Energy therapies like reiki and acupuncture are not only gaining in popularity in the western world, but they are also being recognized as healing modalities. Within the energy healing field, marma chikitsa, a lesser known energy therapy is also starting to be adopted by many holistic wellness practitioners. A painless, noninvasive therapy similar to acupressure, marma therapy decreases stress and induces relaxation. Rooted in the science of Ayurveda, we wanted to dive-deep into marma chikitsa, so we reached out to Anisha Durve, Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Acupuncturist, Ayurveda Practitioner, and co-author of the textbook Marma Points of Ayurveda. Dr. Durve who recently opened The Marma Institute of Ayurvedic Acupressure is an expert on marma, with over 18 years of experience in the holistic healing field. In our chit-chaat, she takes us through the benefits of marma and how she integrates this therapy into her clinical practice.
A Q & A with Anisha Durve, D.O.M., A.P.
What is marma?
Marma is a vital energy point where consciousness surfaces and has enormous healing potential. They can be areas of sensitivity, vulnerability, or tenderness. Stimulation of these powerful points balances prana throughout one’s system.
Are some points more vital than others?
Yes, some marma points are more vital and have a stronger effect. The sadyah prana hara marmani are considered the most vital because injury here could lead to death. For example, points in the throat or genital area.
In your practice, when does marma chikitsa or therapy come into play?
I use marma chikitsa daily with all my clients. With my acupuncture clientele, I do marma chikitsa after I have inserted the needles and clients retain them for about 30 mins. During this time I do acupressure on facial, head, and neck points to relax them and take them deeper into the treatment. I enjoy doing marma chikitsa for my Ayurveda clients which will include aromatherapy with doshic blends, acupressure, a meditation on a marma point and breathwork targeted to specific marmani. I also use tuning forks and am trained in the system of acutonics. I use the vibration of the tuning forks at specific marmani to add the element of sound healing and a deeper relaxation. I teach many of my clients self-care protocols with marma chikitsa. For example, if someone has sinus issues and allergies- how to stimulate points that will unblock the sinuses. For someone with anxiety or high-stress, certain protocols can immediately relax them and make them feel at ease. Clients love learning how simple and easy marma therapy is to use!
With marmani points, being highly concentrated in prana, if the point is cut via surgery or injured how can it affect an individual?
Originally Sushruta, the father of surgery, is the one who discovered that vitality is diminished if an incision is made at a marma point. This can slow down the recovery process for a patient after surgery. It would be ideal if surgeons had an awareness where these powerful energy points lie so they could avoid these incisions. I will recommend to clients doing self- massage or self-acupressure to speed up recovery afterward.
With self-massage or massage via a therapist, are our marma points engaged?
Yes, massage is always a way to stimulate all of the body’s marma points. But an ayurvedic massage therapist will be trained in how to more skillfully engage these points with direct pressure at marmani. Depending on what issues a client is suffering from- stimulating those marmani can have a deep therapeutic effect. For example, for a client with abdominal pain, massaging the nabhi marmani surrounding the umbilicus can relieve a lot of digestive issues and local discomfort. Doing abhyanga (self-massage) regularly is a great way to stimulate the marmani and give emphasis to the ones that you feel need more attention that day.
Is this one of the reasons massage is highly regarded therapy in Ayurveda, and more specifically panchakarma?
Massage has endless benefits and is one of the oldest healing modalities on our planet. Ayurveda places a lot of emphasis on daily abhyanga to promote self-massage is really the key to longevity. The emphasis of massage in panchakarma is to aid in deeper detoxification of the doshas, and allow toxins to flow out of the system with ease. Even if there is no emphasis on the marma points the massage can still be effective, but stimulating the appropriate marmani will allow the client to experience a deeper therapeutic benefit.
Aside from using the hands versus needles, are there other differences between marma therapy and acupuncture?
Out of the 117 marma points that Dr. Vasant Lad and I identify in our textbook Marma Points of Ayurveda, approximately ⅔ of them correlate directly to acupuncture points but some of the energetics of the points can be different in both systems. The ⅓ that don’t correlate exactly can sometimes be very close in proximity to a powerful acupuncture point. There are many ways to stimulate the marma points- through light touch or pressure, deeper touch with massage, through aromatherapy with essential oils, through ayurvedic massage oils. They can also be stimulated through meditation or visualization at a specific marma, breathwork directed at that energy point, or through vibration and sound healing with tuning forks. Marmani can also be stimulated directly during yoga practice or indirectly through meditation and breathwork focused at that point. Acupuncture is the most invasive way to stimulate a marma point but creates a deeper long-lasting therapeutic effect.
