Deeply rooted within folk medicine and the healing modalities of the Orient, the Chinese term ‘Gua” 刮 translates as “to scrape” and “Sha” 痧 translates as “sand” or “red, raised, millet-sized rash”. This ‘scraping’ action is performed using a smooth-edged tool, over lubricated skin and can cause ‘bruising’ or petechiae (small red dots) to appear on the skin when the capillaries near the skin’s surface bleed, especially when firm pressure is applied.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, this action is used to eliminate internal Heat and stagnation from the body, which can be an indication of disease or disharmony within the organ systems and channels, as well as inflammation of the muscular system.
The primary use for this practice is to promote circulation, supporting the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body which is the foundation of harmonious organ function, vitality and longevity. Used to stimulate lymphatic circulation and immune function, Gua Sha promotes detoxification and can help to release fevers, and reduce the severity of common conditions such as a cold or flu, headache, respiratory conditions and both chronic and acute pain.
If you are wanting to focus primarily on facial Gua Sha, we have a more focused and in-depth article 'The SuperFeast Guide to Facial Gua Sha' for you!
How To Practice Gua Sha - The Foundations
- Relax, take deep breaths, and move slowly with intention.
- Always lubricate the skin with an oil or serum, the Gua Sha tool should glide across the skin, which prevents unintentional pulling or tugging of the skin.
- To promote the ‘lifting’ action of Gua Sha, always work your way upwards when performing facial Gua Sha. When performing Gua Sha on the body, the same rules apply, however you are always moving towards the heart.
- Angle the tool anywhere between 15-45 degrees and the skin. This ensures a greater surface area of the skin is in contact with the stone which enhances the movement of lymph.
- When practising facial Gua Sha, apply medium pressure (it should not hurt) and ensure you use a light pressure around the eyes where the skin is more delicate. Focus on ‘pulling’ rather than pushing.
- Practice slow strokes, repeating up to 3-30 times over one area before moving to the next (generally 3-5 strokes is recommended for Gua Sha performed on the face).
- Aim to use your other hand to hold your skin in place, as you glide the tool in the opposite direction.
- Use firm pressure when performing body Gua Sha, it should feel like a deep tissue massage but if you are in pain or experiencing discomfort beyond what feels right for you, consult a trained practitioner for further guidance. If you wish to avoid any type of ‘bruising’, reduce the pressure that you use, and less repeated strokes in the same area.
- At the end of a stroke, especially along the hairline, you can apply a firmer pressure to stimulate acupressure points, massaging the Gua Sha into the skin to relieve tension
- Always drain excess fluid. Once you’ve completed a set of strokes and have swept over an area, make sure you move the excess Fluid towards a drainage point. These points, known as lymph nodes clusters, are located all over the body, including ears, jawline, neck, collarbone, armpits and the groin region.
- The practice of Gua Sha should be avoided when you are sunburnt, have an active breakout, open wounds, or an inflammatory skin condition. Be careful to avoid any moles or scars and Gua Sha around them.
How to practice Gua Sha: Step By Step
After a warm shower or bath, apply a generous amount of oil to your entire body, gently massaging into the skin. Take a deep breath and drop into your practice, remember that this is a self loving and self nourishing practice that cultivates benefits far beyond one’s physical beauty
Tip: When performing Gua Sha on the body, we are generally focusing on the extremities first, working towards the centre of the body. In some areas this can feel more challenging but do your best and follow what feels comfortable for you. If wanting to stimulate lymphatic circulation, 3-5 strokes in each area is recommended, however if you are wanting to focus on breaking up the fascia and releasing tension, anywhere up to 30 strokes is recommended.
Using a firm pressure, begin at your lower leg just above the ankle, performing slow, upward strokes and work your way up your calves and your thighs towards your waist (on both the front and back). When you arrive at the glutes, use the ridged side of the Gua Sha and continue to do upward strokes.
From the lower back, using the smooth side of the Gua Sha, continue to do upward strokes up the back, as far as you can reach.
Move to your arms, using the smooth side of the Gua Sha begin at your wrists and continue to work your way up the arms towards your shoulder and armpit.
Focusing on the abdomen area, begin by doing long upward strokes along the side of your abdomen, with the wavy edge of the Gua Sha. Using both hands to hold the stone can be helpful here. Still using the wavy edge, begin to do long strokes around the abdomen in a counterclockwise direction, this will support healthy digestive flow.
If focusing on breast health, begin at the centre of the breast and with a gentler pressure do sweeping strokes outward towards the armpit (a drainage point for lymph).
Using a gentler pressure, Gua Sha downward from the top of the neck towards the heart.