If you are using Gua Sha only on your face, you are missing out on the full benefits of this ancient practice.
There is so much more we can do with this self-care ritual with roots as far back as the Stone Age. To get a full picture of what Gua Sha is all about, it’s important to understand the following:
When there is free flow, there is no pain. When there is no free flow, there is pain.
Fundamentally when things are not flowing properly in the human body, pain and disease happens; this is also known as “stagnation” in TCM theory. Qi and Blood stagnation is a common cause for many health issues, such as poor circulation, sluggish lymph flow, dysfunctional nervous system, inflammation, and pain. When this happens, the first order of business is to restore good Qi + Blood flow through various TCM treatments such as acupuncture, massage, herbs, cupping, and of course, Gua Sha.
For those who are new to Gua Sha - it is an important TCM practice that uses a smooth, flat tool to massage, technically scrape, the skin surface. Clinically Gua Sha is used to treat sudden onset of fever/chills, coughs, seasonal diseases like the common cold, collapse from heat stroke, and for either acute or chronic pain and inflammation. It may be performed by a trained practitioner, or for milder conditions, easily practiced at home.
When done properly, Gua Sha is one of the most effective self-care rituals to restore, stimulate and promote circulation, release tension, and reduce fascia adhesions.
The very first Gua Sha was used as far back as the Stone Age, predating acupuncture. It was fashioned out a cosmic stone, Bian stone, that was formed 65 million years ago. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Gua Sha was incorporated extensively into the medical system. Various materials were used throughout history, such as animal horns or bones, jade, various stones, ceramic spoons, copper, brass, and even coins.
Gua Sha illustrations from Fang Yi Chu Yan《防疫刍言》, a book on treating epidemic diseases by late Qing dynasty physician, Cao Ting Jie 曹廷杰
Benefits of Gua Sha
Increases Blood Flow:
One key benefit is that it promotes blood circulation on the local skin area. A 2007 study showed that Gua Sha increases micro-circulation by 4 times in healthy individuals; while these benefits decreased over time, they were measurable for almost 2 days post treatment (Journal of Science and Healing, Sept 2007, Nielsen, et al.). A boost in circulation of blood promotes delivery of oxygen and other nutrients to the skin surface.
Benefits Muscles + Organs
Gua Sha is also used for treatment of chronic liver disease for both hepatitis B and C patient. A Harvard study indicates the scraping action from Gua Sha actually encourages gene expression for enzymes that help protect cells and decrease allergic inflammation (Chan et al., 2011).
Clears out toxins:
Since our lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump like the heart, poor lymph flow can cause puffiness, inflammation, pain and tension. Increased blood and lymphatic flow from Gua Sha helps flush out stagnant toxins, release tension + pain, and promote healthier and firmer skin.
Decreases Inflammation, Increases Anti-oxidants & Boosts Immune System:
Studies have shown the petechia (small red dots) produced by the scraping action are blood cells that have expelled in the capillary bed (Pain Medicine, 2011). As this blood gets reabsorbed, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant reactions occur. Therefore the traditional usage of this method for addressing pain, fevers, colds, and even serious chronic diseases like hepatitis are explained due to this action. It also reduces inflammation and creates an immune-protective effect which can last for days after the treatment (Braun et al. 2011; Chan et al. 2011).
Helps Stretch and Renew tissue:
Gua Sha reduces pain + tension, and improves muscle tone by helping to break up fascial adhesions that restrict blood flow. When done consistently, it can also give you softer, smoother, and firmer skin. The scraping action is similar to controlled trauma, it can encourage your skin to repair itself and help produce more collagen. It may also prevent accumulation of cellulite, especially when combined with a healthy diet and exercise.
With so many benefits, you are probably ready to optimize your Gua Sha ritual. The next time you pick up your Gua Sha tool, try working on your neck, shoulders, body, and limbs; after all Gua Sha was orignally designed for the body. Incorporating Gua Sha for a few minutes into your daily routine is a simple and effective way to promote more flow and energy, decrease tension and pain, and create mindfulness and well-being - something many of us could use any day.
To learn proper techniques of this self care practice, stay tuned for our next blog.