Henry here once again taking over the Daoist Gate Blog! Today, rather than my usual martial arts topic, I’ll be discussing a topic based on my background as a practitioner of traditional Chinese Medicine. Specifically, we’ll be talking about “Gua Sha.”
Some of you out there in reader land may have visited our online store and noticed a curious item called “Gua Sha.” This tool is used by touching it with just slight pressure to somebody’s skin and lightly scraping in multiple strokes. As a result, the skin typically results in showing a cosmetic bruising that is usually not painful but can be shocking to see. Here is a video that demonstrates the technique well:
Two questions commonly arise in regards to Gua Sha:
What is it good for?
How exactly does it work?
If we look at the Chinese characters of Gua Sha, we see the character “Gua” (刮) which translates into either scratching or scraping, and “Sha” (痧) which broadly speaking refers to febrile disease (sickness that presents with fever). What we glean from this is that the most common usage of Gua Sha is to help aid in relieving fever and sicknesses associated with fever such as catching a cold. I actually recall experiencing this first hand as a teenager with my very first Kung Fu Sifu (Shifu for those Mandarin speakers out there!) Anytime any of us would come into practice feeling sick (not something I encourage folks to do by the way), Sifu would put tiger balm on our necks, and using a regular old quarter would begin scraping the our neck and trapezius. Each and every one of us were shocked by how much better we felt afterwards (in truth this is actually one of the main reasons we’d still come into practice DESPITE being sick).
In classic Chinese medical theory, it is thought that sickness such as the cold is caused by “wind” entering into the channels of the body and disrupting the normal qi flow in the body. This thinking is so pervasive that in Chinese (and even Japanese) languages, the phrase for “catching a cold” or “getting sick” can be literally translated as “injured by wind.” By traditional reckoning, the scraping motion of the skin would allow the pores of the skin to open wide enough so that the “injurious wind” would have an exit path to leave the body and thus allow a person’s body to return to health.
An exciting development in the past ten years, however, has shown that even modern medical research can confirm the efficacy of gua sha! In a study performed at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, it was found that Gua Sha’s bruising was actually the affected tissues experiencing therapeutic petechiae (or breaking of micro capillary) that increased the surface circulation of blood by an average of 400%. But besides increased circulation, studies also showed an increase in gene expression for an enzyme known as heme oxygenase-1, an anti-oxidant and cytoprotectant. In other words, Gua Sha was actually able to increase the immune and anti-inflammatory capabilities of the body with just a simple scraping technique!
For our readers out there who prefer to try to go for a more holistic or natural route for their healthcare, gua sha may be a great modality to consider the next time you’re coming down with a cold.
I would be remiss if I did not take the time to mention to everybody that the information in this blog is strictly for educational purposes and should NOT be used as a substitute for the advice of a trained medical professional!