Have You Ever Tried (Or Heard of) Gua Sha? [UPDATED]
Backstory: The other night I went to see my acupuncturist here in New York. As I mentioned, I’m a big fan of the needles, and what I love most about my guy is that he’s an all-around healer—a “body, mind, spirit” type (without being new-agey or touchy-feely, I swear), who possesses an uncanny ability to know exactly what I need at any given time. Sometimes I need some massage, sometimes I need weird-smelling herbs, sometimes I need needles, and…
Maybe sometimes I need him to scrape my back with what looks like a Chinese soup spoon until my back turns bright red.
When I emailed him to set up my appointment, I mentioned that my vacation at Rancho La Puerta left me feeling pretty amazing, but that I also felt like there was a monkey on my back. I don’t really know what I was talking about, but that’s cool, because he did. And apparently it meant we would be trying something called gua sha. He’d be using a spoon to literally scrape the fascia on my back. It would free up trapped energy, make me feel lighter, get rid of anything that isn’t serving me, release my tight shoulder muscles, and bruise the living daylights out of me.
“The bruises will be gone in three days,” he promised. “And it won’t hurt.” [UPDATE: The bruises are not gone but they're close to gone. They've faded a lot. Also, bruise isn't the right word, because it's very surfacy and there is no pain.]
I was GIDDY.
The whole process took about 20 minutes. He used lotion to soften the pressure and then made his way over my shoulders with the spoon. Some parts felt a little tender, but I felt no pain. When it was all over he insisted I check it out in the mirror after he left the room.
I yelped when I saw my back in the mirror, but it also struck me as strangely beautiful.
The red and purple marks were so clean, and while I couldn’t read the patterns myself, I knew they were telling me something good. I felt like I could see inside my own body.
I’m sure you’re wondering, beyond my own weird story, what gua sha actually is. According to Wikipedia:
“Gua sha (Chinese: 刮痧; pinyin: guā shā), literally ‘to scrape away fever’ in Chinese (more loosely, ‘to scrape away disease by allowing the disease to escape as sandy-looking objects through the skin’), is an ancient medical treatment.”
I did some reading and learned that it’s commonly used in some populations—Chinese, Thai, Greek, and others—especially when people are coming down with something. The idea is that blood stagnates and pathogens get trapped, and if you release them by scraping, it speeds up the whole process and prevents the illness from lingering in the body (or something like that).
It’s also been studied, and has produced some good results in random controlled trials for chronic back pain, migraine-medication withdrawal symptoms, headache and circulation problems. (There is no study for its effectiveness removing monkeys from backs, however. Not yet, anyway.)
It can also be used diagnostically. Apparently we all pattern differently. I did some google image searches (be careful with that, seriously, if you’re squeamish) and saw that every back pictured was vastly different, and most looked way more intense than mine, to be honest. On my own back, some areas got really dark and other spots were more bright red. Not surprisingly, around the acupuncture points that we’ve been working on, the color was much deeper than it was elsewhere.
My acupuncturist said that once we were done, it might feel like I’d peeled off a hot shirt, and that’s just how I’d put it: Like I’d peeled off a hot, heavy shirt that I’ve been wearing for far, far too long.
Now who’s going to try it?
Image of torture device spoon via