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"Feels great! Looks terrible!"
"I can’t believe how quickly you made space between my
shoulders and my ears."
"My shoulders feel lighter, freer,
"I got whiplash two years ago, and got all kinds of treatments,
and in ten minutes you did more than anyone else has to restore
"I love it. Please don’t ever
forget to do Gua Sha on me when I come for treatment."
"I felt great after the treatment. My husband couldn’t
believe how easily I was moving. Then he saw my back and couldn’t
believe it didn’t hurt!"
These are the kinds of comments people make when
they get Gua Sha.
| Gua Sha is a traditional Oriental bodywork technique used in many
parts of Asia as a home remedy. Most often used for muscle soreness
and tension, it can be applied to many parts of the body. It’s
not often used in this country because of the temporary red marks
it leaves on the skin, but I find it invaluable for many types of
It is the fastest way I know to release muscular tension, and works
amazingly well to remove pain from both recent and old injuries. I
apply it most often to the upper back, shoulders and neck (where many
people store tension and stress), but I also use it across the low
back and buttocks and down the legs for low back pain, sciatica, knee
pain, and menstrual problems; and down the shoulder and arm for injuries
and tendinitis. I also use it for internal problems. Anywhere there
is pain, tension in the skin or muscles, congestion, discoloration
or vascular spiders is an area that may benefit from Gua Sha.
Over the winter of 2005 I had a bad cold in my lungs and had my
partner do Gua Sha on me. He was amazed that there were so many
more red marks than he'd ever seen on me, that they were mostly
over the lung area, and that the left side was worse than the right
(my left lung has scar tissue from childhood pneumonia). While he’d
done it on me before on overworked gardening muscles, he was intruiged
that the pattern of Sha rash was so particular.
The character Gua means "scrape," and is used in such Chinese
phrases as "scrape clean a pot," "scale a fish,"
and "scrape the face" (shave).
The character Sha is the character for "sand" inside the
"illness" radical, and means an "acute cholera rash."
Followed by the character for "child," it forms a colloquial
term for measles (Sha Zi).|
The particular technique of Gua Sha involves scraping the skin with
a smooth tool. I first learned this technique using a ceramic soup
spoon, then tried a special buffalo horn tool, and now I use a jar
cap. Any smooth rounded edge can work; in the Vietnamese community
a coin is often used. I apply massage oil as a lubricant. As the skin
is scraped, it turns pink from the stimulation. Where there is no
tension, the normal skin color returns in a few minutes. In areas
of tension or stagnation, however, where the blood flow is restricted,
the blood is forced out of the capillaries and forms red dots under
the skin. The Sha rash takes 2-3 days on average to disappear.
Where the blood has been forced from the capillaries, new blood must
flow in. The body must also clean up the blood no longer in the capillaries.
The result of these two processes is an improvement in the circulation
in the area.
If muscles are so tight that they are ischemic, then nourishment cannot
flow into them, and waste products cannot flow out. It is not surprising,
then, that pain is a result.
A classic Chinese medical aphorism states: "No free flow, pain;
free flow, no pain." One of the bases of Chinese medicine is
ensuring the free flow of Qi and Blood to all parts of the body to
maintain health. Gua Sha immediately improves circulation where it
has been applied. I use acupuncture both before and after Gua Sha
to help the muscles remember how to relax.
For more information about Gua Sha, check Arya
Nielsen's website. I studied with her in 2003.
I taught a workshop on Gua Sha in June 2005, and will repeat it
at some point.