This ancient self-care practice will help you detox, relieve stress, and reset.
What are Marma Points?
According to Ayurveda, there are 108 vital points on the body called marma points. They were described in the field of battle as points to avoid injuring. An injury to a specific point would elicit a set of symptoms or death based on the anatomical connections of these points. Thirty-one of these are located in the head, coinciding with cranial sutures, called Simantas, and the crossover points where nerves, arteries, veins, cranial bones and muscles intersect.
At the sites of these marma points on the head are up to 13 emissary veins that help drain, cool and relieve pressure from inside the cranial vault — your skull. These veins are bi-directional (5), which means they can either take waste out of the brain into the veins of the scalp, back into vascular circulation, or they can potentially transport nutrients or dangerous toxins and infections from outside the skull into the brain. (3)
The principal emissary veins are located just above the sagittal sinus (in the shape of a Mohawk haircut) and along the transverse sinus, which passes from the bony protuberance on the occiput to just below the ear in the area of the mastoid process and temple bones. In the diagram, you can see where the 13 emissary veins leave the skull, marked by small black semi-circles. (5)
Among other functions, emissary veins help cool and drain the sagittal and transverse venous sinuses of toxic waste, old cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) and venous blood. (3) The recently discovered glymphatics, which drain 3 pounds of toxins out of the brain each year, were found primarily as lymphatic vessels that follow cranial nerves along the sagittal and transverse sinuses. (6,7) These sinuses branch out through tiny skull foramen (holes) to the outside of the skull as emissary veins. (5)
While not confirmed yet, the emissary veins may also be a pathway for glymphatic vessels that help drain toxic cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from the brain and its ventricles. The science shows that emissary veins and the glymphatics both drain into the vascular system in the neck at critical junctures of the jugular veins. (5,6)
Emissary Veins and the Blood Brain Barrier
One study found that gentle massaging of the scalp produced abundant drops of blood on the inner surface of the bone each time the scalp was massaged – an indication that cutaneous blood can flow inward through the bone or through the emissary veins. (1) This suggests that massaging the scalp can, in fact, elicit changes in the blood flow inside the cranium.
Ayurveda has numerous therapies geared to increase the circulation of the vasculature of the scalp, the emissary veins and the inner cranial circulation. A deep and even vigorous massage of the head called shiro (head) abhyanga (massage) is commonly a part of a traditional Ayurvedic daily routine. With this new science, we have a deeper understanding of the value of a traditional head massage and the ancient technique called marma therapy.
In another study, researchers combined the drug, methadone, with an Ayurvedic massage oil (sesame oil) and massaged that into the scalp in an attempt to determine if any of the methadone would penetrate the skull and enter the brain chemistry. As a control, they measured the amount of methadone that entered the brain through an oral dose as well. (2)
The results were amazing! They found that there were almost the exact same levels of methadone in the brain from the head massage with sesame-methadone oil as the oral dose of methadone. Methadone is typically given orally as a drug to wean addicts off of heroin.
One of the hallmarks of Ayurveda are the specific types of oils that are used. These oils traditionally combine sesame oil with herbs cooked into the oils. The oils act as carriers for the herbs, in the same way the sesame oil carried the methadone into the brain.
While this new research indicates daily Ayurvedic oil massage may help increase CSF flow and brain lymphatic drainage by stimulating these marma points and boosting the function of the emissary veins, hair dyes, chemical-laden shampoos and conditioners may also be using these emissary veins to deliver dangerous toxins into the brain.
Try to source the purest products for your hair, because what you put on your head may, in short order (2 hours to be exact), be in your brain. (2)
Two Emissary Veins (Adhipati Marma) To Remember
As you can see in the diagram above, there are emissary veins or marmas all along the sagittal sinus of the skull where the brain lymphatics drain toxins and waste while we sleep. In the photo below, you can see a great example of the parietal emissary veins that have held great significance in Ayurveda.
Monks often shave their heads as a renunciation of material possessions — like one’s hair. They often leave a small amount of hair just over the parietal emissary veins or the Adhipati Marma.
This tuft of hair is called a shikha or choti, and it is left to protect the most sacred point on the head where it is believed cosmic consciousness enters the body and where the soul or spirit enters or leaves the body. (4)
The choti or shikha or Adhipati Marma is where there is a nexus of all nerves and a joint meet – this is what makes a marma point. The shikha protects this spot. Below this spot, in the brain, occurs the Brahmarandhra, where the sushumnã (nerve) arrives from the lower part of the body. In yoga, Brahmarandhra is the highest, seventh chakra, with the thousand-petalled lotus.
It is the center of wisdom. The knotted shikha helps boost this center and conserve its subtle energy, known as ojas. (4)