Traditional holistic healing techniques from the East are fast being adopted by the modern West to address a range of skin and healthcare concerns. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has incorporated self-massage and tools to gently manipulate the body and skin for thousands of years, but the recent revival of these timeless techniques has sparked a new trend in the beauty and skincare industries, that sees jade rollers, facial cupping instruments and gua sha tools in the hands and Instagram handles of celebrities and influencers alike. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is a fad to soon fall by the wayside – with proven results and benefits for a range of healthcare concerns, these ancient tools of the trade are sure to help keep ourselves radiant and healthy for thousands of years to come.
TCM: Rooted in Balance
TCM places huge importance on the powerful roles that balance and harmony play in health and wellbeing – most of us at some point will have been exposed to the symbolism of yin and yang. The ancient Chinese observed the cyclical patterns of nature, and realised that all parts of the universe are interrelated. This presents human kind as not separate to all life, but as a microcosmic reflection of a much greater whole that encompasses all the forces of nature. This life force, or vital energy, is qi (pronounced ‘chee’).
Through massage and physical manipulation, qi is able to flow more freely through the energy channels (or meridian lines) of the body. By regulating the movement of qi, imbalances within the body can be corrected to enhance overall health and wellbeing; as TCM views optimal health as being in a state of complete balance and harmony, this aim to rebalance and re-centre makes complete sense.
The Harmony of the Internal and External
The resurgence of interest in recent years in ancient holistic healing practices highlights our modern-day need to nourish and connect with our being on a deeper level. TCM has a guiding philosophy where external beauty is directly connected with the internal mental and physical states of our bodies; Chinese medicine treats the mind and body as a whole and believes that one affects the other, differing to modern Western medicine which treats the body and health in isolated and disparate terms.
In TCM, the idea of yang sheng, or “nourishing life,” is integral to health and wellbeing. This act of self-care and adoption of simple, regular rituals – such as massaging the skin or practicing mindful meditation – balances the entire being and brings about a state of overall wellness. This is particularly important in modern life, where the fast pace and never-ending to-do lists make it even more essential to take time out for ourselves to ground and connect.
TCM and Facial Self-Massage
Self-massage, in particular facial self-massage, is a fantastic way to create a daily ritual of self-care and nourishment, taking time to focus purely on yourself and your state of being. In TCM, the face and facial features act as portals through which one can ascertain the underlying health of the entire person, the face reflecting the history of your physical, mental and emotional state. Gentle relaxation and manipulation of the facial muscles are such powerful techniques that have far-reaching benefits for all aspects of health.
Benefits of Facial Self-Massage
In terms of the benefits for skin health, experts argue that facial massage can smooth unwanted expression lines, release puffiness, and lead to a more contoured, chiseled face. Facial massage increases circulation and blood flow, brightening and firming the skin and promoting collagen production.
Facial massage also benefits one’s emotional health, helping to release tension and stress – the jaw, face and neck are all key areas that store tension, through jaw clenching and teeth grinding, to headaches and stiff shoulders.
Below are three tools used in TCM and adapted to fit our modern Western world, that can help you create a sanctuary of self-care within your own home and bring about vitality, health and overall wellbeing.
Used in China as a facial massage tool since approximately the 17th century, jade has long been considered a truly majestic stone by Chinese royalty. In Chinese medicine, jade is referred to as the ‘stone of heaven’ and represents health, wealth, longevity and prosperity.
Beautiful and glowing skin was believed to be a reflection of healthy qi, with jade rollers helping to encourage the healthy flow of qi throughout the face and body. In Western modern medicinal terms, jade rolling increases micro-circulation within the skin, which brings more oxygenated blood to the facial muscles to boost the texture, tone and clarity of the complexion. Jade rolling also reduces puffiness and inflammation, increases and improves lymphatic drainage, and helps flatten out fine lines and wrinkles.
