Gua sha: A Popular Choice in East Asia
In Taiwan it is reported to be used by 22% of the general population and is the second most popular manual technique after massage. In Hong Kong, 23% of the people surveyed in a 2014 study had had Gua sha in the last year. For these areas in East Asia, this makes Gua sha a very popular choice of treatment. So how come not many people know about it in the West?
A girl being treated by her mother in Vietnam (click to see the video)
The Journey of Gua sha to the West
Well for starters it was hijacked. When immigrant families came over to the US from countries in East Asia, most notably Vietnam which has a long rich tradition of Gua sha called Cao Gio, they brought it with them and Chinese practitioners also began teaching Gua sha in the US within post-war ideas of traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). As happened in China, Gua sha was swiftly removed from its origins with the 'common' people, and placed in the sterile confines of the clinic. The art of treatment which is the essence of classical Chinese medicine was replaced by the science and attempts to limit the use and knowledge of Gua sha in the West was, and I have direct experience of this, aggressively pursued.
My wife treating my oldest son when he had a cold
Another reason is because it's an old fashioned folk technique from your grandma. In Hong Kong, it's most popular with the over 50s and those who admit to only having primary or no formal education. The under 25s are just not interested (unless its facial Gua sha that is). And like many old fashioned folk techniques from your Grandma, they work, or your ancestors wouldn't have kept passing the information down the generations, would they? They also can't easily be monetised and can't take their place in the grand medical pharmaceutical circus that we know as profit-based modern medicine. .
So it's time everyone knew about Gua sha and here's why.
Why Gua sha is More Relevant Today
In the world we live in now, with impending climate collapse, the opioid addiction crisis and increasing drug resistance, we need low-tech solutions, We need to look back in order to look forwards and Gua sha is a highly effective treatment which can be used in a home situation with low-intensity training. What do I mean by 'highly effective'? Well I can point you towards various studies which attest to the safety and effectiveness of Gua sha - for example a German/Australian study in 2019 recommending it for chronic lower back pain - and there's plenty more - but I have seen it in my clinic. When you see things over and over, and repeat them again and get the same result, it becomes pretty clear when something works.
The Effectiveness of Gua sha
What can you treat? There's a reason that I see so many studies on different medical conditions which actually do Gua sha on the same areas in the same way. And this is connected to how it works and why we get ill.
Understanding the Basics of Gua sha
It really isn't necessary to go deep into the functioning of the body to grasp this however, it's all about blood flow. If the blood can't move through tissue freely and unhindered, you will eventually become ill. We can talk about qi. We can talk about toxins. We can talk about crystallization. But it all boils down to blood. So if you prevent stagnation, treat signs of tightness and tension where there may be blockages, the body will have better blood circulation and of course will start to naturally repair itself.
Gua sha: A Family Tradition
Certainly in Hong Kong and Taiwan, we know that most people are treated with Gua sha by a family member. Not in a clinic and not with a doctor. The good ole family member. So when someone has the sniffles, a cough, a stiff neck, tight shoulders, sore back, feels stressed, has a headache. You've got them. Note that this doesn't mean that they don't still see a health professional as usual but it does mean that you're either part of the solution or that you prevented the ailment in the first place.
Common Ailments Treated with Gua sha
In Hong Kong three quarters of all treatments are for respiratory problems - the common cold, flu, sore throat, coughs - and pain. The others are reported as anxiety, fever, heatstroke, infection, dizziness and digestive problems - diarrhoea and constipation. So while Gua sha isn't the solution for all your troubles, it will help out quite a few.
Getting Started with Gua sha
And what do you need to get started? A spoon. By far the most common tool for Gua sha in East Asia is the Chinese soup spoon. And this is for good reason, it is a great, all-purpose tool for Gua sha. You'll also need some lubricant - perhaps some massage oil.
And the best way forward is to get yourself trained up. You need to have training as like anything that can make your symptoms better, if you do it wrong, it can make the whole situation worse. There are parts of your body that you can't treat because it's dangerous (like the front of your neck for example) and there are styles and ways of doing Gua sha which may match some people but not others. You also need to know how to avoid any possible cross-contamination of the tool and how to treat safely.
Me doing a 'Gua sha for Everyone' workshop
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