By Duncan Hulin & John McLennan

The massage technique Chavutty Thirumal originated in Kerala, south India, 5,000 years ago. It was invented by the practitioners of the martial art Kalari.

Many of the present day systems of martial arts and self-defence have their origins in Kalari. As the teachings of the Buddha spread from India across south East Asia so did the knowledge of other practices such as Kalari and Ayurveda (the Indian system of holistic medicine). The Katakali dancers subsequently began to use the massage, and both schools continue to do so to this day. Katakali is one of the South Indian classical forms of dance and requires that the student undertake years of dedicated daily practice from childhood to mid-teens, when he/she will begin to perform in public. The Kalari student also practised daily, and both schools use the massage to relax and rejuvenate after a hard days work. Originally it was used to alleviate pain and swelling after a knock or a fall and strain, to reduce dislocated joints, or to help fractures to heal. The massage techniques were developed by the late Dr B P Pilla. He was a Siddha/Ayurvedic doctor and Kalari Master who ran the Institute of Yoga Therapy in Trivandrum, Kerala, South India. He integrated Chavutty Thirumal as part of his system of Yoga Therapy.

Chavutty Thirumal literally translates from the Malayalam to "massage by foot pressure" and is given with the sole of the foot. The masseur/euse stands on one foot, holding onto a rope above the massage table for support, and massages with the other foot. More or less pressure can be applied as required to give a stimulating or relaxing massage, the masseur/euse at all times being able to move from his/her centre of gravity in the lower abdomen. A long continuous stroke from finger-tip to toes and back again can be given in a way not possible by hand. The feet are more sensitive than the hand (you only need to tickle them to see) and they cover a wider surface area, allowing an even pressure, producing an ironing effect.

It is a full body massage and takes at least one and half hours to complete. A full treatment consists of 10 daily sessions to progressively relax and penetrate deeper levels, thereby completely rejuvenating the tissues, relaxing tense muscles and stretching and loosening rigid ligaments.

The person receiving the massage begins by lying full stretch, face down on a special table, while the masseur/euse silently acknowledges his teacher/guru and the Siddha line of teachers. As all practitioners of Chavutty Thirumal have undergone training in Asanas, Kriyas, Pranayama and Meditation, they are able to direct prana or healing energy through their feet and hands, and throughout the massage they perform ujjayi pranayama technique which maintains energy and keeps them open as a channel for healing.

The massage has a large number of different strokes from general ones to start with to more specific ones later on. These also include various hand techniques, for example abdominal massage for relieving constipation and other digestive problems, and head massage. Over the ten day period various blockages, sore points or other problems may come to light and these will be attended to so that the body's energies, or Doshas as they are know in Ayurveda, come into balance again. Ayurveda means "Science of Life" or "knowledge of longevity" and is the traditional natural medical system of India and which goes hand in hand with Yoga.

Ayurveda is famous for its medicated massage and oil baths. Chavutty Thirumal uses Ayurvedic oils which are mixed to recipe from herbs growing in the hills of southern India. Unrefined sesame oil is used as the base, sandalwood powder and castoori mennal (a member of the turmeric family especially renowned for healing properties) among others are mixed and simmered to make a thick paste. This essence is then blended with the oil to make a general massage oil. There are other special blends for painful conditions like early arthritis or rheumatism. The medicinal properties of the oil are absorbed through the skin and by aroma.

Stress, modern lifestyle and diet, knocks and strains can all be harmful on a gross and/or subtle level. If one of the Doshas, Vatta (air), Pitta (fire) or Kapha (water), are disturbed and balance is not restored, the result is dis-ease. Through Yoga therapy we aim to regain the balance. Chavutty Thirumal is one of the tools of Yoga therapy which works on both subtle and gross levels.

On the gross level the pressure of the strokes stimulate the blood circulation assisting venous return (blood returning to the heart through the veins) and lymphatic return (the body's waste disposal system) helping the body to eliminate metabolites and toxins that may build up in muscles and tissues. Toxins are a product of both normal cellular activity and of disease, so eliminating them can speed up the healing process and generally improve well-being. The warmth and pressure of touch activates the axon reflex, opening up arterioles, brining fresh blood to the area. Isolated tissues are reintegrated and the nervous system is revitalised. Literally every single muscle and ligament is covered. The body's auto-immune defence system is stimulated and energised thus increasing ones resistance to disease and many common ailments.

On the subtle level, as the foot passes along the "marma" (the equivalent of acupuncture meridians) it affects the internal organs by stimulating the energy that passes through them. This subtle energy (prana or ki) is encouraged to flow freely around the body rebalancing the body's seven major chakras (subtle energy centres). The experience of strong emotional responses is not uncommon. Emotions such as sorrow or fear, anger or resentment may come out because the energy flow helps to unblock any suppressed tension. As all yogis know, mind and body are essentially one. Subtle healing balances the Doshas - the glands, organs and cells of the body are encouraged to perform their proper intelligent functions according to the time of day, season and time of life. Our bodies are self-healing, self-repairing organisms that occasionally need help. The massage brings about a state of deep relaxation of body and mind in which the seeming miracle of healing can occur. Overall what counts is that it is practised with the spirit of yoga.

NOTE: Ideally the massage is given with the massagee fully nude however swimwear/towel can be used if it will make the massage more comfortable. In India the massage is traditional performed man to man, or woman to woman, while in the West it can be mixed if boundaries are clear.

It is necessary for a consultation to take place before the massage to determine the general state of health and purity of blood, and whether a full massage is deemed immediately appropriate. It would not be given to anyone with skin disease due to excess toxins in the blood, for example; these would be removed by the kriyas which are exercises to cleanse and stimulate the internal organs, as well as a sattvic diet.

The ten day program of massages may be spread over weeks in the West to allow for lifestyle.


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