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Exploring the Benefits of Gua sha: Why I've Dedicated 20 Years to This Practice

Clive Witham exploring the benefits of Gua sha in his Gua sha education center

In this episode of the Gua sha Show, Clive shares with you why after 20 years he's still using Gua sha, how he came to focus on it professionally, some of the common misunderstandings around it and how best to understand Gua sha.

If you're ready to explore the potential of Ecology in Motion™ Gua sha, both personally and professionally, join me on this transformative journey of health and healing at the Komorebi Institute

Episode Transcript

Hello and welcome to episode 14 of the Gua sha show! And today we’re looking at why I do Gua sha.

Introduction to Gua sha and its Importance in My Life

So I’ve written 5 books on Gua sha which have been translated into different languages and I’ve created a variety of courses on Gua sha and have given talks and I make videos about Gua sha and there are very few days in the year when I'm not doing something about Gua sha - so why do I put all my effort in to Gua sha? Let me explain this a bit about why I do it.

My Journey to Becoming an Acupuncturist and Discovering Gua sha

So let's go back to before I originally became an acupuncturist and I started studying 25 years ago and so we’re looking back then and when I think about the reasons of why I became an acupuncturist all those years ago, a big part were my experiences in Uganda which I talked about in one of the episodes - which was when my 1st degree University wasn’t acupuncture, it wasn't medicine, it wasn't anything connected with the medical world - it was in economics. And it was looking in particular at the economics of developing countries and I went out to Uganda twice and did research out there and it was some of those experiences that I had when was there which had a profound impact on what I was going to do for the rest of my life after that!

Now I recall one time we were outside of the city and gone down to further in the countryside and I was taken on a cross-country motorbike with an ActionAid staff member and we went for a very long time into the Bush - basically following small paths rather than roads and we eventually came to the destination and that was a hut which was basically in the middle of nowhere and we were visiting families who had children who had some kind of disability and in this case it was a child who had cerebral malaria and was bed ridden and had an unusually large head which is characteristic of someone who had caught cerebral malaria and there I was with my note pad and pen writing down and all this woman really wanted was just someone to physically help and it was the kind of a moment in that - OK I’m going to change the pen and paper into something different and I became a bit disillusioned with the whole NGO world. Eventually I went and trained to be an acupuncturist after that. Now one of the things before that was having a family and so our oldest child was born in Bangkok in Thailand and we spent a couple of years in Thailand - some of the time in Bangkok and some of the time in Chiang Mai in the north and it’s that can a feeling that you have, if you've got a child but not only if you’ve got a child. Maybe you don't have children but it will be looking after someone. It’s the same feeling. I mean it could even be like a pet or looking after an elderly parent. It’s the same feeling of helplessness when the person becomes unwell and there’s nothing you can do. And you’re totally dependent on the medical system - sometimes that might be great and sometimes it might not work that well. It often depends on what’s wrong with you.

So apart from my experiences in Africa, it was the desire to not be totally helpless with my family - which was the main drive behind acupuncture and also later on with Gua sha which I came to straight after acupuncture.

The Role of Gua sha in Family Health and Well-being

And so using Gua sha with family has the benefit of being able to be there when that person has a cold or the flu and to be able to do something. When they have a stomachache and you can actually treat the lower back and do something and help to relieve it. And it could be just like sore shoulders, a sore neck and that there are many reasons that you can use Gua sha within the home.

Gua sha: A Versatile and Accessible Technique

And we used to depend on Gua sha to keep us all fit and healthy especially when we all moved to our island in the East China sea called Yakushima. And there, we were basically living in the forest - and I often describe our 1st house as not actually in the forest but part of the forest - in that most of the creatures that lived in the forest actually lived in our house and I remember one morning waking up with a praying mantis on my face and we witnessed a large battle between 2 sets of termites which meant with just coming up stairs. And it was this adaptability about Gua sha which is what has led it to be part of the folk medicine that it became - in that it can be used within the family unit and you don't need anything specialized and expensive in order to utilize the potential of the Gua sha technique and most people in East Asia would be using a copper coin and sesame oil - that’s all you need really as equipment to do Gua sha. Of course it hurts and it's not the best tool in the world but it’s what has been used.

Gua sha in Different Cultures and Environments

I’ve used Gua sha in all kinds of situations. I have used it on my fishing boat when I was part of the fishing crew catching flying fish in the East China sea. And I’ve used it in the Moroccan desert and have used in a primeval forest and have used all kind of tools from stone and quartz to metal, pebbles and pieces of wood. And so you hear me talk about this time again - this is where Gua sha comes from. So Gua sha is a folk medicine and and until relatively recently - so about the 19th century - there were very few books. The reason why there aren’t that many books for this kind of folk medicine is that pretty much medicine was a closed shop in ancient China - in that medicine was passed down within families and within a certain economic group within society which was part of the elite, which was part of the court and these are the people who had the ability, and the access and the financial ability to write books and it was also the case that Gua sha, like many other folk medicines, was and sometimes is looked down as something which is not part of medicine. And this is pretty common. It's a bit like how medicine used to be certainly in the West - that it was physicians who would use their diagnostic ability looked down on surgeons who used a more physical technique by opening the body and and they would look down on to the next level, which amusingly, were barbers who would do the more basic surgical procedures and so this is a pattern throughout medicine that one group would look down on another group. And this is what happened with Gua sha.

