If you want to take control of your own health, self-care practices are a great way to go. Knowing how to support the natural healing processes of your body and understanding how the body works can help you feel better in a natural way without using any medications or drugs. Maintenance of the smooth flow of lymph in your body is the best way to enhance your immune system as we enter the flu and cold season. Do you have kids who come home from school with runny noses every fall? Now, we will share with you a DIY and easy way to boost your lymphatic system so you can defend yourself and your loved ones against those nasty germs and bugs: Gua Sha.
The Lymphatic System
This system is composed of the tonsils, thymus gland, spleen, lymph nodes and glands. The lymphatic system does not use a pump to move the lymph fluids unlike the circulatory system. It solely relies on the body’s movement in order for it to flow. This system plays a very important role in the body’s immune function and oftentimes it’s referred to as the immune system. The cells of our body are bathed through the lymphatic system and it carries away the cellular waste from the tissues to the blood in our body, wherein it is filtered by the two primary detoxification organs of the body: the kidneys and liver. Those toxins are made up of pesticides, food additives, airborne pollutants, cigarette poisons, illegal drugs, prescription and over-the counter drugs, byproducts of our bodily processes, and other kinds of toxins.
Organs that Make Up the Lymphatic System
According to the Ayurvedia, the traditional Indian science of life, the lymphatic system is considered the Rasa or the river of life. Our immune system is strong when lymph flow is strong, which makes us strong and able to resist infections and germs. As mentioned a while ago, to keep the lymphatic system flowing, it relies on external forces such as intentional massage or muscle movement.
Practicing a self-care therapy known as Gua Sha is a great way to maintain the smooth flow of lymph fluids. We learned this practice while studying Ayurveda from expert Chinese medicine practitioners.
What is Gua Sha?
An ancient bodywork method that can be used for pretty much anything to help strengthen immunity, gua sha is commonly used to treat your daily pains and aches from headaches to migraines and serious chronic ailments. It is intentionally used to “bruise” lightly the skin by utilizing a scraping procedure in order to detoxify the body. Gua sha therapy helps release accumulated waste in the body, stimulates healing and promotes the smooth flow of blood.
In English, “Gua” means to scrape, and “Sha” is the stuck chi and blood that interferes in the smooth flow of blood and energy. Gua sha helps move the fluids that carry metabolic waste which have built up in the muscles and tissues. “Sha” also pertains to the minute reddish hemorrhages known as petechiae (that look like a speckled reddish rash) that appear on the skin surface after Gua Sha therapy.
During this process, the practitioner uses a flat piece of stone, bone, or wood tool to move the lymph. This causes the release of stagnation and congestion along the energy channels of the body, resulting in the breakdown of scar tissue and the release of lactic acid from the muscles. The tool’s edge is thoroughly scraped across the surface of the skin, usually starting from hands to heart and from feet to heart. The rubbing can result in some sort of bruising due to the release of toxins from the skin. What practitioners have observed is that the bruising tends to decrease as the tissues of the patient gets stronger.
When and How to Use Gua Sha Therapy
You need not get treatment from an expensive body worker in order to derive the benefits of gua sha therapy. We very much recommend that you get your own gua sha tool and integrate this self-care healing technique into your daily practice. Gua sha tools made of bone can be easily purchased online. You may also create your own tool using a jar lid or a spoon.
Begin by observing whether your muscles feel knotty or tense. One indication of stagnation is a blanched spot after pushing down on tissue that turns pinkish in color and is slow to back up. Scrape along the tense parts of your body with your gua sha tool, always moving towards the heart’s direction. This will assist the movement of lymph in the proper direction. You may apply lubricating oil if it makes the treatment more comfortable. We recommend using olive oil, sesame oil, or coconut oil. Generate adequate friction to elevate the toxins that have risen to the surface of the skin to actually eliminate illness in the body. Slowly begin and don’t be shy. At first, it can feel extreme; eventually, however, you may find that you actually are enjoying the therapy.
For some people, gua sha therapy is much more fun when it is done in the bath. They rub the gua sha tool up their legs in vigorous strong strokes while taking a warm detox bath with either apple cider vinegar or epsom salts. A lot of people tend to experience stagnation in the back of their thighs so they work on those areas very well. For my part, due to sitting in the computer for long hours, I usually experience tension in the back of my neck and so I perform gua sha on my shoulder and the back of my neck, rubbing in a direction towards my heart.
But to get the best results, I seek the help of a friend to perform gua sha on regions that I can’t reach. A lot of people experience meaningful relief from having the therapy done on their back, either running the gua sha along the muscles themselves or along the sides of their spine.
Please don’t be scared if you see the appearance of significant reddening or bruising. This indicates that your body has a large build up toxins that needs to be removed. They will heal within two to three days. Slowly and surely, stick with it. It will eventually move.
Ni Nan Gilbert, L.Ac is a licensed acupuncturist in Bellmore, NY, and the founder of Ni Nan Healing Art Center.