Guāshā is blowing up on Instagram these days, as an aesthetic treatment to improve the look of your skin, with promises of less wrinkles and a brighter complexion. The majority of guāshā promoters additionally campaign and advocate about guāshā as a tool for lymphatic drainage. And to obtain and gather all those benefits, we are boosted to use special tools and expensive oils for the guaranteeing paybacks of a smooth face.
Now don’t get me wrong. These are all great benefits of guāshā. However, guāshā is way more than dragging a stone over your face. And it´s not formerly designed to move lymph.
Guāshā was originated as a body treatment: To move blood.
An Ancient Chinese Tool for Healing
Traditional Chinese Medicine theory views the body as an organic whole. And at the center of this organic integrity lies our organs, constantly supporting and working energetically together. Organs that generate and control the flow of the five vital substances for life.
Five equally important substances considered fundamental to human health and well-being. Substances all linked to our internal organs, which are interconnected, working in and for harmony within. Lively and essential substances that´s also considered during a Chinese Medical diagnosis, looking at the condition of each substance.
Each of the five vital substances is associated with specific organs, physiological functions, and energetic qualities. And the substances are Qi, Jing, blood, Jin Ye and Shen. Roughly translated as energy, essence, blood, fluids, and spirit. Building blocks from which the body is made. Wholly considered important for our health since all disease is seen as failure of any of these substances not working properly.
Traditional Chinese Medicine theory aims to keep the five vital substances in harmony. Acupuncture and herbal medicine are two well-known modalities within Chinese Medicine, used preventatively, as well as when our bodies get out of balance. Another less recognized method of Traditional Chinese Medicine is guāshā, said to actually be older than acupuncture.
The term "guāshā ", pronounced “gwahshah”, is derived from two Chinese words: "guā" meaning to scrape, and "shā" meaning sand, referring to the reddish marks that appear on the skin during the therapy, called petechiae.
It may also be called skin scraping, spooning, or coining, and refers to a technique where a tool is used to stroke the skin on the body, with different techniques and pressure.
Used by Ancient Chinese Healers for Centuries
The technique was originally used by ancient Chinese healers who sought to restore the balance of Qi and blood circulation in the body. They discovered that using various tools, such as stones or horn scrapers, to gently scrape or rub specific areas of the surface of the body could effectively stimulate blood flow, release stagnation, and promote healing.
It was used to address a wide range of health conditions, including musculoskeletal pain, respiratory disorders, digestive issues, and even fevers. It was particularly favored for its ability to relieve muscle tension, reduce inflammation, and promote detoxification.
No Free Flow Equals Discomfort
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, a person's Qi must be balanced and flowing freely to ensure their health and well-being and pain-free living. It is believed that when Qi becomes blocked, it will be causing disharmony or tension in the muscles and joints. Chinese Medicine theory also views blood stasis or blood stagnation as a cause of pain and illness.
Tong ze bu tong, bu tong ze tong.
If there is pain, there is no free flow. If there is no free flow, there is pain.
Guāshā aims to move blocked energy to relieve aches or stiffness, and to promote a free flow of Qi. And it moves pooled or stagnated blood to relieve symptoms and create free flow for the blood to circulate. When more blood and oxygen flow to the area that is treated, the body responds more efficiently, and healing can take place.
Still today, guāshā is used as a preventative or first-aid support for conditions such as a common cold, flu, headache, asthma, bronchitis as well as both chronic and acute pain. It´s also used to stimulate the immune system and detoxify the body. As guāshā has gained popularity in recent years, scientific research has also begun to validate its efficacy and shed light on its underlying mechanisms.
There´s even research on how guāshā helps to treat menopausal symptoms like hot flushes, anxiety, and insomnia.
So, What is Shā?
Guāshā is built of two characters. "Guā - 刮" and "Shā-痧". Literally meaning, "scrape sand".
When we raise a rash on the skin with guāshā, that rash/red marks are called "petechiae". They are tiny, pinpoint-sized red or purple spots that appear on the skin due to bleeding under the surface, that may occur as a result of the scraping technique used during the guāshā therapy.
