A Spoon, A Coin, An Ancient Remedy: A History of the Gua Sha
Its shape can be reminiscent of other things--a soft flat stone, a shell, a horn scraper, a coin. In fact, one of the names for a gua sha massage is “coining”. It fits neatly in the hand, highly portable, terrifically tactile. Dozens of makers, small and large-scale, explore the material possibilities from semi-precious stones to hardwoods. And the gua sha may well be the easiest self-care tool next to the body itself.
Though it appears to be first scientifically documented in China during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the humble gua sha’s use is recorded back to paleolithic times. As a form of traditional medicine, gua sha massage spans many Asian countries and traveled as its practitioners emigrating across the world. It’s said to have been introduced in the United States by Dr. James Tin Yau in one of the earliest acupuncture schools opened in Boston in 1974.
The term “gua sha” (pronounced “gwah shah”) is Chinese. “Gua” means “rub” or “scrape” and “sha” is often translated as “sand” but as a symptom or quality of the body inferring stagnation that produces heat. In Ayurveda, you might see this as kapha blocking pitta. In this case, the tool describes the condition it’s meant to treat.
These days you’re most likely to see gua sha applied to the tissues of the face, where we’re taught to focus anti-aging actions in mainstream beauty and wellness. And yes, a gentle gua sha massage can move lymph and better enable it to drain, reducing puffiness while invigorating the skin to tone up and smooth fine lines.
The gua sha was originally meant as a powerful tool for the entire body. One of its original uses was to release heat from field workers overcome under intense sunshine as they farmed. The scraping action would bring blood to the surface, allowing it to better cool the body. Likewise it was used to lift inflammation and other dis-ease states and pathogens, encouraging toxins to be eliminated. According to traditional Chinese medicine teachings, the ancient use of the gua sha was linked to therapies in the instance of coma to invigorate or in the treatment of abcesses to dispel a pathogen.
One of DeAnna’s earliest teacher’s introduced the gua sha to her and she’s never found a more useful tool in her own life and in her practice. A gua sha in the hand allows immediate feedback as it is gently but firmly scraped across the tissue she’s working on. She can feel the vibrations of overly dried lymph as the wood jostles like tires on gravel. Or the thick resistance of overly stagnant cells. And a few minutes after the gua sha has moved on, any color that rises to the skin’s surface tells its own tale. DeAnna (or you!) can watch the blood surface where circulation is restored--or its conspicuous absence where more work is needed. Bruising does sometimes occur, there’s no hiding that. But it can reveal cold surfacing from bones, toxins releasing from cells. DeAnna can even provide interpretations based on what the bruise is presenting.
Over time gua shas have been made from hemp, bone, horn, ceramic, wood, and copper. Caregivers sometimes used what was immediately at hand, like a soup spoon or coin. Its use is a thread that runs through Chinese medicine, revived and honed in its application and technique. Nowadays, it’s easy to obtain a gua sha tool and reap the benefits.
In addition to shifting bloat or smoothing skin texture, you can also use the gua sha like you might a foam roller on tight or sore muscles. The advantage is that this foam roller alternative can go with you wherever you are, allowing you to work on those muscles more easily. And while foam rolling can be an oversight with many athletes, despite its effectiveness, a gua sha is so much easier to use whether you’re working at a desk, standing in line, talking on the phone, stirring a soup pot.
No matter the reason for using a gua sha, there’s no denying it can change your health and your life. The dhyana Essentials gua shas are hand-made from exquisite semi-precious stones or upcycled hardwoods. They’re beautiful to touch and hold, lasting a lifetime with care. It’s hard to find a tool more cost-effective. As DeAnna says, “once you pick one up, you won’t want to put it down.” This is true self-care power in your hands!