This practice of strategically “scraping” body surfaces is performed to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, increase circulation, and boost the immune system. Traditionally this is done with a small, flat jade stone with rounded edges, which can be used on the body, muscles, acupressure points, and/or meridians to release heat, toxins, and so on. You usually scrape in the direction of the meridians only until you see small red dots (called petechia). These red dots indicate that blood has been brought to the surface of the skin, where it is able to release the heat and toxins. Chinese medicine calls this “raising the sha,” which is said to eliminate stagnation and inflammation in the blood and protect the immune system for days or even weeks after the treatment. You can easily learn to do this at home for certain conditions, such as when you are feeling vulnerable to a cold, have tight or sore muscles, or are feeling inflamed in a particular part of your body. For chronic conditions such as cancer or autoimmune disease, or if there are lumps, cysts, or fibroids, I recommend working with a practitioner before performing gua sha.
This is a hand-held facial massage tool that is used to increase circulation in the face and neck, increase absorption of skin care products and reduce fine lines, wrinkles, under-eye swelling, and dark circles. It works by supporting lymphatic drainage away from the face. The roller is typically made with two smooth jade stones, one at each end. Depending on the size of the area you are working on, you can use either the small or large end. To use, simply massage your favorite skin cream or oil onto your face and neck and, using the roller, make small sweeping motions from the center of your face, out toward your hairline or down toward your neck. Do this for about five minutes each morning. If you tend to have puffiness under your eyes or red, irritated skin, you can put the roller into the freezer overnight and use it cold the next morning.
In addition to performing acupuncture, a Chinese medicine practitioner almost always burns moxa in a therapy called moxibustion. This is an ancient practice known to increase energy in the body and warm it up. The plant burned is Artemesia vulgaris, otherwise known as mugwort. Practitioners burn it on strategic areas of the body, including acupuncture points and along meridians where chi is stuck and/or depleted, giving rise to pain, coldness, edema, fatigue, and other imbalances. Moxa comes in many forms, including raw leaves, salves, topical tinctures, and pressed into pencil- to cigar-size sticks. For home use of moxa, I recommend using a tiger warmer (more on this in the next section). Thousands of years ago, moxa was placed under a patient’s pillow to bring about dreams, visions, and insight, as well as to eliminate nightmares.
Moxibustion can be applied directly or indirectly. In direct moxibustion, the moxa cone rests on your body at the treatment point. The practitioner lights the cone and lets it burn slowly until your skin begins to turn red. Once you begin to feel heat, the practitioner removes it. Moxa can also be placed on the acupuncture needle and ignited. It burns on the needle until it’s extinguished. The heat travels through the needle to the acupuncture point.
Indirect moxibustion is more commonly practiced. It’s also a safer option, since the burning moxa doesn’t actually touch your skin. Instead, the practitioner will hold it about an inch from your body. They’ll remove it once your skin becomes red and warm. Another method of indirect moxibustion uses an insulating layer of salt or garlic between the cone and your skin. In another option, “moxa boxes” may be filled with moxa, ignited, and placed on the body.
The Eight Branches of Chinese Medicine
Meditation: As long ago as the fifth century B.C.E., Taoists practiced meditation as a tool for cultivating inner peace. There is always an aspect of the mind that is quiet, calm, and present; however, it can be masked by thoughts, stories, and emotions that pull us out of the present moment. The mind can be like a toddler, running around from place to place, with an attention span of about one minute. It can easily switch from one emotion to the next. Meditation is not simply the practice of stopping all this chaos and quieting the mind; rather, it is the building of awareness about the mind’s habitual nature and the reduction of its distractions.
Exercise: Moving our bodies daily is vital to our overall well-being. Physical activity also moves our blood and cleanses our organs. Tai chi and qigong are both ancient forms of exercise used in Chinese medicine for the cultivation of energy. When visiting east Asian countries, you will see groups of people coming together to practice these movements every day. Even if you don’t know these two ancient practices, walking, running, swimming, dancing, hiking, playing sports, and even stretching are all wonderful forms of exercise.
Nutrition: Food is like medicine. It can nourish us to our very bones, bring us back from illness, and give us a tremendous amount of energy for living. Many of us are getting sick. Returning to natural, unprocessed, whole foods that match your constitution, align with the season, and support you through any imbalances you may be experiencing is the most direct way to find balance. Through this lens, each meal provides an opportunity to heal from the inside out and to prevent illness rather than be vulnerable to it.
Cosmology: Cosmology refers to the foundation of any spiritual tradition that reveals the core beliefs of how we human beings came to exist and what helps us to thrive. In Taoist cosmology, human beings are not seen as separate from the natural world but rather as a manifestation and integral part of it. Therefore, to cultivate a state of balance, we must look to the natural world around us and mimic the rhythms and cycles we see.
Fang Shui: Just as we can benefit from finding balance inside ourselves by meditating, exercising, and eating a diet that is aligned with nature, we can benefit from creating a similar balance outside ourselves. This is called feng shui, and it encompasses the practice of enhancing health through the environmental balancing of the home, office, garden, and other sacred spaces.
Bodywork: Touch is vital to our overall health. The physical practice of being touched in a therapeutic way allows us to relax deeply and experience the release of tension on all levels. Bodywork gifts us with a number of amazing endorphins (feel-good hormones) most especially, oxytocin.
Herbal Medicine: Chinese herbal medicine has been around for thousands of years as a vital tool for maintaining health throughout the life cycles and seasons. Eating medicinal plants from the earth allows us to be in direct relationship with the earth. In addition to a diet that is in sync with our nature, herbal medicine can target specific health imbalances and enhance the healing benefits of meals.
Acupuncture: The final branch of Chinese medicine is also the newest of the eight (though still more than two thousand years old)—the practice of acupuncture. Acupuncture is the art of inserting very fine, sterile needles just under the skin in strategic places to nourish, calm, or otherwise direct the movement of energy. This ancient art form has been found not only to reduce pain but to influence myriad systems in the body, mind, and spirit. From anxiety to leaky gut syndrome to depression to inflammation, acupuncture treats us on many levels. While this practice can certainly address everyday imbalances, I have found it to be most beneficial when used as a tool for prevention.
Source: Everyday Chinese Medicine.