How do you hold a Gua sha tool?
What's the best angle of the Gua sha tool?
In which direction do you stroke?
In this episode of the Gua sha Show, Clive answers these questions and more as he explains in his own unique way how to use a Gua sha tool. He tells you about his vision of Gua sha and what he did with his patients and their family members in his clinic in North Africa and also gives you the benefit of his long experience of how to get the best out of treating with a Gua sha tool.
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Hello. And thank you for joining me in my podcast today! I do appreciate you spending your time listening to this and I've got a great show for you with some stories and important tips about using a Gua sha tool on your face and body.
Understanding the Different Types of Gua sha Tools
Right so. You've got your tool. It might be specifically made for Gua sha and made of buffalo horn, jade, plastic, quartz, porcelain, copper, resin, hemp wool, cotton thread, clam shell or metal or just something appropriate you have at home like a Chinese soup spoon or a small bowl. It might be fish-shaped, kidney shaped, heart-shaped, oval, semi-circular, rectangular, triangular or look like a butterfly. It really doesn't matter!
The Importance of Material and Shape in Gua sha Tools
Incidentally if you're wondering about the difference between the different materials, shapes and sizes, well I've done a few videos on them on my YouTube channel but I'm going to put my expert eye on that topic in an episode of the Gua sha Show coming up.
The Universal Application of Gua sha
But for now, we're just looking at a generic Gua sha tool. And this is actually an important concept for me. If what you're doing with Gua sha can't be done by any appropriate tool, then you've got to question what you're doing with Gua sha. My rule for anything I do with Gua sha is that it has to applicable to anyone in any situation wherever they are in the world. Or it's just not worth doing.
My Journey to Gua sha: From Economics to Chinese Medicine
You might be wondering why I see Gua sha in this way. And to explain a bit, let me just fill you in with some background to my route to Gua sha. My first university degree was a Bachelor of Science in Economics. This is going back to before I qualified in Chinese medicine. Which makes me laugh now because anyone who knows me knows I'm absolutely terrible at anything connected with numbers. I'm lost without a calculator and even with one I'm not to be trusted for accuracy! I graduated in a subject called 'Development studies' which looked at the economies of less developed countries and as a result I twice ended up in Uganda, which a beautiful country in East Africa, doing research and funding projects. The first time is going back to the 1990s and Uganda was still trying to recover from the wars in the 1980s (they had an infamous leader called Idi Amin) and the second time was just after the Rwanda civil war of 1994. My research focused on the programs for rehabilitation for children who had disabilities or learning difficulties and it was pretty tough what these families had to go through just to live everyday. Not just in the slums with open sewers but out in the bush, sick, isolated and alone. And my experiences there made me realize that I didn't want to stand impotently with a notepad and a pen in front of people who desperately needed help in a more physical way.
And it wasn't just the sub-Saharan African experience, we spend many years in Thailand, North Africa and on our little island in the East China sea. I say we, if you've got the first two Gua sha books. It's that person on the front cover who was with me all the time. Some people think that she's just a random Asian woman that I put on the cover of my books to sell them. In fact, I recall reading that in a comment on amazon once. But no. She's my wife of 25 years and the person who first did Gua sha on my back to fix my stomachache. The story is in the introduction to first Gua sha book! So she earned the right to be on the front cover many times over! So we spend most of the last 15 years in fairly isolated places. The Japanese island was of course an island most of it being a UNESCO world natural heritage site. And Melilla which is in North Africa is pretty much an island in that it has three giant razor topped fences around it to separate it from Morocco. Low cloud cover or strong wind stopped all transport out of there across the Mediterranean sometimes for days. And if the border shuts, which it did, that's that. You're stuck.
Gua sha: A Tool for Everyone, Everywhere
So for me, Gua sha has to be equally applicable to slums of Katwe as it is to the streets of Manhattan. It has to be applicable to the flying fish fisherman as it does to an entrepreneur in Barcelona. From a health-worker to a homeworker. From a professional to a hobbyist. Of course it will be different and you're going to use it for different purposes. You might have different tools and treatment goals. But the principles will be the same.
