Tui na is still a bit of secret here in Austin, TX but people who know what it is tend to love it. Gua sha is even more of a hidden jewel. But each of these Chinese medical treasures can help you heal from varying ailments, they can also be part of an integrative health maintenance program, and–last but not least–they are foundations of aesthetic and beauty treatments. I’ve written a lot about tui na so the primary focus here is on gua sha, but both are integral to my practice. They are so marvelous and should not be quite the undiscovered jewels that they are to date. Have you ever tried tui na or gua sha? I would love to introduce them to you, and to a wider audience. As the title of this piece indicates, my patients and clients know and love them. I am confident that you will feel the same way once you’ve discovered and experienced their benefits firsthand.
Are you ready to find out about some marvelous treatment strategies?
Gua sha, to begin, is a venerable modality that involves light scraping of oiled skin. That may seem odd, but what makes the treatment so magical is the type of instrument used, the area of the body that is scraped, and the condition that is being treated. Tui na, for its part, is somewhat like massage and in some ways like acupuncture without the needles. Both are manual therapies that have centuries-long presence in the pantheon of Chinese medicine.
In my own practice as an AOBTA-CP (a fancy term that designates my qualifications to practice Asian bodywork therapies, including tui na and gua sha), I employ gua sha routinely as part of a tui na session. When I’m done with board exams and licensed for acupuncture and herbs (by mid-September if all goes as planned), I will continue to provide these services with or without needling.
So why, you may be asking, is this worth a blog post?
The long story short is that I have been doing a lot of facial rejuvenation work this past year and, more and more, I use gua sha as part of the service because it works so very well. I find, though, that people have never heard of gua sha and that means…blog post! In the tuina-for-health-and-wellness realm of my practice, I’ve found that gua sha works for way more than for the typical uses of it. Gua sha is very commonly employed for heat-clearing in upper respiratory ailments, for example. On the functional medicine side, gua sha is so good for muscular issues and fascial adhesions that it’s been appropriated and given a brand-new American sounding name that I’m not going to repeat so as not to give it credence. But oh, there is so much more that gua sha can do for you…All in all, I would love to have more people discover it and experience how fantastic it is.
So what happens when you get a gua sha treatment?
Well, your practitioner (ideally someone who is trained in Chinese medicine and duly licensed or certified thereof) will smooth a small amount of oil on the affected body part. He or she will then take an instrument that may be metal, it could be horn, or it could be jade or something else (popular usage includes coins or spoons) and lightly scrape until red marks appear.
If you google the term, you can see exaggerated red stripes on people’s backs and yes, that is one such effect. (If you’d like to see a less-exaggerated and more realistic picture of what a professional treatment looks like, go here). What this does is it releases stagnant blood in the capillaries and heat or tightness in the tissues. This is great for colds, muscular tension or injury, and a host of other issues, and if you are interested in some evidence-based research on the efficacy of gua sha, you can find it here and here, to begin. And, of course, gua sha is also marvelous for aesthetic purposes.
Gua sha for beauty, as has aesthetic treatment via Chinese medicine in general, has been garnering a lot of attention recently. And for good reason. It works!
In my professional experience, I have found that it is gua sha is great for scars, stretch marks, facial and neck puffiness, dry patches on the skin, and blemish control. It’s also–if my patients’ reports are accurate–incredibly soothing. Personally, I love seeing people’s faces as they touch their skin and feel where stretch marks used to be deep, or they touch what was a rough patch of skin that is now, as they run their fingers across it, smooth. It’s so fun to see their faces when they look in the mirror and see the improvements! And yes, there are several tutorials you can find online for at-home aesthetic gua sha, but if you have it done by someone who is experienced and well-trained, it’s the same as if you get a professional facial vs. one you perform yourself at home.