Peteachiae doesn’t always show. It depends on where and why we scrape, as well as if there´s stagnation of blood or not in that area. With facial guāshā the purpose is never to raise petechiae.
The act of raising a rash with guāshā creates inflammation. Now, this might sound contraindicative and could take some time to wrap the mind around, but inflammation also means healing. The problem with inflammation is that it can become chronic. With a new, temporary inflammation caused by guāshā, we create heat, inflammation, to release and heal the underlying lingering inflammation.
In some cases, guāshā might feel painful, especially if there is an issue in that area, but this will actually accelerate healing. The goal is to go beyond the comfort zone to encourage the body to heal, enough to make a difference, but without causing harm.
Petechiae are seen as an indication of blood stagnation or blockage being released and brought to the surface. The appearance of redness or petechiae on the skin is an indicator that the energy channels are inflamed and a sign to continue treatment. The presence of petechiae actually suggests that the therapy has effectively promoted blood circulation and has stimulated the body's natural healing response.
But again, this doesn’t go for facial guāshā, which is different and performed with gentle “butterfly wing strokes” over the face.
There´s a lot of benefits using guāshā, as already mentioned. It may be used to alleviate flu and cold symptoms, address pain, speed up muscle recovery, improve movements in the joints, treat, and prevent headaches, reduce menopause symptoms such as sweating and insomnia, treat chronic fatigue syndrome, improve immune function, and to improve emotional wellness.
The benefits are many once we really understand the underlying theories and potential of this uncomplicated and clear-cut method.
How Is This Possible? There's a Class for That.
How can scraping the skin with a small tool create such a difference when it comes to our health? Well, it´s simple, really.
We scrape the surface to move blood and Qi, to create change in the depth of our tissues and organs, that hold much of the root cause of our health problems. Personally, I believe that we often overlook the simple because it sounds too good to be true. When the truth is, that quite often the simplest is what actually works.
One reason why it might be difficult to grasp how powerful guāshā is, as a form of traditional medicine, might be because most people aren’t familiar with Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, with concepts like inner and outer causes of disease, meridians, the vital substances, and so on. And that makes it harder to understand why producing marks on the skin that look quite cruel, is an actual treatment.
To fully understand the amazing method of guāshā, we have to first understand at least the basics of some Traditional Chinese Medicine concepts, like the five vital substances for life, and the organs that generate these substances. And how we end up with pain or illness when these substances are disturbed.
And this is why I´ve designed an online guāshā course, to teach these concepts in a fairly simple way to understand, that doesn’t require you to be an acupuncturist or herbalist. In consequence, the course is made for everyone who want to take charge of their own health. From the comfort of your own home. Because that´s also one of the best parts of guāshā, that it´s not reserved for experts or doctors. It´s a folk treatment, to be used at home and not just in a medical center.
As I see it, medicine is something you live. Everyday. And you hold the key to your own health, in your own hands.
Even The Tool is Simple
And speaking of the key, the tool. It doesn’t have to be an expensive luxurious designer stone. It could be something as cheap and unfussy as a lid from a jar, from your own kitchen.
Personally, I use a handful of different tools depending on purpose. For facial guāshā, I use an obsidian stone. For my body, I prefer my guāshā tool made of reclaimed Maldivian palm tree wood. And for the skull, I love my Japanese soup spoon. And I´m very fond of teaching and sharing all the different tools and techniques, to spread the awareness of guāshā as medicine.
Honestly, it´s been a life saver for myself, and the traumatic brain injuries and whiplash injuries I´ve suffered from, from my past work as a police officer and elite athlete, and other sports injuries from skateboarding, ultrarunning and surfing.
Guāshā is part of my daily life. Life as an acupuncturist, yoga teacher, and educator of guasha as medicine.
Care Consideration: Just a reminder that the above information is not a substitute for medical care and is not a substitute for medical advice or recommendations from a healthcare provider. This information is not intended to treat, mitigate, or cure any disease. That said, we encourage you to connect with an Acupuncturist in your community to learn more about this and other Traditional Chinese Medicine options. If you’ve got questions about Chinese herbal medicine or getting started with an Acupuncturist, feel free to connect with us on firstname.lastname@example.org.