It was quite common in my clinic to have whole families come in to the treatment room. There would be the patient, their spouse, their siblings, their parents, their cousins, their second cousins, their second cousins twice removed, their in-laws, or not even related and their neighbor or friend. Treatment was sometimes a communal thing. Which I used to find great. The actual treatment was on that patient but the rest of them shared in the experience, by watching, chatting, questioning, keeping an eye on me and just being there. My treatments were delivered in Spanish but this often had to be translated into Tamazight, the Berber language of the Atlas mountains of Central Morocco. I often took advantage of having this natural influx of auxiliaries, because when possible I showed them how to treat their loved one at home with Gua sha. I had lots of tools exactly for that purpose. And I always made sure to show them certain things, and these are some of them.
1. The Role of Direction in Gua Sha Treatment
Well one of big things to get your head around is direction. You're going to see videos of people scraping their skin with a tool and they're bringing the tool backwards and forwards on the face or some body part like you might paint a fence. Now, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with what they're doing and maybe if they explain it then it makes perfect sense. And it's fine. But what they're doing isn't Gua sha. It's that simple. One of the most basic tenets of doing Gua sha is that the stroke is unilateral. So that means you scrape one way and you continue to scrape in that direction. I can think of only a few places which break this rule, at the back of your head for example. But take it as a general rule - Don't go over the same area in the opposite direction.
Why you may be thinking? Well, there's a natural tendency in your body, which often matches muscle fibers but not always, which is based on circulation patterns.
If you take a look at any Traditional Chinese medicine 'meridian' chart, and you see the colored lines snaking all over the body. You know meridian is a bad translation of what the ancient Chinese texts were showing with the term mai shu which these lines represent. The person responsible for this Georges Souli de Morant, a French diplomat who published a book called L'Acupuncture Chinoise in 1939, where he invented the term 'meridian' along which qi moves - which is now so widely used despite there being no direct equivalent to it in Chinese literature. So that's my inverted commas! Just so you know, my issue is not that it's totally wrong but that it's totally inadequate to explain the complexity of the body which the ancient Chinese did so beautifully using the natural world.
The circulation patterns are a great deal more complicated than these thin lines which often closely match major blood vessels and they involve the skin, connective tissue, muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones in the area of these lines.
So if I told you that you should scrape down the back, it isn't some random piece of advice, it's following the natural downwards motion of the back of your body. Can you scrape in other directions? Yes, of course, you can but there will always be a reason for this.
If there's no reason, then the default on the back is downwards.
The default of your head is backwards and downwards.
The default of the front of your body is downwards.
The default of the outside of your arm is upwards.
The default of the inside of your arm is downwards.
And so every part has it's default setting!
2. Understanding the Angle and Technique for Effective Gua sha
So first of all. Let's look at holding the tool. Your thumb is on one side and fingers on the other. Your hand should be firm but relaxed and the movement, whether it's a short scrape or a long sweep, should be clean and smooth. You start slowly and gently and increase pressure gradually, if applicable, to the part of the body.
When you use the tool, you have the option of different techniques. For the face, you need gentler strokes like sweeping and circling, and for the body, scraping techniques like wide stoke and narrow stroke. Remember that it's the same thing but just at a different intensity and rhythm. Also remember that if you do facial Gua sha, it isn't lymphatic massage and also that you're not mechanically reshaping the face with the strength of the tool. All of the changes happen in the tissue and muscle structure but in an organic way. Force isn't a part of the treatment.
You need to think about the angle too. Go get your tool and try this experiment so you can feel the effect that the angle of the tool can make.
Firstly hold it perpendicular to the skin. So that it's at a straight 90 degree angle when you put it on the skin. Press down and pull the tool along the skin. Okay now angle the tool half of that at 45 degrees. Move the top of the tool in either direction, so that it's at a 45 degree angle, now pull it on then skin. Now do the same thing but in the opposite direction. First, perpendicularly at 90 degrees and then 45 degrees. One of those angles should have dug into the skin more than the others. That's the technique which is going to give a stronger treatment. This is usually the angle which is away from the direction you scrape. You now know which angle is going to give a stronger treatment and which angle is going to give a lighter treatment.