How to use it
To use a jade roller for a facial self-massage, start by applying a moisturiser or oil to make sure there is enough slip that the tool does not drag the skin at all. Always roll upwards and in one direction – never roll up and down. Repeat up to five upward rolls in each area. First, roll outwards under the jawline. Then use the roller to roll out, towards the hairline, under the cheekbones and along them. Lastly, roll flat along the brows and then upwards on the forehead.
Gua sha, also known as ‘skin scraping’ or ‘coining’, involves the use of a gua sha tool – an angled flat stone, usually made of crystal, bone or horn. In the modern day, gua sha tools are usually made from jade, believed to have restorative, detoxifying properties, or rose quartz, prized for its relaxing, cooling characteristics.
The tool is stroked or circled across the skin, working to improve circulation of blood and lymphatic fluid, boosting collagen and elastin within the skin. Gua sha is an effective way to release tension and stress held in our face, helping to alleviate furrowed brows or clenched jaws.
How to use it
To incorporate a gua sha tool into your self-care routine, remember to always use with an oil or lubricant, never on bare skin. Hold the gua sha tool with the curved side to your face and glide it gently up and out, starting with the neck, jawline, chin and around the mouth, between three and five times per area. Always take short strokes in just one direction, not back and forth. Next, press the tool flat to the skin, under the eyes or over any redness, to soothe and de-puff. Work the tool in small horizontal strokes over the brow bone to lift, or hold and press upwards between the brows to release tension. Stroke down the neck, never upwards, to drain fluid.
Facial cupping might sound odd, but don’t be fooled by the name (or the strange appearance!) This tool is another great way to massage the facial muscles and increase health and vitality. Facial cupping therapy uses small, silicone cups (or sometimes small glass cups). The cups are carefully squeezed before being applied to the skin, creating a gentle vacuum or suction which, when placed on the skin, draws it gently inside the cup. It is then moved across the face before being released.
Acupuncturists and practitioners of TCM argue that using facial cups creates a lot of space between the soft tissue and skin, increasing blood flow and oxygen supply through the vacuum action of the tool. This increased blood flow oxygenates the surrounding tissue, giving a healthier, more even tone to the skin. Not only does the increase in circulation and blood flow help to create a healthy, glowing complexion, but it is also critical for the efficient removal of waste products, including free radicals, from skin cells. Free radicals are unstable, reactive compounds that cause oxidative stress within our bodies, which can be a contributing factor to aging, dull and tired skin. Facial cupping also works to regenerate aging skin by increasing the number of fibroblasts. Fibroblasts are responsible for the production of collagen, an essential protein that maintains the structure and elasticity of skin. As collagen production naturally drops with age, facial cupping is a great way to boost this.
How to do it
To use facial cups at home is easier than you may think; leading acupuncturists and aestheticians state that it doesn’t matter which part of the face you start with, as long as the cup is always moving across the skin, working from the centre of the face and moving outwards and upwards to create lift. The main points of the face to address are the jawline, sides of the mouth, cheekbones, brows and forehead. Go over each area a few times until a small amount of heat is felt on the skin.
It is clear that ancient techniques and approaches to health and wellbeing are making a recent revival as effective tools to tackle the stressors and challenges of modern-day life. Combining traditional knowledge with scientific understanding allows us to delve deeper and discover our own powers to heal the body and improve our state of health. Jade rollers, gua sha stones and facial cups have stood the test of time, and are still inspiring people all over the world to engage in the act of yang sheng and promote a happier, healthier existence.
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Sarah Loker is a qualified yoga instructor, with experience working for a variety of brands in the holistic and wellness fields. She has organised and managed various yoga and wellness retreats, events and workshops, and is inspired by sharing timeless, holistic wisdom with others. She’s passionate about the earth, nature and all that life has to offer, always striving to live harmoniously with the planet. She has an adventurous soul, with a love for travel and exploring new cultures. Her main goals are to live happily and healthily, whilst empowering others to connect on a deeper level with themselves and the world around them.