And another reason is that Gua sha is part of the very fabric of life at a village level certainly in many places in East Asia that you wouldn't call him a professional to do Gua sha on someone when your grandma can do it on you with a saucer from the kitchen and can probably do a better job! Or the old man round the corner who will do in the street for you - just go there and sit down and he’ll scrape your back. And this is how it is as well right now in some places. So there’s no reason to call in a professional to do it when there's someone in your local environment who’ll be ready to do it for you.

And so this is why there isn't a lot of information out there about Gua sha, certainly historically. So this is one of the reasons why I do Gua sha.

The Misunderstandings and Misinterpretations of Gua sha

And one of the things that comes out of this lack of information about Gua sha are the misunderstandings surrounding Gua sha and you see all the time online in websites and videos and audio. There’s a kind of vacuum and no one seems to understand what is around Gua sha. At the moment in China they’ve attached the idea of acupuncture to Gua sha in that it’s now point based and so in order to treat something, you're given a list points which also happened to be acupuncture points and then you're told a scrape them 30 times - each one of these points - which is a certain development in Chinese medicine which is coming the 2nd part of the 20th century with the big transformation of traditional Chinese medicine where much of the knowledge with standardized and packaged into a certain way and a lot of it was lost and its unfortunate the a lot of the stuff which is the most important has been discarded although it’s coming back now.

And so what does vacuum has created is a space for others to apply principles and ideas which are not part of Gua sha, but to put them on it - which creates a lot in misunderstandings. And so what we have use the application of language from other professions onto Gua sha so that it becomes part of that profession. So, for example, in physiotherapy Gua sha is used but actually they quite often change the name of Gua sha to something else- which is IASTYM - which is a kind of a tool assisted manipulation therapy that is used to replace the words Gua sha and in the understanding of physiotherapy with Gua sha is the language of physiotherapy and so often what used are the words ‘breaking scar tissue’ - this is not part of the language of Gua sha but is the language of physiotherapy and other ideas such as moving lymph - again this is not part of Gua sha but this is the application of the idea of lymphatic massage put on to Gua sha. And so this is another reason why I do Gua sha so that I can help to fill this void with some of the background of Gua sha and certainly taking many of the ideas of the natural world which is essentially what Chinese medicine is based on. So if we go back to the original books that Chinese medicine is based on and if we look at one in particular called the Huangdi Neijing which is something like 2000 years old and we look at the ideas that were presented there. Essentially it was a natural medicine which looked at the body through the lens of the natural world which is exactly where we want to be in the 21st century.

Bridging the Gap Between Science and Folklore: Ecology in Motion

And so this has been developed by me into ‘Ecology in Motion™’ which is my form of Gua sha which is based on the ecological principles of Chinese medicine and essentially its bridging the gap between science and folklore by looking at natural science. So natural science is the thing that you studied in your geography or biology classes at school - where you could look at something within the natural world and study it and measure it and assess it in a scientific format. And this is what the ancient Chinese did with nature in order to create many of those names that you've come across connected the Chinese medicine which perhaps haven’t quite understood because of the lack of the basis behind them being available nowadays. So you might have come across Yin and Yang which of course is that symbol that you often see - the round symbol. And all meaning of Yin and Yang has kind of transformed into something completely different and I never even understood Yin and Yang even after spending 3 to 4 years in Chinese medicine college. They didn't seem to understand it and I certainly didn't understand it and it was only later when I finally did look at what was the actual words used in the Huangdi Neijing and how does that relate to the general theme of what's being said that you can actually understand what they were really talking about. And then when you realize what they were actually talking about was that they were looking in our natural world and observing what's happening and creating principles which are throughout everything around us and can be applied across-the-board to everything we know and see.

You just have to look at a tree to understand what they were talking about because the tree is a symbol that was used throughout the Huangdi Neijing to talk about the patterns of growth within the natural world and this pattern of the tree - they would then apply that pattern to how the universe is structured, how things grow, how our bodies are positioned, how the movement of our blood flows in our bodies, just from looking at the tree. And it's absolutely fascinating. And so if you have this idea of ‘Ecology in Motion’ when you're using Gua sha, then you're not just thinking about this muscle on your leg or this tendon on your wrist - you’re thinking about this whole physical being which is interconnected with the world around them. And how you can make changes in the patterns to help harmonize both the person and the environment around them.

The Unique Benefits of Gua sha in Clinical Practice

And one of the big things about why I use Gua sha is that there’s nothing quite like it in the clinic. I can use all kinds of equipment. I can use needles, I can use cups, I can use moxa, I can use an electric pulse machine, I can use acupressure, I can use a sharp needle for bleeding - so there's all kinds of things I can use but there are some times when only Gua sha fits the bill. So neck pain is a classic one, digestive problems and any lung issues like cough or a cold or the beginning of the flu, some bronchial inflammation, or perhaps asthma and then to do on the upper back behind behind the lungs - it's very, very useful. And sometimes in the clinic I have done a diagnosis and have worked out what the problem is and that kind of made a plan and anything OK will all start with her with Gua sha and so I get them to lie down face down and then treat their back with Gua sha and then when they come back they don't have that original problem - they still have some other problems but not that one and this is how I noticed how useful Gua sha was when I first started in the clinic - was to see how things changed after the treatment.

So that’s it for episode 14 - remember if you wanna come and study with me come to Komorebi institute which is in the show notes. So that's it for now and I'll speak to next week!


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