Is marma therapy effective as a singular treatment, or does it need to be combined with other ayurvedic therapies or self-care practices?
Marma therapy is quite powerful by itself and doesn’t necessarily need to be combined with ayurvedic massage or other practices. I recommend everyone do a daily 5-10 minute self-care ritual of marma chikitsa to decrease stress, induce relaxation and rejuvenation, and promote longevity. I do think it can be powerfully combined with all other modalities to make them more effective as well.
In your book, co-written with Vasant Lad, BAMs you include the 117 marmani, along with the corresponding acupuncture point. Including the differences in benefits when stimulating the points. How does having expertise in both holistic systems, come into play in your practice?
I love the combination of both acupuncture and Ayurveda in my practice and how they enhance each other. I find acupuncture works directly on prana maya kosha. Creating balance at the pranic level facilitates healing at the level of the mind and physical body. Acupuncture can create long-term therapeutic changes but you can see results quite quickly. Ayurveda works at the level of different koshas. With massage there is a direct effect on annamayakosha- the physical body, which becomes the gateway to affect manomayakosha- mind and pranamayakosha- breath. Acupuncture allows me to quickly release symptoms and change patterns of imbalance. Ayurveda allows clients to find a long-term solution to change their habits with diet, lifestyle, exercise.
Why is marma considered a mind/body therapy?
I love this question! Marma therapy is one of the most powerful mind/body therapies because it is affecting every kosha- the sheath of existence. It affects annamayakosha- the physical body, pranamayakosha- the circulation of the breath and vitality, manomayakosha- the mind which exists throughout the body, vijnanamayakosha- our deeper intelligence, and anandamayakosha- the gateway to bliss and transcendence. There are marma points that correspond to all 7 chakras and can release blockages at these levels. Understanding how manovahasrotas- the channel of the mind has its root in the heart and 10 important sensory nadis, its pathway runs through the whole body, and it opens into the sense organs and the marmani. Marma becomes the bridge to connect body, breath, and mind in the most powerful way creating a current of vitality and deeper communication.
How did you come to write the marma book with Dr. Lad?
I studied at the Ayurvedic Institute with Dr. Lad for 4 years from 1997-2001. During that time I was also attending acupuncture school and getting my masters. The energy points were what was common to both systems and I was fascinated with them and comparing the difference in both ancient traditions. I proposed a project to Dr. Lad to do an independent study with him and record more detailed information about each marma point. During his first year program, he covers all the marma points in one week and I was curious to learn more. We spent a year going through all the marma points meeting each week for a few hours. During that time I would show him pictures of the corresponding acupoints and what their functions. At the end of the year, I had approximately 100 pages of typed materials that I was so excited to share with my fellow students. I proposed writing a book at that time and Dr. Lad loved the idea and embraced it. We spent the next year during the independent study collecting information to create the other chapters of the marma book and create more context for practitioners. After that the next year was spent writing the whole manuscript to give form and shape to the book. We completed this project in 2002 and the publisher printed it in 2008. We have sold more than 7,000 copies of the first edition and I am proud to know it is in ayurvedic schools around the country and been such a great resource for so many students. We have now printed the second edition which is a paperback with colorful illustrations.
How are you sharing your knowledge of marma chikitsa?
I have just launched my own school- Marma Institute of Ayurvedic Acupressure to offer training nationwide to healthcare practitioners of diverse backgrounds: ayurvedic practitioners and bodyworkers, acupuncturists, massage therapists, yoga teachers, naturopathic doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, midwives, doctors, and nurses. I believe marma therapy can be added to any other modality and be instrumental at creating a deeper healing effect. My institute is offering 7-day intensive training for 50 continuing education hours for practitioners.
Anisha Durve is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Acupuncturist, Ayurvedic Practitioner, and Ayur-yoga meditation instructor with 18+ years of experience. Anisha has co-written a clinical textbook with Dr. Vasant Lad on acupressure with him titled Marma Points of Ayurveda: Energy Pathways for Healing Body, Mind, and Consciousness, with a Comparison to Traditional Chinese Medicine. She is an expert in the field of marma therapy and founder of The Marma Institute of Ayurvedic Acupressure