What is Tui Na Anyway?

Tui Na (pronounced “Twee-Nah”), which is gaining popularity in the West, is an ancient system of massage thought to be the world’s oldest form of bodywork. Forming one of the four branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), alongside Acupuncture, Qi Gong and Chinese Herbal Medicine, it’s still practised in Chinese hospitals to this day.

In China, Tui Na is used to bring the kind of drug-free therapeutic benefit that in the West would require visits to chiropractors, osteopaths and physiotherapists. That the Chinese Olympic squad receives regular Tui Na sessions for recovery, rehabilitation from injury and to maintain its athletes’ phenomenal performance rate is surely testament to what it can do!

Of course, you don’t need to be an elite athlete to benefit from Tui Na’s powerful effects. Injury, overuse, repetitive movement, poor posture, stress, inactivity and age-related wear and tear all take their toll. From the Powerlifter’s quest to find their One Rep Max; the Couch to 25K’er; the Fran or Murph-bustin’ CrossFitter; the Zoom Yogis; people with age or disability-related mobility issues; heavy manual workers (my partner has worked in the construction industry for 27 years, and swears by his weekly Tui Na); along with those of us who lead largely sedentary lives, amplified all the more by 2020’s COVID-19 flavoured “work from home, stay at home” restrictions…we’re all susceptible to musculoskeletal injuries or pain.

Even anxiety, stress and heightened tension can feed their deleterious effects into our poor muscles, joints and tendons. Joints become stiff and painful. Eventually we become trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle of impaired range of movement, leading to problems in surrounding structures if they’ve had to compensate  for the joint’s compromised function to try to stabilise and protect it from further harm.

Literally translated, Tui (push) Na (grasp) utilises unique techniques such as kneading, palpation, rolling, squeezing, rocking, plucking, vibration, shaking, percussion and rubbing across the muscle fascia. It’s certainly an active experience, characterised by movement and targeted pressure that increases and deepens as the session progresses. Shoes are removed but clothing stays on, as it does with Thai Massage and, generally, the use of oil isn’t necessary.

What can Tui Na do for me?

So while it’s fair to say that Tui Na might not be the bodywork bag of choice for those looking for a more ‘Zen spa’ vibe from their massage – it’s not uncommon to feel some soreness after an initial session – don’t dismiss it out of hand. The rhythmic quality of a Tui Na treatment fosters a sense of deep relaxation. I can attest that during my training, one of our fellow students would drift into a deep slumber during practice sessions; his departure announced by the impressive volume of his snores drifting across the room.

Others report feeling energised and leave with a spring in their step. Because unlike western massage therapies, Tui Na goes even further than treating just the physical body. TCM is founded on the philosophy that optimum health and well being depends on harmony and balance in all things.

Thus, the raft of massage techniques used in Tui Na includes targeted acupressure to specific ‘acupoints’. These are the same points on the body where a practitioner of Chinese Acupuncture would insert needles with the intention of removing blockages that inhibit the free flow of our essential Life Force; our Qi. And there are more than 350 of them! Whether these acupoints are massaged by the Tui Na Therapist or stimulated by the acupuncture needle, the effect is the same; the specific type of Qi – the “Ying Qi” – that sits in our major meridians (the 12 invisible energetic pathways that criss-cross our bodies) is stimulated.

The meridians and their acupoints charted on this model

Clients are often surprised when the Tui Na practitioner works in areas that seem remote from where they feel the source of their physical pain and discomfort originates. But with blockages cleared and our blood, bodily fluids, Qi and other energetic substances able to flow freely to all parts of our bodies, Tui Na is a fantastic treatment to help in the maintenance of our general health, as well as to treat specific physical conditions, including: sports injuries, back, shoulder, knee, hip, and tendon problems. It’s also particularly helpful in the treatment of those troublesome conditions that seem to be so deeply embedded in our modern society: headaches and migraine, stress & anxiety, insomnia and poor sleep, digestive problems and chronic health conditions such as Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

There might be certain conditions for which Tui Na massage wouldn’t be suitable. People with osteoporosis who are more vulnerable to fractures, or those with new fractures, shouldn’t receive Tui Na, along with those suffering from certain chronic back conditions such as Ankylosing Spondylitis. Equally, people with open wounds and severe eczema should avoid this type of massage. So if you’re intrigued and thinking of giving Tui Na a go, be ready to provide a detailed picture of yourself to the Tui Na therapist, who’s likely to take more than a keen interest in where you are with your state of health and sense of general well being.

If you’re prepared to embrace and commit to just a few sessions of this powerful and unique form of therapeutic massage, you could find yourself becoming hooked!

Tui Na in progress at Wood Tiger Therapies

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