Monday, May 18, 2015

What medium do you use for Chinese medical massage therapy?

In advance of a Summer garage sale coming up soon, I was going through a box that had not seen the light of day in far too long. (Anybody out there familiar with that experience?) In the process I discovered some notes from my first trip to China to study tuina (1983? 1984?). I'm really not a pack rat, so I figured there must be some good stuff in these notes. I had forgotten how much great information we were given by the wonderful doctors who were our teachers at that time and was especially struck by the depth of knowledge and experience reflected in these notes.

Thirty years later it's a good review (my goodness how much we forget) and I'm thinking about how to share all this material in a series blogs. I'm starting today with something simple but fun: the "herbal" aspect of massage therapy. Below is a short catalog of the various media that can be used with patients for various patterns. Many of these can be created in your kitchen. Others you can find at Whole Foods or similar stores, create from your clinic herb dispensary, or order on line. If you are serious tuina or anmo practitioner and are not using this aspect of our craft, you may want to take another look. I love this kind of stuff.


1. Ginger Juice– Good for treating children to dispel external pathogens from the exterior layers of the body. With adults use especially this for abdominal massage.

2. Cold water– for pediatric tuina in cases of fever

3. Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva) wood shavings– good for very young children or elderly patients with very tender skin. The slippery quality keeps the skin from being scraped, bruised, or chapped. In a powder form, it can be added to other oil or cream formulas for the treatment of eczema and various dermatitis conditions.

4. Talcum– not suggested. If you need a powder, consider corn starch with an appropriate herbal extract powder added for the specific pattern the patient exhibits (cinnamon for cold conditions; huang qin for heat conditions, etc.)

5. Alcohol– to move the blood and dispel stasis, wind, cold, and/or damp. Also can lower a fever in an adult. Do not use with children. (Note: If you are worried about isopropyl alcohol, consider keeping a bottle of the highest-proof clear alcohol you can Everclear.)

6. Herbal tinctures– these can be endless and most people who do tuina have a favorite or two. I use Blue Poppy's Green Willow Liniment when I want a warming and moving effect, or Zheng Gu Shui when I want a cooling and moving effect. I've posted other recipes for liniments in the past, and you can of course find endless variations in the book Shaolin Secret Formulas for External Injury.

7. Green onion and ginger– mashed and soaked in Everclear for 2-4 weeks. Used for treating upper body in the case of common cold and especially good for pediatric tuina.

8.Cajeput oil– (Melaleuca leucadendron), a relative of Tea Tree, this oil is available online. It is resolvent and analgesic, can be used for injuries as well as on the chest for common cold and asthma, bronchitis, chest congestion.

9.Sesame oil– Lubricant, smooth, comforting, this oil relaxes the muscles and is a great base for creating your own musculoskeletal treatment oil with other herbs or essential oil added based upon the patient's patterns.

10. Conduction oil– The doctors at the hospital where I studied and worked created this from equal parts cajeput oil, glycerine, turpentine, alcohol. and distilled water. It requires shaking (sort of like a vinegar and oil dressing) prior to use.

11. Zhanjindan (muscle stretching powder)– made from extract granules or powders in a mortar and pestle this powder is for tight, constricted, painful musculature with both stagnation of qi and blood stasis. It moves the blood, recitfies the qi, and stops pain.
• Mo Yao, 2 parts
• Ru Xiang, 2 parts
• Hong hua, 1 part
• Xue Jie, 1/2 part
• Camphor and borneol, 1/2 part each

12. Cinnamon oil– This is either an essential oil or you can make it with sesame oil and cinnamon extract. This is for treating any condition caused by cold.

How long has it been since you considered some new and different massage media for the various conditions that your patients may present? I know that I get easily into a rut, using only one or two oils or liniments. Of course you can use this information flexibly, adding various herbal extracts to your favorite oil or to alcohol base. But if using these can make us more effective at caring for our patients, it's pretty easy to give some of these a try.

Next time: Basics of Tuina and What Does Tuina Treat Best?

Thanks for reading.


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  2. Wow, thank you. This is exactly what I was looking for today :) pretty serendipitous.

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