In this episode of the Gua sha Show, Clive Witham explains some of the key requirements for doing Gua sha. He presents them in the form of a recipe and looks at how you need the practitioner, Gua sha tools, skin lubrication, techniques and results all to be mixed together to the right degree in order to create the perfect Gua sha treatment.
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Okay. Here we go. This is Season 1, Episode 1 and in this special episode we're going to imagine Gua sha as a recipe for a tasty dish and we're going to have a look at what are the imaginary ingredients, preparation and cooking. Why are we doing that? Well, why not. It's lunch time here in Barcelona and I'm hungry and anyway - it beats giving you a boring list. But I have a confession to make - I can't actually cook. Or to put it more accurately I don't like cooking so I can't cook. But lucky for me, we're not talking about cooking - I do like and can use Gua sha!
Understanding the Basics of Gua sha
So for anyone unfamiliar with Gua sha - it's a technique for scraping a special tool along the skin to help your body relax, to make you look younger, to release muscles, to increase blood circulation, to boost your immunity and you can find all kind of other more wacky reasons if you go searching online. If you're not sure what it is and how to do it - well that's what this podcast is for!
Meet the Gua sha Expert: Clive Witham
And for anyone unfamiliar with me. Well, I do a lot of Gua sha. I'm actually a licensed acupuncturist and qualified health promotion specialist and I've spent a long time in my clinic in North Africa cooking up my Gua sha system. At various points in this podcast series you'll find out more juicy stuff about me including things like how I was a fisherman in the East China Sea and my weekly treatments I gave in a brothel in the UK (professional only). I'm got some weird and wonderful stories. But anyway, I've been doing this for 20 years, written 4 books on Gua sha and Oriental medicine and right now I'm recording this in Barcelona where I have a clinic and it's where the Komorebi Institute is based - this is the research and teaching institute on Gua sha and I'm the Director! If you want to check it out, the information is in the podcast notes.
So, let's cook up Gua sha therapy.
The Ingredients for a Successful Gua sha Session
If we open our virtual cupboard and look at the first ingredient. And low and behold - it's a mirror. It's me! And it's YOU! You are ingredient number 1 for Gua sha and you can't nip down to the local store if you've run out of you. You can't be replaced. It would be too expensive anyway as you're both unique and particularly special. So, we're going to use you as you are.
Now the big thing is - do you know what you're doing?
Do you have any clue what scraping the Gua sha tool does?
Well, it's pretty important. You can check out videos online but the thing is - so few of the ones I ever come across actually know what they're doing - even the ones who talk about Chinese medicine - in fact sometimes they're the worst - and especially the ones about the face. They seem to particularly be doing this. But again, that's what I'm here for. I'm perfectly okay with explanations from Western medicine and some of the basic Chinese medicine ones too and I follow studies and reports closely. But in my school of thought, you've got to have the special sauce which will bind all the ingredients together and that special sauce is the natural principles of the ancient Chinese. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. This is all coming later in other episodes. So basically you have to know what you're doing so you can do Gua sha safely and securely and preferably so you can make changes whether they are cosmetic changes to the face or health changes to the body.
Just to be clear - you don't eat Gua sha. The food terminology that I'm using right now is just me playing around. I've got to say that because someone's going to ask me for sure!
The Importance of the Gua sha Tool
So once you've prepared the properly informed YOU, the big ingredient, the next ingredient is a tool. Now if anyone has taken any of my courses or watched any of my videos or read any of my books - you'll probably have a good idea about what I think about tools! When I do the episode on the history of Gua sha, which is coming up, in another episode you'll see what tools were used in the development of Gua sha and they're not what you think! Sure, if you're doing your face and you have one of those snazzy, ergonomically designed, technically-worded Gua sha super instruments like the 'Guashanator 3000' or the 'Scraper-easy' or the 'Relax-maker 2'.
Actually I just made these up.
