Published in Vol 1 Issue 26 The Art of Healing

Eastern Massage Therapy is a holistic treatment based on the ancient principles and philosophies of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM views the human body quite differently to Western Medicine as it focuses on the movement of 'qi' or energy/life force through the body.

 In TCM, any problem within the body, an ache or pain or illness, is therefore seen as a disruption to the flow of qi. One of the best analogies for qi flow is to imagine water flowing along a pipe or hose. When there is a blockage or twist in the hose, the qi can not flow properly or smoothly. A treatment using the Tui Na metod of massage will remove any blocks and restore the flow of qi through the pathways.

All TCM treatments (including Tui Na, acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine or massage) is aimed at improving or balancing the qi. Qi flows along set pathways or meridians throughout the body and it is along these pathways that the TCM treatment is focused. 

An ancient Chinese myth states that their ancestors were the first to learn about energy meridians when soldiers on the battlefield noticed lines of glowing energy running through the severed limbs of their brothers-in-arms.

Today, we view meridians in a theoretical way, as invisible lines of energies which run along set pathways in the body. There are 14 meridians in the body and they generally run lengthways, from head to foot. They have direct correlations between body organs, energy levels, mood, immunity and cognition and can run from beginning to end, or from end to beginning, depending on the state of the client or patient and what the therapist is trying to achieve for them.


Tui Na dates back to the Shang Dynasty of China to 1700 BC. Here the roots of Tui Na were developed long before acupuncture, although the development of acupuncture meridian theory also allowed Tui Na to further evolve. Chinese massage was first known as “An wu”, then “An Mo” which means pushing and kneading. Today, the term Tui Na has replaced the original term of "An Mo" throughout China and the West, although "An Mo" is still used in some neighbouring Asian countries such as Japan.

In ancient China medical treatments were classified as either being of an internal or external in nature. Tui Na was one of the external treatments and as the art of massage developed, it spread through other Asian countries such as Korea and Japan. In around 700 AD, Tui Na had developed in to a separate course of study, and by the 1600’s it had emerged as a popular treatment option for infants and the elderly.

Tui Na is the Chinese form of remedial massage, and originally was used to treat children's diseases, the elderly and digestive complaints in adults.

This form of massage has the ability to work on a person’s physical, mental and internal energy levels simultaneously so it helps to build or replenish energy levels while also affecting the physical condition of the body. The term Tui Na means to push and grasp.

The Tui Na Technique

Gillian Staples is the Eastern massage therapist and Tui Na specialist on staff at Therapy Masters' clinic in Canberra. Gillian holds dual Diplomas in both Shiatsu and Tui Na. She says the key differences between Tui Na and Shiatsu (the Japanese style of massage therapy) are the application of the techniques. Tui Na is normally performed on a table through clothing or with a sheet between the client’s skin and the therapist’s hand. Shiatsu is performed on a floor mat, again through the clients clothing, but in this treatment style the client’s body is placed in to a stretched position prior to the area being palpated and manipulated.

Tui Na also varies from remedial massage by being able to treat the body holistically. For instance, remedial massage is applied to a specific body area – say the back or a leg, while Tui Na is applied along the length of the meridian. Even just treating one point on a meridian is beneficial to the entire meridian. Tui Na techniques are also more brisk and rapid than standard remedial techniques. They are generally applied as a series of pressing, tapping and kneading movements that are designed to remove blockages along the meridian, stimulate qi and blood flow, and promote healing.

It is from the application and location of the technique along the meridian and the speed that they are applied that allows the qi or energy flow to be stimulated and balanced.

Prior to treatment, a Tui Na therapist will take a detailed client history which will include more personal questions regarding your bodily functions. Your therapist will want to know about things such as your toilet habits - including a description of stools, frequency and colour of urine, sleeping habits, and details about your current appetite. They will also check the colour, coating and texture of your tongue and take your pulse at both wrists. This information helps the therapist to understand how qi is functioning and flowing in the body. They are then more able to aim their treatment at the areas of concern.

Many of the massage techniques of Tui Na are reminiscent of remedial massage, with the massage often beginning with rocking and compression techniques. During rocking the therapist gently moves the client’s body to-and-fro with their hands, while compressions are performed by the therapist pushing their weight through their arms and hands into the client’s body. Rocking and compressions allow the therapist to begin to know the client’s body and energy systems, and ease the client into the treatment.

One finger oscillations are also often applied to specific points. This is similar to the pressure applied to a trigger point in a remedial massage. However the vigorous circulation motion of the oscillation allows for the qi to be awakened. Hand rolling, a type of kneading where the therapist rolls through the back of their hand, and traditional kneading where two hands squeeze the soft tissue (like bread being kneaded), are also used to warm the tissue and activate the qi. Tapotements (cupping, hacking, flicking and pummeling) are replaced by a two handed percussive rhythm known as knocking, while ‘swords’ utilizes two fingers held together which are “brushed” down the meridian to stimulate qi. Holding techniques are used on overactive points to help calm the energy down and return it to a state of balance.

Post treatment recommendations are generally the same as for a remedial massage – drink plenty of water, rest, stretch and use heat on any tender areas. Your Tui Na therapist may also give you dietary recommendations as certain foods assist with the rebuilding and replenishment of qi. The client should feel more balanced and have a higher level of self awareness after a Tui Na treatment. Many clients comment that they sleep very well after their treatment.

Unlike our Eastern cousins, Tui Na massage treatments have been slow to take off in the West. Hopefully clients will come to understand and appreciate the benefits that a Tui Na treatment can give them. Not only is it another valid treatment option that complements other forms of massage therapy, but it also works on all levels of the body – the physical, emotional and energetic states. Quite often Gill will see a correlation between the areas in a remedial massage and the meridians of TCM. Clients may complain of other symptoms, beside muscle soreness or tightness, such as fatigue, poor concentration, difficulty in decision making, or lack of appetite and not realize that a Tui Na treatment would be a more appropriate massage treatment - because of its ability to work on the body holistically.     

Eastern massage therapy, whether it be a Tui Na or Shiatsu treatment, can also be a wonderful way to be introduced to the world of massage as the treatments do not require the client to disrobe. As therapists and clients ourselves, we understand the trust and awkwardness of being disrobed in front of a stranger. Eastern massage takes this awkwardness out of the equation. Also, no oils or lotions are used during the Eastern treatment.

Lastly by opening ourselves up to another treatment option we allow ourselves to tackle our ‘dis-ease’ and dysfunction from multiple angles. We learn more about what our bodies are capable of and gain a better understanding of the links between our function and form. People are more than just a physical vessel. Most of us have an awareness that we are physical, emotional and spiritual beings. It seems somewhat remiss of us to only focus on our physical selves when it comes to treatment and healing. A treatment option that encompasses all of these areas can only bring better synergy to the whole.

Tui Na, TCM and the principles of qi have been around for thousands of years and the techniques and methodology have changed very little over time. Aside from experiencing a massage therapy that is different from others, how you feel after the treatment might convince you that Tui Na is well worth including in your regular 'tune-up' regime.

About the Authors:

Gillian Staples is a remedial and Eastern massage therapist at Therapy Masters, a professional massage clinic located in Canberra City. Lisa Allmey-LaMaitre is the Managing Director of Therapy Masters.