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Chinese Bodywork – A Brief Account

For a few, brief journal entries I would like to focus on different treatment approaches within Chinese medicine.  These methods are not all inclusive but will briefly cover the most common, traditional methods one would find in China.  Specifically, acupuncture, herbal medicine, cupping, gua sha and tuina. The first installment will outline Tui Na treatment approaches.

Recent studies indicate Chinese Bodywork was being practiced as early as 2700 B.C. Chinese bodywork, or Tui Na, is a distinct treatment modality within Chinese Medicine. Tui Na (Chinese for Push – Grasp) is traditionally known in China as An Mo (Chinese for Press-Palpate). When people hear the term “Bodywork” they tend to mentally gravitate towards the familiar concept of western styles of massage. Unlike massage, Tui Na is extremely effective in dealing with constitutional issues as well as structural conditions Unfortunately most western training programs in Tui Na lack in their understanding with respect to Tui Na’s effectiveness beyond pain related and structural issues.

Tui Na’s earliest origins can be traced back to instinctual, natural  human actions. Simple actions of rocking a baby when crying, patting someone on their back when choking / coughing, blowing on or rubbing one’s hands to generate warm when cold, or any other number of other natural reactions. These approaches formed the basis of the earliest forms of Tui Na. Through time, differing techniques and approaches within Tuina became refined and specialized in treating various structural and/or constitutional issues.

There are different schools of Tui Na both in China and in the west. I was extremely fortunate to have studied the Imperial Bodywork System Lineage of Yin Style Bagua with Dr. Xi Peixi.  It systemically developed in the imperial palace through a cadre of Chinese medical practitioners who treated the imperial court as well as others. The Imperial Bodywork System is an all encompassing treatment approach resulting from Buddhist and Taoist influences. It contains both Yang (Vigorous application and form) and Yin (Gentle application and form) techniques.

Both Yang and Yin treatment approaches / techniques can be used on a wide range of individuals.  Narrowing the field to the most appropriate techniques can be done based on the nature of a condition. Just as with acupuncture, herbs, and other Chinese medicine modalities of treatment, a proper diagnosis must be formulated for effective Tui Na treatment.

Yang treatment approaches tend to be directed towards, though not solely, structural issues. Their application is best suited to healthier, active, younger, robust  patients.  Yang techniques are primarily applied to what Chinese medicine refers to as tendo-muscular channels. The tends-muscular channels are collectively the attachment and insertions of tendons and muscles as well as their muscle and tendon structures themselves.

Yin treatment approaches tend to be directed towards constitutional conditions and are more gentle.  As a result they may require a longer time to achieve results. Yin natured techniques are more suited to deficient individuals or those who are less active , very young and less robust. These techniques are applied to all areas of the body.

Any well constructed Tui Na treatment relies on an knowledgable blending of Yin and Yang to treat different aspects of any condition. Understanding Tui Na enables a practitioner to use the same technique with a slight variation in hand form (e.g. cupped or flat palm) to obtain a different result. This simple change in the structure of the hand can change the intent of the treatment from tonifiying to sedating to balancing.

Tui Na from a western perspective can be seen to reset joints, bones and ligaments, reduce inflammation, increase circulation of blood and body fluids and augment the overall characteristics of muscles and tendons post taxation or injury.

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