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Massage of the Warriors

“While meditation is the massage for the limbs of your consciousness, Chavutti Thirumal is the massage of its roots.” Laurent Bottigliengo (Chavutti Thirumal therapist, France)

With warm herbal oil lathered on your body, deep melodic Indian chant music in thebackground, the smell of incense burning and smooth strong feet gliding their way overyour body, it’s not hard to feel relaxed in the first few minutes of this unique massage.

This is the barefoot massage technique called Chavutti Thirumal (Chavutti). Ensconced in ancient traditions, it is one of the oldest surviving massage techniques from the spiritual heartland of India, and is thought to date back between two and four thousand years.

Chavutti literally means ‘foot pressure’ in the Malayalam language of Kerala, a region in Southern India, it was developed by the ancient martial arts warriors Kalaripayattu (Kalari). The Kalari warriors used this massage technique to increase their flexibility and to prepare and strengthen their bodies for a rigorous training regime.

This form of martial arts has an Ahimsa (non-violent) approach where the martial artists not only learn how to fight, but also how to heal. This duality in their approach was divided into two distinct systems – fighting and healing.

The fighting system was the first structured method of martial arts. The postures in this system were modelled on Indian animals incorporating ‘serpent strikes’ and ‘peacock poses’. Strikes were carried out with such precision, that an understanding of the energetic channels of the body was necessary for effective combat. Knowledge of these energetic channels allowed the martial artists to not only harm, but also heal.

The therapies in the healing system were used to facilitate strength and flexibility; herbal oils to nourish the body, knowledge of vital energy points, and an understanding of the indigenous medicinal system Ayurveda. The approach took into account the Ayurvedic elements Vata (Air/Wind) Pitta (Fire/Bile) or Kapha (Earth/Phlegm), and different herbal oils would be used to restore balance. The healing period in the training regime was a time devoted to prayer, massage and meditation where the Kalari warriors would retreat and recover and enhance their understanding of the etheric arts.

The Kalari warriors and their healing methods are ingrained in Kerala’s culture. There was a period when nearly every child in Kerala over the age of seven was trained in this traditional martial art form. During the 19th century AD, the British prohibited anyone practicing Kalari and thus for the next hundred years it was only practiced in secret by a few dedicated masters. The strength of the technique and philosophy is apparent as this ancient lineage survived the effects of colonisation, and resurged in the 1920’s as a revolt against its perpetrators. This form of martial arts and its healing methods are now gaining worldwide attention.


In a Chavutti treatment, purposeful attention is focused on lengthening and aligning the spine. This allows internal space to be created, breathing to deepen, and energetic alignment to be harmonised. The spine’s role in health and wellbeing is viewed as vital as it is believed that a healthy spine will keep the body young and sprightly.

With regular treatments of Chavutti, posture is enhanced as the back muscles become activated. Circulation also increases, bringing blood flow to the tissues and organs. Recipients also note an improvement in their immunity because of a stimulated lymph flow in the endocrine system, and an increase in the ‘feel good’ endorphins which clients often report takes them into a state of yogi-like bliss. In modern life, our primal fight/flight reaction (adrenaline) is not always directed appropriately and released. Our body can then accumulate adrenaline, and over time, our system becomes stressed. To de-stress we need an outlet. Chavutti helps facilitate profound relaxation and stress release, allowing the modern-day warrior to return to a natural equilibrium.


The client

Prior to treatment, the client is asked a series of questions to determine the state of their health and whether Chavutti is appropriate for them. Upon making an appointment, the client will be asked not to have anything to eat for a couple of hours before the Chavutti treatment so the body can absorb the full effects of the massage.

The client lies on a mat on the floor, clothes are removed, with a loin cloth used for discretion. Warm oil is then liberally applied to the body. In India, warm sesame oil is the most frequently used, or an oil selected according to the recipient’s individual Ayurvedic constitution.

The position of the recipient’s body on the floor is paramount – think of a butterfly in perfect symmetry. Correctly positioned, the massage enables postural muscles to strengthen, the hips and thoracic area to open, and the energetic channels (Nadis) to become activated. The treatment lasts for over an hour and covers the entire length of the body from the finger tips to the toes, and delivers long sweeping therapeutic strokes.

Clients report being amazed at how well “the foot, toes, arch and heel fit perfectly onto the human body” and “a greater sense of body awareness with a perceived sense of energy lines being opened”.

As with most Eastern practices, Chavutti concentrates on both the physical and spiritual aspects of a treatment.

The Chavutti therapist

The Chavutti therapist stands upright and holds onto a rope for support. Using the rope as a guide the therapist uses one foot at a time to deliver firm continuous movements over the entire length of the body, kneading the client into a meditative state where deep healing can take place.

Working from this standing position enables the therapist to use the weight of their whole body, whilst being mindful of their own posture. The therapist is also able to very effectively reach the whole of the recipients’ body without having to negotiate their way around the table. The therapist uses their body weight to press and relax the muscles, and to work the energy lines (Nadis). This enables an energetic fluid treatment to arise from the polarities – the Sahasarara (7th Chakra) to the Muladhara (base chakra), which grounds centres and aligns both the giver and receiver.

Learning the technique requires both patience and practice to gain the coordination and balance required to deliver the treatment in a smooth and effective way. As Chavutti is executed by standing on one foot and using the other foot for the massage. Preparing the feet is also quite extensive with smoothing, moisturising and manicuring an essential aspect of preparation, to ensure the foot is ‘pedi-licious’ for the treatment.


Lauren Hall – Director of Massage Institute Australia and Trainer of Chavutti Thirumal, learnt this dynamic technique in London in 2004. After studying Shiatsu in Australia she became very interested in Qi Gong and its effects, as well as the Ayurvedic approach to health – which proposes our bodies encompass the elements of nature. In London, Lauren chanced upon Chavutti and was instantly attracted to it from its ancient traditions of Ayurvedic Medicine as well as the Qi Gong principles incorporated by her teacher. The practice of Qi Gong with Chavutti allows the therapist to harness the qi energy so the treatment becomes a moving meditation. She later discovered that Qi Gong was also taught to the Shaolin Monks by Bodhidharma, the main figurehead of Kalari, which brought together a completeness to its role in Chavutti for her. At the start of 2008 she travelled to the birthplace of Chavutti to study with a Kalari master. Lauren saids ‘What I love most about Chavutti is the attention it places on the health of the spine. This makes sense as our spine can be thought of as the framework of our being and the importance of this is in alignment with every branch of yogic philosophy. By teaching this enriching art form, I hope to enable others to learn this ancient Massage technique, connect to their Inner Warrior whilst giving them an appreciation, knowledge and respect of the ancient roots from where Chavutti began.’

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