Meypayatu (May–pie–at) is a unique psychophysical training discipline from Kalarippayattu, the ancient martial art of Kerala, South India. The art form dates back to the Vedic period, beginning around 3000 years ago, and evolved alongside yoga and ayurveda into a sophisticated holistic system encompassing exceptional fighting skills and advanced healing applications. An important element of this was the body conditioning system. Meypayatu utilises a range of animal postures to build up fluid sequences known as forms that traditionally prepared the body for advanced martial training. As a discipline, active in times of unrest and war in South India, the health and fitness of Kalari warriors was paramount. Knowledge of healing was also vital and the Kalari schools, or Shayla, became a place not only for the fighting arts but of the healing arts too.
According to the traditions of Kalarippayattu and Ayurveda, the human body consists of two distinct layers or systems. Firstly, there is the external, physical or gross body, known as the sthula sarira. This is composed of our fluids and structural elements such as muscle and bone, they can be viewed as the mechanics of the body. Secondly we have the subtle or internal body, called the suksma sarira, this is where our nadi and chakra systems reside. It is through this body that our vital life forces flow, such as prana or prana vayu.
The nadis are energy channels covering the whole body. The number of nadis is thought to be in the thousands, of these three are most important; the sushumna, ida and pingala. Just as the sthula sarira uses arteries to carry blood around our body, the nadis circulate prana throughout the suksma sarira. It is the uninterrupted flow of energy or life force that keeps our bodies healthy.
The forms trained in Meypayatu work with this knowledge to develop a range of attributes for the practitioner. It is understood that the physical and subtle bodies are connected, when you expand and contract the sthula sarira, the sukshma sarira is affected in the same way. Meypayatu seeks to balance the practitioners’ energy by heating, lubricating, stretching and opening the nadi channels to allow optimal flow throughout the body whilst bringing physical attributes such as strength, flexibility, stamina and agility.
The fundamental postures in Meypayatu each relate to specific marma centres or chakra, and the way one moves in and out of these postures, known as Vadivu, works directly with the nadis. As we activate the nadi channels we awaken the chakras and stimulate the body’s vayu, bringing balance and harmony to the sukshma sarira. Exercising in such a way as to harmonize your internal energies brings a physical and emotional calm that helps one cope with stressful situations. The instinctive movement, reactions and power trained in these forms will come out naturally with confidence and fluidity, bringing vital attributes to the practitioners’ physical ability. This combined with the heightened awareness and practice of one point focus (ekagrata), can truly empower one’s mind body presence.
The Puttara and Kalari Vandanams (salutations) are the primary forms trained in the Vadakkan Sampradayam (Northern Kalari tradition), and serve many purposes for the practitioner, both physically and psychologically. On a physical level, they prepare the body for the advanced forms, utilising many of the core Vadivu and Cuvadu (footwork), promoting a holistic fitness. On a psychological level, they can change one’s mindset and cultivate the correct mentality for effective martial training.
A Meypayatu class begins with a comprehensive warm up. Firstly, focusing on all the joints, bringing awareness throughout the body in a similar way to the traditional kalari practice of applying oil before training. We then move on to a full body warm up utilizing exercises from the Central Kalari tradition (Madyha Sampradayam), which awaken the nadi channels and start to circulate prana throughout our system. The body is then stretched further with Kal Ettup, the leg exercises, a series of walking leg swings that train balance, agility, focus and flexibility.
The training is then built around the vadivu, animal postures, which are arranged in increasingly intricate sequences or forms, such as the Kalari Vandanam (salutation). The structure of these forms makes the body expand and contract in fluid motions promoting natural breathing and balancing of the sukshma sarira. They are strenuous and challenging, but as the practitioner begins to unlock the forms’ ‘bhava’ (inner life) through correct practice, they also unlock the inherent sakti (power) of the form, raising energy within the body.
The classes finish with a repetition of the Kal Ettup and some simple stretches that bring a sense of completeness to the training. The mind is calmed and focused, the body balanced and the spirit lifted.
Join a free Meypayatu Salutation Workshop at 4.15 pm on Sunday, April 30th in the Wellbeing Studio at the London Wellbeing Festival, Olympia. We'll be running a comprehensive taster class, introducing the core animal postures and footwork that make up the first salutation form. http://www.meypayatu.com/