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Ayurvedic Yoga Massage

by Hamish Topp(more info)

listed in massage, originally published in issue 105 - November 2004

Historical Background

Ayurvedic yoga massage is a rare and unique form of yoga-based body-work developed in Pune, India. It emerged as a development of Iyengar Yoga, a branch of yoga familiar to the west with its emphasis on correct alignment and remedial properties. Master Kusan Modak, one of Iyengar's chief disciples, recognized and developed in particular the remedial benefits of certain stretches, developing a rehabilitation technique that combines elements of massage, yoga stretches and deep breath-work.

BKS Iyengar had already introduced to yoga practice the possibility of finding the alignment through the use of props. A strap, block, chair or wall can be used with discernment to support the body, allowing the opening of the inner body, promoting the correct flow and release of energy. Fundamental to this approach is the art of relaxation – "Yoga is relaxation in motion" says Iyengar. Not merely gymnastics, yoga asanas evolved over centuries to promote health, reduce fatigue and keep the body free from disease.

Wisdom of Yoga

The evolution of Ayurvedic yoga massage called upon the ancient wisdom of this yoga tradition. Recognizing that this relaxed release of energy flow is fundamental to the tremendous feeling of wellbeing that results from correct yoga practice, Master Kusan Modak began to transform the practice, marrying it to her in-depth knowledge of traditional Ayurvedic massage techniques. She realized further that the yoga practitioner can achieve more flexibility and range in the stretches when the body is completely relaxed and passive; in this way the therapist administering the treatment becomes the 'prop', aiding correct and deep release into the stretches.

This passive yoga stretching increases joint mobility and ligament flexibility and is thus an excellent tool for motor rehabilitation. In addition, ancient techniques involving the application of pressure with the feet at certain points in the treatment provides a very deep relaxation to the muscles and gives a strong stimulus to the blood circulation, thus delaying the ageing process.


Ayurvedic yoga massage has a marvellous capacity to assist detoxification of the body. Both soft and deep tissue and lymphatic drainage massage techniques are used with pure oil, sometimes with the addition of plant extracts or essential oils. Performed on a mat like Thai massage or Shiatsu, the recipient wears undergarments, and sarongs are used that cover the body. A session can last between 75 and 120 minutes. The results are very real and in most cases tremendous. The release of trapped stress and tension is tangible – natural energy flow is restored and the body feels calm, light and aligned. The recipient emerges calm, focused and with a real connection to the body. One session can alleviate months of accumulated toxins and tension; a course of treatments has a cumulative effect. Many recipients schedule a regular treatment as a form of physical maintenance, a way of maintaining balance and health in a stressful world, the elusive holy grail of urban living.

Deep Breathing

With all of this powerful bodywork taking place, there is a further element that provides cohesion, amplifies all the previously mentioned and further sets this practice in a unique field of its own. That is the practice of deep yoga breathing, known as the Ujjayi or 'conquering' breath. Throughout the treatment the therapist coaches the recipient to maintain a steady, even deep rhythmic flow, preferably in and out through the nose, although a powerful exhalation through the mouth can assist release into some of the deeper stretches.

The development of this bodywork technique recognized that, ultimately, yoga derives its manifold benefits from the movement of prana – the life-force energy of the breath – through the energy channels of the body. This is why breath, relaxation and alignment are so important in yoga practice. Taking this as the foundation stone of Ayurvedic Yoga Massage, the recipient's breath provides the rhythm and tempo for the entire treatment. Stretches are executed on the exhalation when deeper release is available, and the repetition of each stretch three to five times, or more, allows a progressively deeper movement from the muscles, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels right down to the skeletal system. Stress trapped in the muscles and tendons is safely released; stiff joints are relieved and the entire system is profoundly re-oxygenated at the deepest level. Oxygen itself is a powerful detoxifying agent, neutralizing acidic toxins and wastes.

The recipient should be aware that sometimes a 'healing crisis' may occur; the shifting and eliminating of toxins through the combination of breath-work, assisted stretching and massage / drainage practices can temporarily increase symptoms over a 24 hour period. It is a good idea to drink copious amounts of water over the 24 hours after the treatment.

Relaxation and Energizing

In regular exercise the oxygen of the breath is immediately combusted. In the breath-work of Ayurvedic Yoga Massage, however, with the body passive and resting, a powerful redistribution of oxygen and pranic energy takes place. The effect is similar to the charging up of a battery; internal energy reserves are replenished, allowing for greater quality in sleep / rest as well as improved vitality levels and concentration. Relaxed and yet energized at the same time; a perfect antidote to the stresses of modern living that can leave us with chronic tension, depleted vitality and mental 'fuzz'.

In Ayurvedic Yoga Massage the body is considered to be a reflection or storehouse of the subconscious. Often tensions or problems in the body have their origin in emotional seeds. Therapist and client work together fully to awaken the entire body, until each unfulfilled area of tissue and nerve, brain and lung is sensitized and cleansed by the power of the breath / stretch / massage combination. Obviously consecutive sessions realize this goal more fully, but even one session can provide a profound emotional release. Especially in times of unusual circumstance, of loss or grief, any physical or touch therapy can be of especial benefit.

Ayurvedic Yoga Massage has the capacity to work on this holistic level, where body, breath and mind are considered one; the distinctions between each are blurred as the work moves to an energetic level.

Case Studies

One client suffering from a dull pain down her left arm and also restricted movement resulted in her being unable to abduct her arm beyond 45 degrees. She found daily tasks such as getting dressed difficult. After receiving a course of four treatments, the realignment and musculature release of the treatments, full range of movement was restored and the dull pain down her left arm had completely subsided. She was delighted to have freedom from pain and full motor movement restored.

Another client who suffered from chronic lower back pain and sciatica resulting from a horse riding injury fourteen years ago, received a course of three treatments and subsequently has experienced the complete resolution of her injuries and conditions. After 14 years of chronic pain and debility she feels that her life is once again her own.

A client suffering from decades of accumulated stress/tension whose back regularly seized up, received a course of six treatments. He found the treatments powerful and wide ranging in the effects and is experiencing a much improved quality of life as a result of release from pain and increased mobility for the first time in many years.


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About Hamish Topp

Hamish Topp is qualified in many massage styles and techniques besides Ayurvedic Yoga Massage. He has worked in investment banking in both Australia and London for companies such as JP Morgan and BNP Paribas. After years of stress levels coupled with the sedentary work situation and physical distortions/ tensions of the office environment, it came as a revelation to rediscover his physical wellbeing and replenishment through receiving Ayurvedic Yoga Massage and practising yoga. His wife, whom he met and married over this time of transformation, is a yoga teacher with over a decade of dedicated yoga training behind her. Currently he works in Europe's largest yoga studio, Triyoga, a situation that sees him working with individuals with an established yoga practice. His treatments provide an opportunity to deepen yoga practice and work with any injuries. He is also working alongside chiropractors and therapists in other modalities at the Broadgate Chiropractic Clinic to provide remedial and preventative treatments. He can be contacted on

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