But you get the idea, don't you? This is not to say that there is anything particularly bad about these types of tools and if you've got one - that's okay. No problem at all. I've got plenty. Then they probably cost an arm and leg, and you go ahead and use it. Don't waste that money. Use it. If you don't have that special instrument, don't fret. I'm a secret spooner. I've got spoons which don't look like spoons but are in fact spoons and I use them professionally! Sure, I've also got other tools which look the part - and they look very professional - but any chance I get, I switch them with a spoon. That's the secret bit - people can't usually tell! So, if you don't have a tool that you bought for Gua sha, use a Chinese soup spoon - but, of course, make sure it's smooth! If it's not smooth, don't use it. And another option is to use your knuckles - there's a particular technique and it's not that difficult to use. But anyway, there's going to be a complete episode on tools, so for now - just make sure you have something.
Choosing the Right Lubrication for Gua sha
Okay. And then the next ingredient is lubrication. If you scrape, it might be painful and you could definitely damage the skin if there isn't a barrier between the tool and the surface layer of the skin. So what do you use? This is where the world of cooking and Gua sha conveniently coincide. This time open your kitchen cupboard but really not virtually. And take out those cooking oils there. The ancient Chinese used to use sesame oil among other things. Do you have any sesame oil in there? People often use olive oil. Is there any olive oil? But also the obvious choice is blended massage oil because it was designed for body treatment so it's going to be perfect for Gua sha. In winter, crack open the vapor rub. The secret benefit to you is that when you use vaporub on someone's back, you get a free sinus treatment as you breath these menthol vapors in. But then all those benefits disappear when you accidently touch your eye sometime later and you have to pick yourself off the floor as you're writhing around with a stinging menthol eye! There are also special Gua sha concoctions and you can even use soap and water but Guess what - this is another episode on lubrication!
Mastering the Technique of Gua sha
So that's your main ingredients to the Gua sha dish - you, the tool and your lubrication. We then have to put them together and stir them in a giant bowl and in that mixture you put a great big dolop of great technique. I'm not talking brutally dragging a jamjar lid down someone's spinal column. I'm talking gliding like a champion ice skater or cutting through the swell on a fast sailing clipper boat. That's what Gua sha should both look like and feel like when you do it right.
The Science Behind Gua sha Therapy
There's lots of talk of the science of Gua sha which is to remove the very parts of Gua sha which are most precious. What in fact they should be talking about is the natural science of Gua sha, not the science, because that's more an authentic and accurate approach to understanding and using it. With natural science we can use the verifiable features of the natural world in a scientific way. But hey that's another episode! In fact that's a whole load of episodes because that's Ecological Gua sha! But if we come back to technique - if your technique is good, your hand/arm don't feel fatigued and the treatment is better. So technique is the key.
The Results of a Well-Executed Gua sha Session
So then you put the mixed ingredients in a spa, clinic, treatment couch, chair etc - wherever you'll be doing Gua sha - and then allow them to cook nicely as the treatment progresses. At some point, red marks may appear on the skin. This is the sha. Remember this is Gua sha. And it's the second word 'sha' - those red marks are what elevates Gua sha above other manual treatments. This is why you've got to understand Gua sha in terms of Chinese medicine because if you don't, it's very difficult to explain sha in any satisfactory way. If you go out with sha on any exposed skin, then everyone will look at your strangely or think you've had abuse/an accident or some terrible event. So the sha is telling us that something has happened in the tissue underneath which despite what it looks like, is actually a really good thing.
No really. It's a good thing.
The changes were underneath in the places you can't see.
Conclusion: Perfecting Your Gua sha Recipe
Once this is all done, you've created your Gua sha dish and if it really would be food, it would be exquisite. It would be a five star Michelin meal. You know what I'm talking about. One of those dishes with a small morsel of food in the middle of the plate. Which while looking disappointing, is actually other-worldly when you bite into it. So whatever was there in the tissue beds before you started with the Gua sha is either no longer there or greatly improved. And this is why you're doing Gua sha. If you get this recipe right, then you're results are going to be fantastic and you are doing Gua sha. If you get then recipe wrong, if you get too much of one thing and not enough of the other, then it's not going to turn out great. Your results will be temporary or the thing that you're doing isn't really Gua sha.