Gua sha has the potential to eliminate the need for medical attention and reduce the reliance on pharmaceutical medication for some common ailments. In this episode, Clive explains how this is the basis for the Gua sha Project, a community driven program for disadvantaged areas of the world. He goes through some of the history of Gua sha which lie behind the project as well as his personal hopes and dreams, and also a little about the Sri Lanka project.
Images of the Sri Lanka project can be found here: www.clivewitham.com/guasha-projects
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Hello and welcome to Season 2 episode 4 of the Gua sha show!
There has been an extended break in the podcasts for season 2 as I had a surprise deadline to complete my next book during the winter months. When you write a book, you have to be all in. You need total concentration and it takes many months to get everything in place. So I finally did it and you’ll read it later on in the year - I’m particularly proud of it. It’s a new edition of a book I wrote a decade ago. All of the ecological ideas are in there and I’ve thrown in a huge section on diet, of course, lots of Gua sha but also foot baths, acupressure, stretches and changing your lifestyle. I’ll let you know when the publisher’s going to release it.
So for me to do this I had to pause the podcast and during that time I also completed something that I never thought I’d be able to do. And this is what today’s episode is all about. It’s about bringing dreams into reality and despite all the odds pushing through and blazing a trail for others to follow. So this episode is looking at the Gua sha Project and the first emanation of it in Sri Lanka.
So what’s the Gua sha Project?
Well, if you’ve read any of my books, you’ll know that I have a certain take on Gua sha. For me, it isn’t just a technique but is part of the woven fabric of health, beauty and life itself. I’ve always seen it through the lens of my background in the world international development. I mentioned about my motivations with using Gua sha before in one of the podcasts and it stems from my previous experiences - back when I just had my economics degree in international development in the early 1990s and after spending time working in Uganda with NGOs. How I wished that I had the skills I have now back then as a greenish young man navigating the tough post-war health situations that people lived through.
The Historical Roots of Gua sha
So in order to give you a glimpse of what this means in my approach to Gua sha, we need to go back in time a bit more. If you look back at some of the history of Gua sha, you’ll see that Gua sha was never a refined therapy of the civilised and cultured society of the court or ruling class. It was always knee deep in dirt and disease in the villages.
And this is often behind one of the problems with looking at Gua sha in antiquity which is that practitioners rarely documented the detail about what exactly they did. For the very reasons I just mentioned, these weren’t the people who wrote books.
Without going into too much detail, in order to understand this approach to Gua sha, you need to start with sha. As far back as the Jin Dynasty (1115–1234 CE), we can see how the concept of sha evolved in an influential text called Zhou Hou Bei Ji Fang - Emergency Formulas [to Keep] Behind [One's] Elbow, by Ge Hong and this introduced the concept of ‘epidemic pestilent qi’ describing the symptoms and treatment methods which started with the concept of sand lice invading the human body.
From this rather basic premise, there developed a more in depth idea of sha diseases, due to the intrusion of viruses, bacterial toxins or toxic effects of poisons and one of the characteristics of most of them were the distinctive red spots under the skin, like sand grains, and so these disease syndromes were named with the word "Sha", and collectively calls them "Sha syndromes", and these toxins are also called "Sha poisons".
One of the earliest texts to discuss this at length was by Wei Yilin, a physician in the Yuan Dynasty, in 1337 CE, and he spoke of treating sha disease accompanied by symptoms such as fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and the combination of which could kill people in a short time. Here sha refers to a disease pattern and is very similar to what modern medicine calls bacterial food poisoning, salmonella infection, and even severe infectious diseases such as cholera and para-cholera.
Guo Zhisui's ‘Jade standard for Sand-rashes and swellings’ in 1675 was perhaps the first text explicitly detailing Gua sha and had a strong influence in the development of Gua sha afterwards. It systematically summarized the basic theory and practical treatments based on a differentiation of sha syndromes before the Qing dynasty.
Wang Ting's "preface" of this book in the Qing Dynasty gives us a a clear visual of how Gua sha was used. He describes villagers routinely used money to dip in oil and scrape - most of them were women, which was beyond the reach of famous doctors.
So while sha diseases are now referred to using different terminology, Gua sha was an attempt to combat sha - which in effect meant that it was used to try to combat febrile or infectious heat-generating conditions. And this was done very much at the community level within families among villages and settlements and not a court remedy used by the ruling class or the rich.
And this is the historical development of Gua sha that the project is drawing on. Not in its specific treatment of severe disease as such but in its community base. Drawing on its roots. And this is something which is still very much in evidence in many parts of East Asia where it is used daily and it is passed down through family ties.
And so the project is to bring knowledge to areas which would benefit via specific training programs and logistical support which can be adapted to the location, culture and climate of wherever it is - so while each project may share similarities, they are locally specific and locally run.
The Gua sha Project in Sri Lanka: Adapting to Local Needs
What this meant in Sri Lanka, as with any other place, was to go there and rather than impose a plan, listen, learn and adapt it. On a very practical level, this meant choosing equipment which people can use without additional expense - in this case it was jar lids and coconut oil - two things which are perhaps in everyone’s kitchen there. This then removes an obvious obstacle to participation.
The project is still evolving and not anywhere near what I’ve planned but I think it’s important for you to know that it exists. Without a doubt, Gua sha is hugely effective in preventing and treating certain common ailments at a home level and so reducing the necessity to seek medical attention or take pharmaceutical medications in these cases.
And it really is a no-brainer when you think about who that would benefit.
The Future of the Gua sha Project: A Call for Collaboration
I’ve been working on this project for over a decade in my time in Melilla, in North Africa where I had a chronic illness clinic and from where I wrote my first books. But it’s nice to actually get it off the starter blocks internationally and if any of you listening now have any suggestions or ideas, want to offer help or share knowledge, feel free to contact me. I’m fairly easily to find on the internet and in the show notes, there are a variety of ways to contact me. I'd love to hear from you!