Ayurvedic Marma Therapy for Today's Health Needs

An Introduction to Transdermal Herbal Rasayanas

Marma Therapy
Marma Therapy. Matthew Wakem/Getty Images

Transdermal healing is healing through the medium of the skin. This topical application has been extensively described in many ancient ayurvedic texts and is a long-held practice of ayurvedic dermatologists.

This practice is called 'marma therapy' and various practitioners take different approaches to applying it. At its most basic, marmas refer to 107 points on the body that connect mind and body. These are the focus areas where herbal formulations designed for healing. Often, this is done through herbal oils or pastes that are applied to and absorbed by the skin.

Why Transdermal Formulations?

Quite often, natural healing practices focus on the eating or drinking of herbal remedies. This is not always the best approach, which is why transdermal applications are used.

When we ingest a herb, its result will be impacted if:

  1. The digestive system is not functioning at peak efficiency and cannot metabolize the herb properly.
  2. The digestive system is efficient but the liver is sluggish or overloaded with toxins.
  3. The individual consumes alcohol on a regular basis.
  4. The person is taking medication or other supplements.

All of these factors "interfere" with the herb's intelligence and you may not feel any benefit from taking it. Transdermal materials bypass the digestive system and go straight to the different parts of the body via the rakta dhatu or blood. The benefit they impart is not diminished by a slow digestion or a liver that is suffering from a toxic overload.

How Transdermal Rasayanas Work

From the ayurvedic perspective, there are three subdoshas -- psychophysiological principles -- that regulate skin health and appearance. When these three subdoshas are in balance, the skin enjoys perfect health.

  • Vyana Vata governs circulation in the skin and modulates the sense of touch.
  • Bhrajaka Pitta governs skin temperature and the biochemical processes that occur in the skin.
  • Shleshaka Kapha regulates moisture levels and lubrication. 

Apart from these subdoshas, there is also an agni -- a fire -- that resides in the skin. Just like we have the Pachaka Agni or digestive fire in the stomach to help metabolize the foods that we ingest, there is a Bhrajaka Agni in the skin that metabolizes whatever is applied on the skin. Unfortunately, many ayurvedic healers do not recognize or completely understand the fine difference between the Bhrajaka Pitta subdosha and the Bhrajaka agni.

Pachaka Pitta in the stomach area is the subdosha that governs digestion, but it is not the flame itself, it is the underlying source of the flame. Pachaka Agni is the related flame that "cooks" the food. Similarly, Bhrajaka Agni in the skin cooks the food applied on the skin, while Bhrajaka Pitta is the source of the flame.

Understanding this difference is mandatory for developing proper ayurvedic protocols to heal through the medium of the skin.

The Application of Healing Herbs

There is another difference to be noted between the metabolizing that occurs when healing herbs are ingested and when they are transdermally applied. This is the method of "cooking" in the stomach versus the surface of the skin.

The cooking that occurs in the stomach can be compared to slow-cooking lentils in a covered pot, for example. The word Pachaka is related to the word paak, meaning slow or covered cooking. The word Bhrajaka is related to bhranjan, which literally translates to "frying."

When we apply something to the skin, the surface of the skin becomes the wok and Bhrajaka Pitta supplies the flame -- Bhrajaka Agni -- that then "fries" the "food" for quick absorption into the bloodstream.

In order for the absorption to occur properly, there are certain qualities the transdermal material needs to have. Principal among these are:

  1. The material should be 100 percent natural and alive with the intelligence of nature. If processed with chemicals or mixed with artificial preservatives or fragrances or otherwise compromised, the healing effect will be compromised.
  2. The material should be of a molecular size and weight that are appropriate for good, fast absorption. The formula should have some yogavahi material -- herbs, spices, or aromas that help carry the benefits of the formula to the different parts of the body.
  3. The material should be pleasant or palatable so that the environment for absorption is created. If the material is repellant, the physiology will not wholeheartedly absorb it.

Provided these ancient standards for purity and potency are carefully adhered to, transdermal rasayanas offer an exciting new method to deliver the healing benefits of ayurvedic herbs to the physiology. This can then help the individual lead a life of balance in accord with the laws of Nature.
Note: This material is educational, and is not intended to treat, cure, prevent or mitigate any disease. If you have a medical condition, please see your physician.