Calamus: The Secret Touch

The use of natural Calamus powder is just one of the unique features of Ayurvedic Yoga Massage (AYM). Many different powders from different plants can be used for Ayurvedic massage, like Sandalwood. For the AYM technique created by Kusum Modak, we use a pure, all-natural powder made by sun-drying and grinding the root of the Acorus Calamus plant. Together with natural oil, the slightly coarse powder is rubbed onto the skin during the massage, much like a scrub. The earthy fragrance grounds and relaxes you, while at the same time awakening your mind and senses. Once you’ve experienced a session of AYM, it might be hard to imagine a massage without this healing powder!

ob1680Acorus Calamus has been used in natural and holistic medicinal systems, including Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine, for thousands of years. It goes by many, many names: ‘Vacha’ in India, Chāngpú (菖蒲) in China; ‘Sweet Flag’ or ‘Sweet Grass’ in the West—just to name a few! It is also known to indigenous North Americans as ‘Rat Root’! This is according to a legend of how it was discovered as a healing plant medicine.

Calamus’s uses are just as widespread: from fighting colds and sinus headaches, to treating indigestion to depression. In Ayurveda, it’s known as the supreme “mind-clearing” herb, rejuvenating the brain and nervous system and promoting self-expression. As such, it’s commonly used in Ayurveda to remove toxins of hallucinogenic drugs, as well as marijuana. The root can be ground and ingested, chewed on directly, or applied topically, as in AYM.

Despite its longstanding uses throughout the world, the FDA currently restricts use of Calamus as a medicine in the US, warning that if taken internally it can be toxic. While there is one particular variety of Calamus which most authorities advise against taking internally, worry not! You won’t be ingesting the root during massage and it’s perfectly safe when used topically, with no known side-effects or health hazards. 

AYM creator Kusum Modak holds a Calamus root at an Ayurvedic Pharamcy in India.

Even within the scope of Ayurvedic Yoga Massage, Calamus offers several uses and benefits. During a session of AYM, a natural oil (coconut, sesame, almond, etc.) is rubbed onto the skin, along with the powder. Right from the beginning, you’ll feel the relaxing and grounding effect of Calamus’s earthy, stimulating fragrance. You’ll also feel your muscles gradually relax as they warm up and release tension. Circulation improves, and your whole body feels more awakened and rejuvenated as the session progresses. The skin is naturally exfoliated. Toxins and dead skin cells are removed, and your skin is left with a renewed, supple and youthful look and feel. The powder offers a nice friction for deep tissue stimulation, as well as the perfect grip during particular stretches and manipulations.

Benefits of Calamus Powder in Ayurvedic Yoga Massage:
  • Offers a soothing, grounding fragrance & aroma.
  • Improves circulation of blood and the lymphatic system.
  • Promotes the removal of toxins from the skin, muscles and tissues.
  • Invigorates the skin, removing dead cells while offering a soothing scrubbing sensation.
  • Calms the nervous system and awakens the senses.
  • Improves general mood and combats depression and anxiety, 
  • Balances the effects of Vata, which increases as we age or during the colder winter months.

acorus_calamus1Many versions of Calamus powder aren’t ideal for use in massage, being too finely- or too coarsely ground. According to my teacher, Ananta Sylvain Girard, this could potentially result in no noticeable effect—or scratchy discomfort. For AYM, we use only pure, natural Calamus powder selected specifically for massage. I source it directly from my teacher, who has had a great deal of experience with different powders of different grades and quality.

Calamus uniquely enhances the massage experience. It’s one of the secret touches of Ayurvedic Yoga Massage—along with unique strokes utilizing the feet, and the series of passive yoga-based stretches. All of these elements combine to make AYM a truly special massage technique. If it still sounds strange to have powder rubbed onto your body during massage, you might need to just try a session of Ayurvedic Yoga Massage to experience the effects for yourself! I hope you get the chance to do so, and that you enjoy the results it brings as much as I do.