Friday, October 27, 2023
Gua sha is a great solution to facial swelling in your face and if you use it right you can really help both the local problem and the cause of the problem too! In this episode Clive throws light on what causes swelling in the body and how we can use simple farming analogies to understand and apply the basic principles of how to apply Gua sha.
Hello and welcome to episode 10 of the Gua sha show. And today we're going to look at how Gua sha can help remove facial swelling.
You wake up, get out of bed, head into the bathroom and there’s something odd about the person looking back at you in the mirror. It’s not the same person who you remember looking in the mirror the night before. While facial swelling has the effort of smoothing out any wrinkles its underneath, it also has the effect of making your face look weird. Other people might not notice a thing, but to you one part of you has disturbed the symmetry of your face in some way. And you notice it.
It's pretty common in my clinic to see people with all kinds of fluid retention not just in the face. Many people have edema in the legs and also swelling in the abdomen and puffy arms & legs or hands & feet. On the face the most common is facial swelling around the eyes but it could be the face and cheek in general and it’s often in the morning. So what’s causing this retention and what can you do about it?
Well there are many causes. When I was a child, my face once swelled up like a balloon when a bee stung my tongue. I used to walk around with my mouth open a lot apparently. And actually one of the reasons for facial swelling can be an allergic reaction but not quite as lethal a reason as mine. It could be something as simple as leaving your make-up on overnight. The chemical interplay with your skin then creates a reaction which is temporary and one which should go with a short amount of time.
Another common temporary facial swelling can come from drinking alcohol. One of the potential after effects of drinking alcohol, is dehydration, and when this happens your body compensates by a process of enlarged blood vessels and the retaining of liquid. Another one is lack of or too much sleep, although this can be a chronic issue as well, especially when someone suffers from sleep disorders like insomnia.
Facial swelling which might stem from a certain food, is more like an allergic reaction but can easily be a chronic problem connected with the stomach’s ability to digest a certain food type. In my first book there are lists of foods according to how they are categorized when they go into the digestive process. There’s a certain category which is called damp and if you think about what damp is when you’ve come across it - it’s wet, sometimes sticky, it’s difficult to get rid of when it appears. We used to have damp on one of our interior walls which was wet with a constant leak from the pipes upstairs in the courtyard. You just couldn’t get rid of it. The walls were made of sand which was the essential ingredient when they were built back in the 1940s and after a while it grew its own weird looking mold and seemed to have a life of its own. Eventually we just gave up and it became a resident in our clinic - that’s what these foods are like inside. For most people, they’re part of the balance of the different food types and there isn’t anything negative about them, on the contrary, they’re usually high nutritious foods like milk, cheese, bananas and fruit juice. But for some, your stomach just can’t digest them. In fact, one of the ways you know that your stomach can’t digest them well is the appearance of bloating.
For some women facial swelling can be related to their monthly cycle so that although it’s temporary, it’s part of a wider issue often accompanied with symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome.
Other reasons might be a local problem in the nasal area like a sinus infection or something more systemic like hypothyroidism - this is when your thyroid gland isn’t producing enough hormones and you’d know this because it’s often accompanied by other symptoms like weight gain - fatigue, poor cold tolerance, dry skin and thinning hair.
For some people, facial swelling is just part of them. It might run in your family so you’re always going to get it to some extent. It might be part of getting old. Eye swelling can partly be caused when fatty tissue which normally sits in the orbital cavity and protects your eye starts to push forward and fill in spaces below the eye. This happens because of a thinning of the membrane which usually keeps fat in place in both the upper and lower eyelids. As this membrane thins, the fat herniates and pushes forward, causing puffy eyes and dark circles and bags under the eyes. Bingo! The whole set!
You could just get a tool and scrape at the swollen areas in the hope that you’re physically moving the retained liquid. You could talk about the lymphatic system and drainage and lymph nodes. And you wouldn’t be wrong. There’s nothing wrong with doing anything like that - but it’s just not actually coming from the roots of Gua sha. In fact, if you were just to do that, you’d be missing the other fascinating things you could do too. Which of course is a shame. Because why do something with only half the know-how.
