Chinese medical massage, known to many in the West as tui-na (a transliteration of one of the Chinese words for massage), is a major part of Chinese medicine, with most TCM hospitals in China boasting standalone massage departments.
Because of China’s size and the length of its history, there is a huge variety of tui-na styles out there, ranging from the extremely soft and gentle to the vigorous and painful. Some styles employ tools, some employ oils or herbs, and some rely on nothing more than a single thumb. It is truly impossible to say which style is the best—partly this is a matter of personal preference, and more importantly, it is a matter of doctors’ personal development. Good tui-na relies on two things: one, the practitioner must have a strong physique and the right type of nei-gong cultivation (“internal skill”) to be able to activate patients’ qi through massage; secondly, the doctor must also have accumulated rich experience both in diagnosis and treatment. It is well-known in China that tui-na massage, when performed by a doctor of great skill, can be effective in the treatment of any disease, with even diabetes, cancer, and sometimes even childhood polio responding to massage. Why is this possible? Real tui-na does not simply loosen the tissues and joints where the doctor’s hands are working—it works on the level of qi, which means that it can promote healing deep in your zang-fu organs. Because of the meridian system, even gently massaging a single acupoint far away from the focal site of injury or illness can promote major healing.
Since the effectiveness of tui-na relies so much upon a doctor’s dedication to personal qi cultivation through nei-gong and his or her clinical experience, then it would be hard to answer the question, “is TCM massage right for my condition?” If you’re wondering if tui-na might work for you, well, the answer is yes, but the more complicated your condition, the more you will need a doctor of considerable talent. For simpler conditions like chronic pain and stiffness, however, there is no need to search to the ends of the earth for a healer with “magic hands that return us to springtime,” as the Chinese adage goes.
Note: not all traditional massage taught and practiced in China is TCM. Massage clinics abound all over China, to fulfill a variety of purposes. Some of them are strictly TCM establishments, where highly-trained doctors work at curing all types of illnesses. Other types of clinics are aimed towards promoting general health and relaxation, and so while their masseurs may have wonderful hand technique, they are not trained to diagnose and treat illness. Still other clinics are really just places to chill out, release some stress, and get a nice foot or shoulder rub. In some Chinatowns around the Western world, one can find all three of these types of clinics, and they may all use the word tui-na in their promotional materials. Therefore, be careful to make sure you’ve found a clinic with fully-trained TCM physicians offering tui-na massage before you make an appointment
(For tools and advice for finding TCM practitioners, click here)