Based on centuries of intuitive wisdom and field-tested knowledge, marma chikitsa (therapy) is an essential hands-on Ayurvedic practice that often delivers profound mind-body benefits. This practical application of ancient Ayurvedic principles is defined by the renowned Ayurvedic physician Dr. Vasant Lad as “the precise art of touching an individual in exactly the right place at a critical moment in time for the purpose of healing.”
Similar to the acupoints described in Chinese medicine, marma points, or marmaṇi, are specific locations on the body where our mental and physical energies can be accessed and adjusted or redirected. These access points occur in areas where veins, arteries, bones, tendons, or joint intersect. In Sanskrit the word marmameans “mortal or vulnerable point,” suggesting that these areas may be tender, weak, or sensitive.
Located along the nadis—the energy channels that prana(the life-force) flows through—marma points are used in Ayurvedic medicine to promote communication between the body and mind as well as between cells, maintaining and coordinating their functional activities and transmitting healing energy to organs and tissues.
Stimulation of a marma point that relates to a particular tissue can be used to not only help maintain the normal functioning of that tissue but also to address a specific imbalance (vikruti) in our elemental makeup by either increasing or reducing the predominance of a particular dosha, thus restoring our constitution (prakruti) to its natural intended state. The activation of marma points also produces a powerful response in the mind, helping to calm it while increasing the clarity of perception and empowering more effective communication.
Often these points are used as a mechanism of pain relief. Pain is generated when tension and stagnation in the body block the flow of prana to a particular part of our body, disrupting the delicate equilibrium of the doshas associated with that area. Marma chikitsa alleviates this pain by stimulating the flow of prana to the affected area, pacifying the accumulated dosha.
There are 117 primary marma points that are classified according to their location; constituent elements; degree of vitality; and associated doshas, tissues (dhatus), bodily wastes (malas), organs, and physical channels (srotamsi). The power of the marmaṇi is intimately connected with the basic components of the vital essence of life (ojas, tejas, and prana). Marma chikitsa is rarely used in isolation; more often it’s employed as a part of a comprehensive, multifaceted treatment program. To design this type of program, an Ayurvedic practitioner must have a broad and deep understanding of the etiology and symptomatology of disease and the stages of pathogenesis as well as sensitivity and skill in Ayurvedic diagnosis. However, marma chikitsa can also be used for immediate pain relief, long-term pain management, and first aid. Although marma therapy alone may not eradicate the disease process completely, it can give temporary symptomatic relief and may prevent serious complications from arising.
Marma points reflect the qualities of the region of the body where they reside and the internal and external features of the corresponding doshas and subdoshas. Sushruta, an expert Ayurvedic surgeon in ancient India, described marmaṇi according to the six major parts of the body: the four extremities, the trunk, the head and the neck. He also defines the points in relation to the five principal components of the body’s physical structures: mamsa(muscle), sira(veins), snayus(ligaments), asthi(bone) and sandhi(joints).
The marmaṇi on the scalp are connected to the brain as well as to organs situated in other parts of the body. On the chest and upper back, the points are connected with the heart and lungs. The points on the lower back are connected with the kidneys, stomach, and the digestive organs. Each of the areas where marmaṇi reside is associated one of the five constituent elements of the body (space, air, fire, water, and earth), and each marma point activates the energy of the element associated with its location.
The language of the doshas is absolutely key to understanding the Ayurvedic viewpoint on health and disease. Knowing how marma points affect the dosha that predominates in a particular region of the body is crucial to achieving excellent therapeutic results. For example, chest and lung marma points stimulate kapha, umbilical points affect pitta, and colon points will influence vata.
There are eight great marma points that are essential to life. These marmaṇi house the greatest concentration of vital energies of all the points. Sushruta described how injuries at these marma points, whether superficial or deep, can disrupt the flow of prana, decreasing vitality and even causing life-threatening damage. These points are known as the sadyah pranahara marmaṇi: murdhani(crown), brahmarandhara (anterior to crown), shivarandhra(posterior to crown), ajna(third eye), shanka(right and left temple), hrdayam(heart), habhi (umbilicus), and uda(anus). The illustration below shows these eight marmaṇi, as well as five other vital points—kantha, griva, basti, vrushana, and yoni jihva—that can cause death or serious injury when traumatized.