Simply put, Kalari is an Indian Martial Art and Healing Art form that is as old as Yoga and Ayurveda, which originated and was kept alive in Kerala as a closed oral tradition for thousands of years. It is the sister to Yoga and Ayurveda, and there are elements of those practices in Kalari.

Kalari has a systematic approach to training the complete Self: the body, the emotions and the mind. Practice begins with movement-based warm-up and conditioning exercises. Then the practitioner moves to a set of flowing movement sequences called body forms. Next are weapon forms, and shamanic animal postures. Kalari is a physically demanding practice, but the beauty is that persons of any physical condition can participate.

The key principles include the concept of Siva and Sakti, expansion of sensory awareness, continuous flow of contraction and expansion and the reenactment of the eternal cosmic story of creation and destruction. Unlike in many schools of modern Yoga, experience is not induced by the teacher's instructions and practicioners are usually not told when to in- or exhale. In Kalari breath follows movement, not movement breath. The practicioner's subtle as well as his physical bodie's own innermost intelligence and power is encouraged to unfold as he starts to truly embody the forms.

Kalari developed at the junction of the indigeneous Dravidian culture of southern India and the Vedic culture that migrated from the north. Kalarippayat literally means "training ground-exercise" and the term "Kalari" can used both to describe the practice, as well as the room in which it is practiced. It has been a major influence on the development of Yoga and Ayurveda and vice-versa since times immemorial.

Kalari and Yoga share principles and a lot of terminology. However, there are also obvious differences.Kalari stresses the concept of living in this world, emphasising the expansion and development of the senses, as opposed to the classical practice of pratyahara or going inside. This paradigm is commonly called "when the body becomes all eyes". Another unique principle is called "embodying the animal spirit", a psycho-physical practice in which the Abhyasi actually takes on the animal's attributes, not just its shape or posture.

Scholars often refer to Kalari as the mother of all martial arts. According to legend, a young prince from Kerala named Boddhidharma and was a skilled Kalari warrior, converted to Buddhism and later traveled north where he became the tutor of the Shaolin monks. Even today, the similarities can still be seen in some animal postures, movements and exercises. But Kalari has also influenced classical Indian dancing and vice-versa. In Teyyam special Kalari-Teyyams reenact famous battles and the dancers often lose themselves of trance-like frenzy not unlike the transformative fury of Kalari-warriors. Kalari-training is also the preliminary education for dancers of Kathakali.

Last but foremost Kalari is a unique healing system. This branch is called "Kalari Chikitsa". It is most famous for its original system of marma-therapy, as well as the unique nadi- and foot-massage. It is believed that only a practicioner who is both physically and spiritually strong and pure can bear the strain of the intense treatments where strokes are often administered in the same deep and energetically powerful stances that the practitioner has been practicing for years before finally being taught the massage. It is said that in order to heal, you must first learn how to destroy.