Let me explain in terms of Ecology in Motion™ which is the Gua sha I do based on the ancient Chinese understanding of the body and it’s relationship to the natural world. Why? Because when dealing with complicated things going on inside the body, it’s a good idea to approach it with a set of principles so that we don’t get lost in the detail and terminology. There really are too many people using meaningless terms or terms they don’t quite understand to justify just about anything with Gua sha so let’s go for simple clarity.
There are certain functions in the body that were seen by the ancient Chinese as synonymous with how farmers irrigate their land. So let’s take their analogy and let’s imagine this situation of facial swelling or swollen legs as a farmer standing in his flooded field. The stream which is normally meandering happily at the edge of his land has become overrun with water and flooded the surrounding area including his field. So there’s the farmer knee-deep in water, scratching his head as to what to do.
So when you see your face puffy and then you think about treating it to reduce the facial swelling, are you going to just drain the field of the flood water and just treat the swollen part of the face? If so, what about the place where the river burst it’s banks upstream? That’s where the water is coming from. And what about the excess water in the river which caused the river to burst its banks in the first place? Should we do something about that?
Let’s take a look at some of the causes of facial swelling in the terms of these questions. If you’ve drunk too much alcohol, there’s obviously something happening in your liver as it works overtime to process it. This is the upriver cause of the facial swelling. If it’s connected to the food you’ve eaten or your general diet then it’s your digestive system and chiefly your stomach which might be behind the facial swelling. If you have allergies or an allergic reaction, then, and this might sound a bit strange, it’s your lungs. And if it were due to something like hypothyroidism, then your kidneys. So the flood is coming from somewhere. It did just magically appear.
The field has drainage ditches dug at the sides and at strategic places so that excess water can be drained from the land and so it can remain moist and fertile and that water can then be used elsewhere or return to the river circulation system. So of course you can use this drainage system. So the farmer gets his tools and machinery out and drains the field.
Well you generally avoid any swelling or bloating with a Gua sha tool. Instead you work around it at the edges. If we keep Gua sha in its natural context, then we don’t concern ourselves with the lymphatic system and we’re not too worried about manually moving the liquid with the tool. This may sound strange to some people but the lymphatic system isn’t a separate system in traditional Chinese medicine - it’s already built in to others. Certainly in Western medicine it’s closely related to the cardiovascular system and it helps maintain the balance of fluid in the body by draining excess fluid from tissues and returning it to the blood system. But with Gua sha both blood and lymph circulatory systems are simultaneously stimulated to work more efficiently. So what you’re doing instead of actually manually moving the fluid, is increasing micro-circulation around the swelling so that the liquid is reabsorbed and processed. So if I’m the farmer, I’m not sweeping the water, I’m digging a channel nearby so the water can seep out naturally.
But then I’m going to jump in my tractor and I’m going to motor my way to the where I think the flood waters came over river bank or where I think the river has been blocked and I’m going to see if there’s any sign of the problem. If there is, then I’m going to get my tools out and patch it up. So what this means for Gua sha is to look for any surface tension along muscle-sinew structures. So if you have facial swelling because of your diet, then I’m going to check the stomach channel which include most of the main muscles down the front of your body. If I find tension, then I use Gua sha. And so in this way I might be able to help to both reduce and prevent the facial swelling.
If I were treating swelling in other parts of the body, then the approach would be the same. There’s a whole subculture about losing weight with Gua sha which is often about removing excess retention of liquid especially in the legs and there’s the idea of manually scraping out the liquid. The same farmer analogy can apply here. If you want to lose weight, maximize the field, irrigation and the river and then look upstream for what might be the origins and in this case invariably it’s going to be diet and lifestyle. And this is an important idea to grasp. If there are problems here and you don’t attend to them, the rest is an uphill struggle. So if my diet was terrible and I didn’t take exercise and I led a stressful life, it would be no surprise that the effects of Gua sha treatment on the retention of liquid and accumulation of fat might be limited and it keeps repeating itself.
So I encourage you to use Gua sha to help remove facial swelling as its one of the best treatments out there but use the body’s natural intelligence to your full advantage while you do it.
Director of Komorebi Institute
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.