WHAT IS GUA SHA?

Almost every patient I treat gets gua-sha—the Asian healing technique so well known in the East that usually the ‘cook of the house’ administers it to whomever is in need–whether for a cold, a tight neck, ‘a chill in their bones, etc. Once I treated Vietnamese twins for chronically tight muscles, and when I started to explain what I would be doing, their eyes lit up and they told me how their mother, when they where in Vietnam, would do gua sha (although they had a different name for it) whenever they had a fever. They said she would put some balm on their back and use a smooth edge like a piece of ivory or even a hardened bean to ‘scrape’ the skin smoothly and then cover them in blankets. They would sweat and sleep and wake up and “be totally better”.

We learned how to administer gua sha in our first year of acupuncture school from Arya Nielsen, an acupuncturist who works at Beth Israel’s Medical Center’s Continuum for Health and Healing using acupuncture and gua sha for almost anything she treats. It was fascinating watching Arya treat a spasm, sciatica, or carpal tunnel syndrome by gently rubbing the surface with a smooth edged disposable instrument to bring “sha” or stagnant blood and lactic acid out of the muscle to the surface into the subcutaneous layer under the skin. We practiced on each other under her guidance and found that, even though we had red, purple or black ‘petechiae’ on our skin (it looked like a bruise) for a couple of days, the improvement in our flexibility, chronic tension, or stiffness was more than noticeably improved. To read more about gua sha go to http://www.guasha.com/faqs.html. And if you come to see me, expect to experience it—mostly done on the back of the neck and back. Some people come just for gua sha!

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