well oiled bowl is rubbed on the plantar surface of the feet. 
Clients really enjoy the warm, soothing feeling of kasa bowl work. More importantly, the kasa bowl offers many health benefits. It helps to balance the bio-energetic principles (doshas) of ayurveda that regulate body functions. The kasa bowl can also be used specifically on marma points.

3. Marma therapy
Marma points are vital energy centres that are located throughout the body. They have considerable impact on our health and wellbeing. So powerful are these points, that ayurvedic surgeons will not incise them. The marma points directly influence the function of the internal organs of the body.  Many marmas and acupuncture points share similar locations. However, the size and most functions of the marma points differ to those of the acupuncture points. The marmas are much bigger than acupuncture points and consequently much easier to locate and work. There is considerable variation in the size of individual marma points.

Marma therapy is used to detoxify, tonify and rejuvenate. "Treating them (marmas) can release negative emotions and remove mental blockages, including those of a subconscious nature (like addictions). This means that there is an important psychological side to their treatment." (2) 

To demonstrate how profound this therapy is, Frawley et al state that "Through working on marma points, we can control our prana. Through prana we can control our sensory and motor organs, and eventually our entire mind-body complex." (3)

Five of the 107 primary marma points are located on each foot (and hand). Frawley et al state that "Therapeutic regions, like marmas on the arms and legs, are the most important for treatment purposes." (4)

We know that reflexology and other forms of body-work can have a profound effect on mind/body function. Reflexologists and massage therapists are already working marma points whether they know it or not. However, with further knowledge of the marmas and the correct working techniques, practitioners have the potential to significantly increase the effectiveness of their foot (and hand) work. 

The marmas located in the extremities occur on both sides of the body. As a general rule, when treating foot (and hand) marmas, the corresponding marmas on both limbs are treated in the same session. Importantly for practitioners, four of the foot marmas have a direct influence on various aspects of foot health and function.

There are many techniques for working the marmas, and all involve working with care and sensitivity. Marma therapy is powerful and is best learnt from an experienced professional. I believe the practice of marma therapy will expand and develop in the near future, particularly amongst energy-based therapists.

Combining the old with the new
It really is so easy for reflexologists, massage practitioners and other body-workers to combine the ancient knowledge of padabhyanga with current practices.

Ayurvedic Reflexology is a unique method of foot work that provides practitioners with a variety of effective, easy to apply techniques. Many practitioners experiencing hand problems (repetitive strain or over use syndrome) are excited about this new and "kinder to the hands" approach to therapy.

Ayurvedic Reflexology is currently generating a global wave of excitement amongst bodyworkers. The ongoing, positive feedback that I am receiving from workshop participants and clients is most gratifying. 

1. Johari, H. Ayurvedic Massage  Healing Arts Press, Vermont USA, 1996. p. 62.
2. Frawley, D., Ranade, S., Lele, A. Ayurveda and Marma Therapy: Energy Points in Yogic
3. Healing Lotus Press, Twin Waters USA, 2003. p. 34.
4. Frawley, D. et al. op.cit. p. 41.
5. Frawley, D. et al. op.cit. p. 29.       

Sharon Stathis is a Registered Nurse and Midwife in Australia. She is a qualified Reflexologist, Remedial Massage Therapist and Aromatherapist. Sharon teaches Ayurvedic Reflexology in sixteen countries and is a popular presenter at international conferences.

Sharon will be presenting her two-day workshop "Ayurvedic Reflexology - SMART 1" in Vancouver BC June 14 & 15 this year. For further information, contact PACIFIC Institute of REFLEXOLOGY  email:  web:  OR visit Sharon's website

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