The concept of Qi – body energy that is stored in the blood – is a fundamental aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Massaging your meridians – the paths through which Qi flows – to improve their fluidity will boost your vitality; blockage of the meridians leads to fatigue and ill health.
I describe below a few examples of massages I’ve developed which are simple to do and safe for people without training in massage techniques to practise. While massages are generally intended to relax muscles, my programme focuses on improving meridian fluidity. My new book The User’s Manual for the Human Body: How Traditional Chinese Medicine helps the body heal itself clearly explains why massage can make a real difference to our health. Moreover, a video showing the massages in action can be viewed following the weblink at the end of this article.
Massage 1: hair combing
The practice of hair combing as part of a healthy-living regimen has been around in China for hundreds of years. Several important meridians pass through the head. At the centre of the head lies the Du meridian (known as the ‘governing vessel’ as it influences all the others) and close beside it on each side the two bladder meridians, which are important for the drainage of wastes from the body. On both sides of the head, running above the ears, lie the gallbladder meridians, which are important for healthy absorption of nutrients. Before combing, we need to make sure that we have chosen a suitable comb or brush. It is important to find one that can deliver a firm yet gentle pressure. The tip of the comb must not be pointy or sharp as it may damage the scalp.
Comb along these five meridians (Du, two bladder and two gallbladder meridians) according to the direction of flow; they all travel in the same direction, from the front of the head towards the back. Thus, it is important that we comb the hair only in that one direction rather than back and forth. Comb 100 times on each meridian for a total of 500. To increase comfort during the combing process, we can add certain essential oils to the scalp to lubricate the comb. I recommend all-natural herbal oil as we want to avoid any chemicals and those with healing properties are best of all.
Massage 2: shoulder massage
Hair combing can be done alone, but all back massages require a partner. The gallbladder meridian is important for TCM healthy living because, as I have said, it governs the absorption of nutrients. It runs from the sides of the head, left and right, along the sides of the neck, shoulders and body.
Have the person receiving the massage lie face down on the bed and move their body towards the top of the bed until their head is outside the edge of the bed so they can lie completely flat but without squashing their face. Massage the shoulders in this position, working on both simultaneously if using your hands. Apply massage oil prior to the massage to avoid damaging the skin. Massage 30 strokes on each shoulder, starting from the centre of the neck and moving towards the outside edge of the shoulder.
Massage 3: Du meridian massage
This massage helps to unblock and improve energy flow in the ‘governing vessel’ as it runs down the back and interconnects with other meridians. Have the person move back down the bed. Apply massage oil and massage the centre of the back (over the spine) starting from bottom of the neck (Da Zhui point in Figure 6.3) and going down towards the tailbone. The direction of the massage is very important. We should always massage in a top-down direction as that is the direction in which the meridian flows. Repeat the massage 30 times.
Massage 4: Bladder meridian massage
The main part of the two bladder meridians lies on the back of the body. The bladder meridians are of particular importance for TCM healthy living as they govern the waste removal process for all the meridians. So, by improving the fluidity of the bladder meridians, we can improve the fluidity of all the meridians and their ability to remove wastes.
With the person receiving the massage in the same position, apply massage oil and massage both bladder meridians, which run down the back on either side of the Du meridian. Repeat the massage 30 times on each side. If any area becomes red during the massage, you may massage these areas further after the initial 30 times as this redness implies there is a blockage that needs extra attention.
The entire programme of back massages (shoulders, Du and bladder meridians) should take around 10 minutes to complete. When practised daily they will achieve noticeable results in two to three months.
Massage 5: Pericardium meridian massage
The two pericardium meridians influence blood flow and are located on the centre line of the inner arms. Apply massage oil to the arm and use your thumb. Start massaging from the upper arm (this is called the Tianquan meridian point) towards the end of the middle finger. Repeat the massage 10 to 20 times on each arm.
After all massages, it is common to see redness appear near the massaged areas. The redness signifies blockage in the meridian and it will appear less often once the fluidity of the associated meridian has improved. Over time – several months generally – the massages will be associated with improvements in health and vitality and the disappearance of symptoms as the body finds the resources to heal itself.
Alex Wu is the author of A User’s Manual for the Human Body: How Traditional Chinese Medicine helps the body heal itself. Published by Hammersmith Health Books on 29th January.