Chinese neighbourhoods always, always have at least one (if not many) traditional Chinese massage parlour. These places are more or less treated as health clinics rather than a place for relaxation. Chinese medicine is so ingrained in people’s everyday living, that the line between masseuse and doctor is often a little blurry. You will no doubt visit one of these parlours during your stay in China and it will no doubt become a part of your daily life, so we have compiled a list of 5 must try treatments.
- Anmo / Tuina (massage)
In Chinese the word for massage is anmo, although traditional Chinese massage is mostly referred to as tuina. Tui means to “push” and na means “to hold or grasp”. Tuina is much more than just massage. It is a physical therapy designed to stimulate Qi (life force energy), by activating meridian and acupressure points. Traditional Chinese massage attempts to bring the eight principals of Chinese medicine back into balance. The first few times you receive a Chinese massage will be painful. However, persevere and you will be joining the locals for your weekly tuina session in no time!
2. Guasha (scraping)
With guasha we get a little deeper into Chinese medicinal therapy. Guasha is a treatment that uses the blunt side of a bone comb to stimulate blood flow. To the Chinese, if the body is ill, aching or blocked, this means blood is not effectively flowing where is should. Gua means “to scrape” and Sha means “acute disease” (in this case bruise).
Practitioners will take the blunt side of a comb made from bone, jade or wood, rub “spice oil” on your back or throat (or affected area) and scrape downwards. The practitioner will continue scraping down and down until the skin turns red and shows signs of tissue damage.
The procedure does not hurt. It lasts for around 15 minutes and is believed to cure many illnesses such as the common cold, flu and muscle pain. Be warned, you will be left with scary bruising on your back that will last around a week.
3. Bahuoguan (cupping)
Very similar to scraping, cupping is believed to stimulate stagnant blood flow and dispel stagnant areas of the lymphatic area. Again, it is used to treat people with common everyday illnesses such as the cold, flu or bronchitis and is helpful for muscle pain. Recently popular with western athletes, cupping has made a scene for itself in the West. Hence, most foreigners are more likely to have cupping done over scraping.
Practitioners will use either wooden, plastic or glass cups for the treatment. The patient will lie face down with their top off. If the cups are glass or wooden they are generally heated with a naked flame first and then placed onto the skin, this creates a sucking action that sucks the skin up into the cups. If the cups are plastic the cups will be placed on the skin and the practitioner will use a pump to suck air out of them. Once all the cups are on the patient is left alone for around 15 minutes. Again, this procedure is painless and you will be left with circular bruising for at least a couple of days.
4. Zuliao (reflexology / foot massage)
A traditional Chinese foot massage is possibly one of the most therapeutic treatments you can have. The Chinese believe that all the organs of the body are accessible for stimulation via the feet. Most parlours will have attached to their walls a foot diagram showing all the organs and where they are on the feet. It is believed that by stimulating every organ via the feet you are sending signals throughout the entire body for Qi to ignite and irrigate your system. Traditional Chinese foot massages are relaxing, comfortable and very rejuvenating.
5. Aijiu (moxibustion / mugwort – artemisia burning)
Moxibustion therapy is Chinese medicine TCM to the tee! This is a therapy used by doctors, parlour practitioners and can even be used at home. This is a therapy that consists of burning the dried mugwort plant close to the affected area of the body. TCM doctors will likely use this in conjunction with acupuncture. At a massage parlour it will just be used after massage.
To give an example, if you have an upset stomach it could be thought that your body is out of whack, meaning your Yin or Yang is compromised. In Chinese medicine balance is important. It will be assumed that your body has too much Yang energy and that you need to increase your Yin energy in order to restore balance. By using massage, acupuncture and moxibustion it is believed this can happen.
The dried and finely ground mugwort herb is shaped into a thick stick. It is then lit on fire and the heat from the plant is directed toward the ailment in the body, in this case the stomach, 2 or 3 inches away. The practitioner will keep it at this distance and in a circular motion for 20 minutes. The procedure rids the body of excess damp, help blood flow and restore healthy Qi. If it gets too hot, tell the practitioner and they will move it back a little. Expect to come out smelling like a bonfire.
- It is best to find a parlour that employs blind masseuse. From our experience they are the best at massage. They feel what they can’t see and often times can spot your ailment before you’ve even said anything.
- Many parlours employ young uni students. They are likely to play on their phones while massaging you, as a paying customer you’re within your rights to ask them not to. Your massage will be better if they don’t.
- The Chinese do not view massage as a relaxing experience. So they are likely to chat loudly and make a lot of noise throughout your treatment. Don’t expect a relaxing atmosphere as this is a place of healing before relaxation.
- Do not go into a massage parlour if it has a pink neon light in the front. These massages come with a happy ending!