In the West, acupuncture is the most well-known of the Chinese medicine disciplines, but a form of massage called Tui Na has just as old a tradition in China. Similar forms of massage were being used as early as 1700 BC and as it developed, Tui Na became closely aligned with the martial arts, and a knowledge of chiropractic and bone setting became part of its practise.
Tui Na is not just a simple massage. A practitioner of Tui Na uses different techniques, including stimulation of acupressure points to work on the muscles and joints, and on a deeper level it works on the meridians of the body where energy may be imbalanced which according to Chinese medicine beliefs leads to illness.
“In China there are three main disciplines, acupuncture, herbs and massage, and they are all of equal value,” said Allison Davis, who practises both acupuncture and Tui Na at the Da Vinci Centre.
She said Tui Na is based on the same theory as acupuncture, except instead of needles a manual technique is used. The idea is that it opens up the energy pathways, releasing stagnation and restoring the balance of the body.
It sounds good to me as at that particular moment in time I am feeling particularly stagnated around the shoulders from being hunched over a computer, and I must admit, too much lying around watching TV because it’s too hot to go out.
What to expect
When you go for a massage, you will be asked to wear loose clothing, and Allison will initially discuss any specific problems or areas that might be troubling you. In my case, I can’t wait for her to start on my tight lumpy shoulders. In the Chinese language, Tui Na means to literally “grasp and knead,” and this is how Allison starts, working deeply and purposefully across my shoulders. I can feel the knots in my muscles and tendons gradually begin to relax.
She then moves down the spine, vertebrae by vertebrae, using a type of movement she refers to as “plucking,” and then on to hips and legs, sometimes probing at certain acupuncture points like the side of the hips and the backs of the knees. Every so often she uses her hands to completely roll over the entire body, and it feels as if I am gently but thoroughly being ironed out.
The massage takes an hour and a half of complete focus and incredible stamina on Allison’s part as she involves the different techniques of kneading, plucking, rolling and vibrating.
All the techniques have different purposes. For instance, Allison says that the rolling technique helps move blood around and warms the body. It also improves circulation to the joints and muscles. In yet another technique she uses a vibrating motion in particular areas where she feels energy is stuck and needs loosening.
One of Tui Na’s real advantages over simple massage is its ability to focus on specific problems, especially chronic pain associated with the muscles, joints, and skeletal system and also to work at a deeper level removing blockages and balancing energy in the body. In Chinese medicine, because all the systems are seen to be interrelated when energy is balanced, it not only promotes physical health but also mental and emotional health.
The other thing, of course, is that at the same time you are getting all the benefits of a massage. By the end of the session my whole body feels transformed. There is a great feeling of looseness in all of my muscles. I feel lengthened, and the pain and stiffness in my shoulders are gone. Allison has correctly noted that my chest is very congested (I am a smoker), and that has also cleared .
I am told to drink lots of water to continue the detoxifying process, and Allison advises me that the massage might affect me in different ways: I might either feel relaxed and tired or energised. In fact, I end up feeling all three but at different stages. For the rest of the day I feel relaxed but tired, but the next day, after a deep sleep, I feel physically energised and in a very good mood!
Though my massage lasted an hour and a half, as it took in the entire back of my body, Allison says a 30-minute session once or twice a week is suitable for problems in a specific area of the body.
In the long term if used regularly, practitioners believe, Tui Na can play a part in preventing illness and in anti-ageing. While keeping muscles supple, joints flexible and balancing the energies of the body, it also initiates the body’s own healing mechanisms.