Also–and this is VERY important–things like scars and stretch marks generally require a trained practitioner for both safety and results. When you are looking for the right one for you, ask about their training and experience. Don’t trust your scars to someone who isn’t qualified to work on them. And stretch marks are tricky. I need to see the marks before I can tell you just how much I can do for them–beware of anyone who blithely promises results on stretch marks without at least seeing them first. Someone who is trained in a program for Chinese medicine is your best bet. Plus, with a real Chinese medicine practitioner, you get the overall constitutional assessment that characterizes Chinese medicine’s holistic approach when you get gua sha with a practitioner who is thus trained. And this kind of practitioner is not incredibly common but you can find them. My favorite aesthetic gua sha star (aside from myself, obviously) is in Brooklyn, New York. If I find myself in Sandra Lanshin Chiu, L.Ac.’s neighborhood, I am definitely going to book an appointment with her, here. (If you are in Austin, you can book an appointment with me, here).
As for gua sha for pain? Well, that’s a blog post in and of itself. One thing I see a lot of in Austin, because it’s so hot, is general puffiness and body ache. The ups and downs of the weather can be hard on people with dense muscles, especially. Treating these aches and pains is different from smoothing out stretch marks or softening rough skin, which is done with a jade instrument. In the case of muscle ache and puffy/hot/heaviness, I use a metal gua sha instrument. Often times, I will do this kind of work in conjunction with cupping therapy, thereby loosening up the congestion and then helping it to move along and dissipate via gua sha’s scraping methods. It’s really great for detail work, and for focusing on specific areas of muscular pain. My athlete patients in particular love the gua sha that I perform with the metal instrument, and they, too, report that this is a relaxing form of treatment that leaves them feeling lighter and cooler afterwards.
So what does tui na have to do with this conversation?
Well, as many of you know, I am a professional Asian bodywork therapist and health coach who is about to start my board exams to become licensed to practice acupuncture and herbal medicine. [Update: If you are reading this after summer 2018, I am happy to say that I am done with boards and duly licensed]. Tui na, a separate specialty within Chinese medicine, has been the foundation of my studies since the start of my 4.5 year program. During my first career as a professor, I always used to say that if I had two lives to live, I’d be an orthopedic surgeon in the second round. This was before I discovered acupuncture and tui na. Now, let’s face it, I am becoming the Chinese medical equivalent of an orthopedic doctor (who also does lots of fun aesthetic work).
In sum: in virtually all that I do, there is always going to be some element of tui na to my practice. As patients I treated at Spartan Race events (here’s the first; the second is here) can attest, tui na is great for athletes (and so is gua sha). In the instance of not just aesthetics but also mood regulation, anyone who has had facial rejuvenation treatment with me (or acupuncture, for that matter) will agree that beauty treatments are great for emotions, too, and that this can be done with no needles at all…or with lots of them. Tui na, in effect, is a great complement to treatments people know and love AND it is a worthy and effective stand alone method. All of this being the case means that if you come to me for any of the above-discussed, you will be experiencing tui na in addition to your gua sha treatment.
Trust me, you will love it!
Paula Bruno, Ph.D., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, an AOBTA-CP traditional Chinese bodywork therapist, and a wellness educator. She maintains an active and growing practice at her Austin, TX offices. Dr. Bruno is also available for distance appointments for wellness consultation or coaching.
In her first career, she was a Spanish professor.
Dr. Bruno’s specialties as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner focus on: • Joint and mobility health, including Ehlers Danlos and hypermobility syndromes, sports injury, and acute or chronic pain; • Wellness protocols for musicians and other performing artists; • Gut health, weight control, and healthy body image support; • Aesthetic acupuncture, including scar revision; • Men’s health; • General preventative care, stress relief, and immune system support for all persons.
When you are ready to discover what traditional medicine plus a vibrant and engaged approach to holistic health can do for you, either contact Dr. Bruno or book an appointment online.
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Note: Material on this web site is not intended to replace your treatment or care provided by an MD. It is for educational/entertainment purposes only. A TCM practitioner in Texas identifies syndrome patterns but does not diagnose illness. Always consult your primary care doctor for health concerns.