To those who’ve experienced both acupressure and Shiatsu, a Tui Na session may seem like a cross between the two. Like Shiatsu, Tui Na uses rhythmic compression along energy channels of the body, as well as a variety of techniques that manipulate and lubricate the joints. Like acupressure, Tui Na directly affects the flow of energy by holding and pressing the body at acupressure points.
To a Westerner, Tui Na is the form of Asian bodywork most closely resembling conventional western massage. Many of the techniques are similar — gliding (known as effleurage or Tui), kneading (petrissage or Nie), percussion (tapotement or Da), friction, pulling, rotation, rocking, vibration, and shaking. Despite the similarities, the intent of Tui Na is more specifically therapeutic than the simple relaxation of a Swedish-style massage. (See Tui Na Massage: Rebalancing Your Energy, Tui Na Acupressure Self Massage, and Tui Na Resources.)
One of Tui Na’s advantages over simple massage is its ability to focus on specific problems, especially chronic pain associated with the muscles, joints, and skeletal system. It’s especially effective for joint pain (such as arthritis), sciatica, muscle spasms, and pain in the back, neck, and shoulders. It also helps chronic conditions such as insomnia, constipation, headaches (including migraines), and the tension associated with stress.
Tui Na does not simply work on the muscles, bones, and joints. It works with the energy of the body at a deeper level. As the practitioner senses the client’s body with her hands, she is able to assess the distribution of energy and affect its flow.
As with other styles of Asian bodywork, Tui Na is designed to prevent problems, not just correct them. By keeping the body’s energy in balance, health is maintained. This is true not just for physical health, but for mental and emotional well-being as well.
Tui Na, which dates back to 1700 BC, is the parent of most modern Asian bodywork forms. Like all forms of Chinese Medicine — indeed all forms of traditional Chinese culture — the practice of Tui Na in China suffered during the political and social upheavals of the 20th century. In 1929, the Chinese government instituted a policy eliminating the “old” medicine. In 1936, Chinese Medicine was denounced as having no scientific foundation and its practice was banned.
Tui Na survived as a popular form of healing among the general Chinese population, who have long practiced Anmo. Anmo is the general term for massage in Chinese, whereas Tui Na is a more specialized term indicating practices based on the theories of Chinese medicine.
After the Communist Revolution in 1949, the policy against traditional medicine changed, and the tradition of Chinese medicine was encouraged. There were further setbacks, however, during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s.
The style of Tui Na practiced in China today is closer to the work of chiropractors, osteopaths, and physical therapists than to that of massage therapists. It’s taught as a separate but equal field of study in schools of Traditional Chinese Medicine, requiring the same level of training as acupuncturists and herbalists.
As Tui Na has migrated to the West and become popular, the style of work has been modified. Most western trained Tui Na practitioners do not do “bone setting,” as do their counterparts in China. Western style Tui Na can be thought of as a therapeutic extension of western massage, with an emphasis on restoring and balancing energy.