One of the oldest forms of Chinese bodywork, which dates back to the Shang dynasty around 1700 bce, Tuina, originally a form known as Yi Zhi Chan Tuina came into prominence when chi energy work was becoming an important part of the traditional Taoist medical practices of Anmo, or Gaomo. By around 650 ce, Tuina had developed into a separate, distinct course of study at the Imperial Medical College. It was during that time that Tuina replaced Anmo as the primary form of bodywork practiced within China. It was often the case that blind people with their heightened sense of touch were practitioners of this therapy. Today, Tuina practices flourish in China and are spreading worldwide.
The therapeutic practice facilitates the healing of specific health problems by regulating and harmonizing the circulation of chi energy and blood throughout the body. With a proper flow of energy, the body is able to function properly, resist disease, and heal itself. The primary focus of the therapy is on acupressure points and energy meridians, although soft-tissue work is used to realign joints and improve the musculoskeletal relationship. Tuina actually means “to push, lift, and grasp,” yet a great variety of techniques are used during a treatment, ranging from light, soothing sedating strokes to deep, invigorating tissue work. These manipulations can be applied in different directions, either with or against the flow of energy or spiraling inward or outward in different directions from an energy center. Each method has different effects. Rolling methods are used directly on sprains and areas with structural problems to loosen the muscles and open the channels. For example, in Gun Fa, physical injuries or sprains are treated as the back of the hand is rotated rapidly back and forth over the skin, acting like a rolling pin. In Chan Fa, the fingers apply pressure by pushing on specific acupressure points. Formerly used for the rapid revival of people injured in martial-arts combat, Chan Fa now addresses a number of internal dysfunctions.
Practitioners of Tuina approach a treatment with awareness of the breath and of the action of the chi energy contained in their hands. The local, nearby, and distant points on the various energy channels stimulated in a treatment are the same as those used in Acupuncture. The controlled use of very deep, moving pressure is one of the key points of Tuina massage. Quite often a practitioner will use slow, deep, circular pressure that zeros in on a particular point for a moment before moving to repeat this same action at another location. The direction of the circular movement is opposite for men and women. A specific pattern of hand movements is used when manipulating the meridians and points on the recipient’s body, and the effects of the work are meant to continue down through the different layers of tissue to the internal organs. The full-body treatment applies yang techniques to expel stagnant chi and activate the flow, whereas yin techniques calm and relax. Various techniques, similar to those used in present-day Shiatsu, may be employed to help loosen the muscles.
After firm but gentle kneading to open up the flow of chi, Tuina treatments incorporate vigorous rhythmic manipulations of the body using finger pressure to stimulate the chi energy by pushing and pulling. In addition, rolling, rocking, kneading, twisting, lifting, beating, patting, shaking, vibrating, pounding, scrubbing, squeezing, pressing, rotating, rubbing, waving, dragging, and grasping techniques are used to stimulate acupressure points and disperse and smooth out obstructions. Various manipulation techniques such as rolling soft tissue, one-finger pushing, and Acupressure are used for treating internal disorders. Through its numerous manipulations, Tuina establishes a more harmonic flow of chi in the whole body by balancing yin and yang; restoring deficient chi or removing excess chi; regulating, smoothing and promoting the flow of chi and blood; and improving organ functioning. Certain lubricants such as talcum powder, sesame oil, holly leaf oil, and other herbal emulsions may also be applied, especially if excessive friction from rubbing and stroking may occur. External herbal poultices, compresses, liniments, and salves may also be used during a session to enhance the healing effect.
An ancient subspecialty of Tuina known as Bone Setting realigns musculoskeletal and ligament relationship by using soft-tissue massage with the arms and hands, stimulation of acupressure points, and other manipulations. It is used primarily for injury management in cases of broken bones, dislocations, or nerve pain.
Today, Tuina clinics are found in all Chinese hospitals and is gaining recognition in America. Of all the different schools of Tuina that have developed over the years, the Yi Zhi Chan form is most prevalent today. It concentrates on the twelve regular meridians and the two meridians in the great central channel, the points along them, ashi pain points, and nonfixed channel points. The complete therapy may include self-massage, dietary plans, detoxifying herbs, and exercise, and special forms of Tuina can be used to treat both infant and adult digestive problems. Tuina is a highly refined system of medical massage designed to treat specific dysfunctions, particularly chronic disorders or sites of pain, and is not intended for those seeking a mild, relaxing massage.