Cupping and gua sha are two manual techniques that are used within the scope of Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat a variety of conditions from pain and tension to respiratory issues and digestive complaints.
The technique of cupping is simple. Generally, a specially made glass jar is used which is round and has a broad, flat edge. A flame is inserted briefly and rapidly into the jar; this is not enough to heat the jar but sufficient to heat the air in the jar and burn the oxygen. This has the effect of creating a partial vacuum. If the jar is quickly placed onto the skin, usually the back or belly, the vacuum causes the jar to stick to the skin. It will pull a quantity of skin and underlying tissue inside the rim of the cup. Effectively what is happening is the cup is acting like a local pump. By drawing on the tissues, the cupping automatically draws on or mobilises the local fluids and tissues to encourage blood flow and promote healing.
Cups will usually leave a bruise which will itself be indicative of the level of congestion or invasion of the local tissues. You will be able to observe through the glass jar an immediate discoloration of the skin: a red colour indicates Heat; dark red/purplish indicates chronic Heat and/or stagnant Blood; a white sheen is indicative of Cold; moisture gathering in the jar indicates the presence of Damp. Occasionally blistering will occur which is generally indicative of depletion of Qi. The bruise will disperse gradually over a few days; darker bruising may take a week or ten days to fade completely.
Guasha is the technique of scraping the body with a hard object. Its purpose is to stimulate the circulation and thereby to disperse inflammation or Heat in the body. As with Cupping Technique, Guasha is a folk medicine technique and is very common throughout China and South East Asia.
The technique is usually, but not always, applied with oil in order to minimise discomfort. The main site to apply Guasha is the back. The skin should be scraped with the Guasha tool fairly firmly but not excessively. If the tissues are distinctly congested or inflamed a crimson/red bruising will appear fairly quickly. This bruising is referred to as the Sha. A distinct, dark Sha indicates very inflamed tissues or areas of excess Heat. A mild Sha will appear as only a pinkish red flush with perhaps a few flecks of crimson. As with cupping, gua sha bruises can last a couple of days to a week before dispersing.