You’re in China, try a TCM massage
You’re in China, it’ll be a pity if you leave without trying a TCM massage. Here’s a guide to some of the most common, most popular types of treatments and the best spas in Shanghai to get them.
The most basic form of massage in China is tuina, literally push and grasp. It is the water to which different spas and massage parlors flavor with their own areas of expertise and techniques. Different from the pampering routine we’re used to back home, a Chinese massage often comes with a bit of pain as your masseuse kneads, rolls, presses and rubs on particular points of your body with their fingers, hands and elbows. The point of tuina is to treat, not to soothe. Depending on what you need looking at or relief from, your spa will make the necessary recommendations; no matter which treatment you go for, the end result is always to regulate qi and to coax your body into fixing an external problem from within. It’s also one of the most common massage treatments offered in Shanghai.
Where to get it: Everywhere. Just walk in and ask to see a list of TCM massages. We’re big fans of Subconscious Day Spa.
Guasha directly translates to scraping, normally with a tool fashioned out of bian stone (also known as needle stone), jade or bull horns. It is believed to stimulate our meridian points and blood circulation, helps release toxins, reconciles our yin and yang energies, and just generally give our immune system a boost. The masseuse will first oil the area you’re getting scraped to ease the friction, then start making brisk strokes with their guasha tool. It’s not a painless routine, but the pain should still be extremely manageable. You can always ask for it to be 轻一点 qing yidian (lighter). After a session, it’s common to see long streaks of red bruises on your skin. This will normally resolve in a few days.
Where to get it: Again, the Guasha treatment is available at any spa in Shanghai. Dragonfly Retreat’s service is great, with multiple branches spread out across the city.
Baguan, or cupping, is when glass jars (bamboo cups are ocassionally used too) are applied along specific points on your body to create suction. A TCM doctor does this by generating heat (often by lighting an alcohol-soaked cotton ball, then swabbing the insides of the jar to burn up oxygen), before quickly placing it on your body to create a vacuum seal. As the jar cools down, your skin is drawn up by the pressure. It is said to stimulate qi, boost circulation, and helps expel wind and coldness from the body. Baguan is said to be particularly beneficial for respiratory issues like coughs, neck and shoulder aches, and knee arthritis.
Where to get it: Check out Citron Massage (RMB88 per session)
Think of zouguan (moving cups) as an upgraded, next-level version of baguan. Rather than the multiple-jars routine that is your usual cupping session, a zouguan treatment involves only two. As usual, your masseuse will combust the oxygen in both jars with an alcohol-soaked cotton ball before affixing them onto your skin. Then, they’re moved quickly up and down, side to side, and all around your body. We’re not going to lie, this is pretty intense, and if you’re not comfortable with pain, you should stay far, far away from this. Zouguan apparently gives your immune system a huge boost, improves blood circulation, stimulates yang energy, and aids in realigning disrupted organ systems.
Where to get it: We like Kousenkaku Spa on Ruijin Er Lu. Read about our experience at this Shanghai spa.
Most people hear “sticking needles into body” and freak out; it sounds invasive and painful, but done in the hands of a professional, there shouldn’t be any pain. TCM believes certain meridian points are connected to certain parts of the body, and that an illness arises when qi is blocked or knocked out of balance in those areas. By placing needles at points associated with the origin of the problem, the flow of qi will be restored and your body will heal. Acupuncture is most commonly used for pain relief.
Where to get it: Body & Soul is a highly respected, expat-friendly TCM clinic in Shanghai.
Moxibustion is the burning of mugwort over your meridian points, supposedly to stimulate these network of nodes to get your qi and blood flowing. Modern techniques employ a special moxa machine to burn the herbs, more dated practices include waving moxa sticks around particular areas, or even attaching the sticks directly to your skin. Moxibustion is good for counteracting yang deficiencies, and for expelling cold wind from your body; winter is the ideal season to get this treatment done.
Where to get it: Green Massage offers moxibustion targeted at different areas-shoulders, waist and abdomen (RMB528/60 min, RMB792/90 min)