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Gua sha for Acupuncturists: A Misunderstood Technique

Monday, March 18, 2024

The Gua sha Journal - A Blog About Everything Gua sha by Clive Witham/Gua sha for Acupuncturists: A Misunderstood Technique

The Great Misunderstanding

Gua sha has been misunderstood for far too long. It is an area of Chinese medicine that many acupuncturists think they know, but in my experience, from specializing for over 20 years and teaching in many cities around the world, very few actually do. This may come as a surprise to you, as you may be using Gua sha in your treatments and perhaps content in what you do, but how about if I told you that Gua sha isn't just an adjunct technique to be thrown in occasionally in an acupuncture treatment, but is, in fact, a whole world of revolutionary spectacle and drama.

The problem is not just that Gua sha is seen as an accessory or an afterthought in health and wellness Chinese medicine treatments, but that it's severely undervalued. You might learn it in a half-day course with other techniques like maybe cupping and manual therapy. And that, quite frankly, is a disservice to your knowledge, expertise, and the benefits to your patients or clients, and, for sure, to the historical masters like Guo Zhisui and Zhang Jingyue who literally fought cholera using it. I have been studying Gua sha, and the theories behind it, for decades and can still only scratch the surface.

Much of my understanding comes from clinical experience. I spent more than a decade in North Africa in a 5-room clinic specializing in chronic health conditions and this was a great testing ground for Gua sha. My interest was never the 'academic' Gua sha that so pervades Gua sha in the West but on the more authentic situation of fighting ill-health daily in the treatment trenches of a clinic. My base is now Barcelona where we run a research center and explore treatments with Gua sha, acupuncture, osteopathy, and manual treatments in exciting ways based on the ideas of nature in classical Chinese medicine.

Gua sha Isn't Acupuncture (Gasp!)

Many are unaware that Gua sha has its own historically distinct path, separate from the other techniques of Chinese medicine, and until relatively recently was largely unconnected to acupuncture. It was a front-line treatment for the 'plagues' that swept through China and East Asia in the 17th and 18th centuries because of its unique ability to treat febrile disease and is the subject of many subsequent texts (interestingly often aimed at lay people) in how to treat what came to be known as 'sha' disease. So what was once a dramatic treatment of life and death, has now been integrated into TCM in such a way that it is like squeezing a round peg through a square hole.

What we are subject to, apart from the sweeping facial Gua sha motions of Instagram or TikTok as the beauty industry dictates the nature of Gua sha, are the point-based protocols of TCM which have been pasted on Gua sha like bad wallpaper. I teach Facial Gua sha a lot, and although not a feature of this course, it is a great example of how underwhelming and under-performing current ideas are. Instead of aiming for the light of the stars (shen) to shine from the face in a magical ecological combination of blood river circulation of qi and shen, we have a toothed tool to pull through a few wrinkles. It's just disappointing. It is the same in the clinic with Health and wellness Gua sha. Almost every patient in our centre gets Gua sha, not because we want to practise or from lazy habit, but because we know what it can do and how it can be combined to give the best treatment to our patients.

A Different Approach To Gua sha

If you know your Gua sha history, you will know that Gua sha is nothing short of revolutionary in concept. The Cambodians knew this during the repressive Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s when it alone was the promoted healthcare technique. It is also the driving force behind my approach to Gua sha, which I had to give another name to, partially in order to prevent a common response to classes "...but I know Gua sha already!", but mainly because it needs a name because it comes from another Chinese medicine place. This is the reason you see 'Ecology in Motion' or 'EIM Gua sha' connected with my work and it is an adaptation of this which I am teaching in this 'Gua sha for Acupuncturists' course. Once upon a time, I studied at CICM so I have a fair idea of how to make the material relevant to what you need and know.

I saw the potential of Gua sha from the very first moment I saw it, and we have been fortunate enough to achieve some of my long-term goals with Gua sha in recent years with my organisation, the Komorbei Institute. Sri Lanka does not have an indigenous tradition of scraping, so together with the Poornam Foundation, we started Gua sha projects first in the North and then in the East of Sri Lanka. These projects are in areas without good quality healthcare systems and we have been working with families, communities, and the local Western medicine hospital with specialized Gua sha classes taught to medical doctors, nurses, and care staff. The project is ongoing and we return again this year but the reception has been phenomenal and I am told that there is a definite footprint being left which is developing into a sustainable health option (some users refer to Gua sha using a co-opted Tamil name).

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Hi, It's Clive

Director of Komorebi Institute

Hi, It's Clive

From researching underfunded healthcare in Uganda, to running a thriving chronic illness clinic in North Africa, to collaborating with hospitals in Sri Lanka to train staff and empower communities - My journey has been dedicated to democratizing access to beauty and health.

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Ecology in Motion™

Facial Gua sha

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Health & Wellness Gua sha

Ecology in Motion™

Facial Gua sha

Ecology in Motion™

Health & Wellness Gua sha