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The Origins of Modern Day Medicine

How Yoga Expanded to Create Holistic Wellness

When we think of yoga in the west, we think of over-heated studios, getting flexible, and showing off the latest Lulu Lemon gear. But the origins of yoga are much deeper and far more complex than a series of poses on a mat.

As the story goes, Lord Shiva, one of the three original deities, taught yoga to humankind. But that's not all he gave us. Lord Shiva also imparted the wisdom of the varmam, a Siddha medicine, to the sages (History of varmam, n.d.). The varma points, of which there are 12 energy channels and 108 enriched energy points, are thought to correspond directly to the life of the individual, and are therefore vital (Application of Varmam, n.d.). Any disruption of a varma leads to what we today would classify as a medical emergency (i.e. loss of consciousness, convulsions) (History of varmam. n.d.).

Varmam medicine would grow into what we know today as orthopedic medicine. But what exactly is varmam medicine, and how is it practiced?

Varmam medicine, or Varrmakkalai, is the "art of vital spots" (Sieler, 2015). It works directly on energy and pressure points of the body in a manner combining knowledge of the body with physical manipulation (Sieler, 2015). When the life force is blocked at a varma, disease and injury will be present. A varmam physician possesses the skills to use proper force in unblocking the varma and alleviating trauma. The result is a rebalancing of the body, physically and energetically, that alleviates the problem and allows free flow of the vital energy once again (Natarajan et al., 2019). These techniques have been used for soft-tissue knee injuries (Natarajan et al., 2019), trigeminal neuralgia management (Trigeminal Neuralgia Management with Varmam Therapy and Siddha Medicine - A Case Report, n.d.), adhesive capsulitis (Meena et al., 2021), and osteoarthritis (Ganesan, 2023), among other maladies, successfully and to avoid the need for surgery.

The word "varmam" can literally translate to "revenge" or "consequence" from physical impact to the body resulting in injury (Application of Varmam, n.d.). This is what blocks those energy channels, and what physician will manage to manipulate the body and redistribute energy. When varmam damage has occurred, the physician will treat the patient with varmam massage, external medical applications, dietary changes, internal medications, and a variety of tools designed to realign and correct the body (Application of Varmam, n.d.) These physicians are not just practitioners through schooling, but also consist of a number of master gurus as well.

We can see here how this ancient practice has led to the modern day practice of orthopedics. The physical manipulation of the body and aiding of specific tools and medications after trauma has occurred describes both varmam medicine and orthopedic practice. Indeed, varmam medicine is quite complementary to the orthopedic scope when added to the patient care plan (Kannaiyan et al., 2023). Indeed, a quick internet search of "varmam" and "orthopedics" will yield numerous results of orthopedic practitioners utilizing ancient varmakkalai techniques. But how does this apply to yoga?

Within those 108 vital energy channels reside the seven (or eight, depending on the yogic lineage) chakras. Chakras are "the basic concept of yoga" (Maxwell, 2009) in that the different postures, or asana, are meant to breathe energy through these channels to keep an individual healthy. Yoga can undo blockages in the chakras much the same way that varmam practice unblocks vital energy at injury sites (Chen & Lampert, 2023). The biggest difference is that with varmam practice, the individual must seek a practitioner for assistance, whereas yoga allows the individual, if knowledgeable in practice, to unblock vital energy points themselves. These concepts seem highly reminiscent of orthopedic and physical therapy practices, both of which follow the same holistic models of wellness as their Eastern counterparts.

The original instructions for yoga can be found in the yoga sutras, which gave explicit demands for daily living. These demands included cleaning, moving, and maintaining of the physical form in order to achieve perfect health and, in grander claims, slow aging and eliminate disease (Swwami Satchidananda, 2012). In fact, the first and only yoga asana for a long while was the traditional seated pose used for meditation. By following the traditional instructions for yoga as a life practice beyond the mat, yogis and yoginis experience a heightened state of health and vitality, which we can commonly see in today's practitioners as well (Swami Satchidananda, 2012). When injury did occur, varmam medicine, or even other practices such as Ayurveda, grew from yoga as an extension of the ancient wisdom of the human body and health. Understanding yoga as a practice of holistic medicine meant to be lived, rather than a sometimes-practice in the studio, gives an individual far greater health benefits and a much deeper understanding of yoga's true nature (Pereira & Tesser, 2023).


Application of Varmam (Physical Manipulation Therapy of Traditional Siddha Medicine) for Contemporary Health Issues: An Update. (n.d.). Journal of Ayurveda Medical Sciences.

Chen, H., & Lampert, A. (2023). Stretched Thin. In Art in America (1939) (Vol. 111, Issue 2, pp. 16-). Brant Publications, Incorporated.

Ganesan, S., Krishnasamy, A., Mahadevan, M. V., & Muthukumar, N. (2023). Clinical evaluation of Siddha regimen and Varmam management for osteoarthritis knee: a phase I, open-labeled, single arm, and non-randomized clinical trial. Journal of Research in Siddha Medicine, 6(2), 85–92.

History of varmam. (n.d.) Varmam. YTT2 Fundamental Principles of Yoga Therapy.

Kannaiyan, Nandhagopal & Shanmugam, Rajalakshmi & Krishnasamy, Arunachalam & Sudalaimani, Radha & K, Samraj. (2023). Effectiveness of Varmam integration on the quality of pain management: a prospective observational case series.


Meena, R., Natarajan, S., Anbarasi, C., & Sathiyarajeswaran, P. (2021). Siddha Varmam and Thokkanam therapy in the treatment of adhesive capsulitis-A case report. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, 12(2), 373–377.

Natarajan, S., Anbarasi, C., Meena, R., Muralidass, S. D., Sathiyarajeswaran, P., Gopakumar, K., & Ramaswamy, R. S. (2019). Treatment of acute avulsion of posterior cruciate ligament of left knee with bony fragment by Siddha Varmam therapy and traditional bone setting method. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, 10(2), 135–138.

Pereira, L. F., & Tesser, C. D. (2021). From yoga to psychosocial care in Primary Health Care: a hermeneutic study on the ethical values and principles of the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali. Ciência & saude coletiva, 26(2), 711–720.

Sieler, R. (2015). Lethal Spots, Vital Secrets: Medicine and Martial Arts in South India (1st ed.). Oxford University Press.

Swami Satchidananda. (2012). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Commentary on the Raja Yoga Sutras by Sri Swami Satchidananda.

Trigeminal Neuralgia Management with Varmam Therapy and Siddha Medicine – A Case Report. (n.d.).

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