I mentioned some of the differences between Eastern and Western massage in the post about my visit to Jinan, China. In this article I will go into greater detail.
For starters, there are clear separations for the types of care and treatment in the U.S. As an example, massage practitioners are not permitted to do any kind of spinal manipulations. Spinal manipulation is treated as a different medical practice and requires different certifications and licensing. The U.S. is a very litigious society and lawyers have made many basic human interactions fraught with the possibility of being sued. The medical field is a frequent target of frivolous legal actions by gold-diggers and their opportunistic lawyers.
From my Chinese experience (a series of 5 massage treatments over 10 days) Wang Yan, the young woman who treated me, is exceptionally strong and adept in her art. She knows the structure of the human body and understands application of various techniques to improve circulation and relax tensions. For the more serious or more sensitive techniques of spinal and neck manipulations the owner (a blind man) is brought in. He employed one technique that I enjoyed, though it is abrupt. Near the end of a 60 minute massage, the doctor slips a towel under the back of the head as the massage recipient lay face up. He then snaps the towel in such a way that the neck is stretched and pressure released from the spine. There is an audible series of “cracks’ and “pops” and an immediate release of tension in the neck area. Amazing!…and probably dangerous as hell if done incorrectly! Another traditional technique used to alleviate pain and improve circulation is called cupping. The process incorporates the use of hot glass cups placed on the area to be treated and done in a way so as to create a suction effect on the skin. This suction is strong enough to cause an intense red or purple blood blister. I’ve had “wet cupping” before in relation with acupuncture treatments. Wet cupping is actually a form of blood-letting and believed to be helpful to draw out the stagnant blood, but most Westerners don”t like this type of treatment. This method was called dry cupping and the welts that remained were there for a full week. I enjoyed the massage treatments and believed these practitioners were worthy of the trust necessary to include the spinal manipulations as part of my treatment. However, this is not the type of massage you would expect to find in the U.S.
In addition to the massage treatments, I also scheduled time for a general health diagnosis from two different traditional Chinese medical doctors. One of whom was an acupuncturist as well. The acupuncture practitioner is Jin Hui Tang and her type of acupuncture was quite different from any treatments I have experienced in the U.S. In this practice, there were only a couple of needles used in my hand. My experience in the U.S. doctors use many more needles over the entire body. When I have receive acupuncture at home the doctor often uses more than 50 needles. My two acupuncture sessions in Jinan the doctor used only two needles each time.
A side note for Westerners — In the west acupuncturists use only sterilized and disposable needles. I was warned about some Chinese acupuncturists re-using needles. The doctor I visited used disposable needles. The primary concern with used needles is the likely transmission of some form of hepatitis. While I have been vaccinated for A and B strains of the virus, there is no vaccine for Hep. C. There are also plenty of other diseases that can be spread via blood.
The doctor in China applied the two needles and then began to probe and rotate and manipulate them. This caused a degree of discomfort so that I became a little light-headed. However, I experienced a striking difference in an area of my body that has plagued me with intermittent pain for more than 2 decades. This acupuncturist insisted that she would have me feeling infinitely better if she had two weeks to work on me. I may take her up on that offer at some point in the future.
It was interesting that after a seemingly tertiary examination and a brief chat on two separate occasions with two different doctors, they each said I had an issue with my spleen. To which I replied, “What does the spleen do?” I know it had something to do with the liver, but really had no idea what the function of the spleen was. I noted that I should investigate when I return home. As a matter of prudence I also took the custom mixed medicines that were recommended. One of them was a horrible concoction that looked like greenish muddy water and tasted like vomit. Compounding the disgusting matter of taste issue was that this brew was to be served warm. Ugh! Some of the other stuff is actually quite tasty mixed in with my porridge and another is a tasty beverage for upset stomach.
Another form of massage that is common in the Orient called Gua sha. Using this technique the skin is scraped to the degree that light bruising occurs. It is most frequently used as a form of self massage. The theory is similar to the cupping idea in that aggressive stimulation of the surface area is believed to release stagnant or unhealthy elements caused by previous injury. One of my lovely students in Jinan gave me a Gua sha tool and some information about its use. I will be trying it out next time I am feeling a little muscle tension.
These are some of the differences I have noticed between Eastern and Western massage and acupuncture treatment.
At the conclusion of my final treatment, I was grateful for the experience and though, I would rather have not incurred any injury, I am fortunate to have been provided some relief from the internal bruisingI sustained nearly two weeks earlier– While falling on the Great Wall.