A Beginners Guide to Asian Bodywork and Its Benefits

Asian bodywork encompasses a wide variety of treatments such as cupping, gua sha (pronounced gwah-sha), shiatsu massage, acupressure massage, tuina (pronounced twee-nah), and Thai massage to name a few. For the purposes of this blog, we will focus on the use of cupping, gua sha, shiatsu, and acupressure which are the most common bodywork treatments we use in the clinic.

Cupping and Gua Sha are commonly used together to treat tension, musculoskeletal pain, and to boost immune function during illness.

Cupping involves the application of glass or silicone suction cups to the body. Typically an oil or lotion is placed on the skin to avoid a pinching sensation and allow the cups to slide smoothly over the skin. The sensation can best be described as a type of reverse massage. In massage, the pressure is applied downward onto the body. In cupping the tissue is being lifted by the suction of the cup. This strong lifting effect reduces tension by rapidly improving blood flow. It also helps to reduce adhesions in the connective tissue between the muscles and skin.

This layer of connective tissue is called fascia (pronounced fa-sha) and is a thick, crunchy, spider web-like matrix that attaches your muscles to your skin layer. Fascia exists in sheets that cover large areas of the body. When one part of the fascia gets dry, stuck to the skin, twisted or damaged, it can affect the entire area that is covered by that sheet.

When you feel an overall sensation of tightness in a large area like your whole back, neck, and shoulders, both muscle and fascia are involved. Cupping is great for many types of pain because it works on both the muscle and connective tissue at the same time. Improving blood flow, while gently removing adhesions, and stimulating the immune system to repair and heal the tissue.

If you’ve ever seen cupping in the news, you know that it can leave some odd-looking marks where the cups were applied. Not to worry, this is part of the blood circulating effect of cupping and the marks are not painful. They just look odd! Cupping marks usually fade within a couple of days to a week at most.

Gua Sha is an asian bodywork technique that involves using a spoon, tool, or other specialized instrument to apply pressure with fast, sweeping motions across large areas such as the back, shoulders, and neck.

The brushing motions are usually done in one direction, with varying pressure depending on each person’s needs. Gua sha is also performed on the head, neck and face using very light pressure, and an upward sweeping motion to alleviate sinus congestion, reduce facial swelling, and brighten skin tone and overall complexion. Gua sha is an amazing for those times when everything feels tight, and painful in your neck, back, and shoulders. Similar to cupping, gua sha can cause some reddish or purplish marks that last a few days, but are not painful, despite the discoloration.

Shiatsu Massage and Acupressure Are Gentle Asian Bodywork Treatments That Provide an Excellent Alternative To Needle Based Therapies for Needle Averse, Young, or Especially Depleted Patients.

Shiatsu massage is a type of massage that is performed completely clothed, and involves a combination of rocking motions, acupressure, and passive stretching applied in a rhythmic sequence to the body. It works in a similar way to acupuncture, but without the use of needles, and in a very subtle way. The treatment is painless and deeply relaxing, making it a great option for those struggling with, or recovering from chronic illness of any kind.

Acupressure is used during shiatsu massage, but might also be added to an acupuncture session to help reduce the number of needles needed in a treatment. Acupressure uses pressure applied by the hands to specific acupuncture points, rather than needling them. Within a given treatment, we might choose a few key points for needling, and a few more to apply pressure or massage to complete the treatment.

How do I know what type of Bodywork is Right for my Specific Condition?

Some of the more popular Asian bodywork therapies, like cupping have gotten a lot of exposure in recent years from celebrities and pro athletes touting its benefits. The fact is that a lot of things determine whether or not you are a good candidate for cupping therapy. There is no one size fits all therapy that is good for pain in all cases. We create a custom bodywork treatment for each patient that carefully considers their current symptoms, their complete medical history, and their health goals. There are some situations where cupping and gua sha may make pain worse, and worsen other symptoms that you have. More gentle therapies like shiatsu and acupressure are tolerated very well and have fewer contraindications. We recommend working with a licensed acupuncturist or other Asian bodywork specialist who can create a plan that will help you achieve your desired outcome.