Scrapping the Wind - A Traditional Form of Healing

by Landon Nguyen


“Skin Rubbing,” an ancient healing practice, is still widely used by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine. It started in China but then spread throughout the Southeast Asian countries of Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Korea, and even Indonesia. In Vietnam, the term for this remedy is called “Cao Gio”, which is closely translated as “scraping away wind”. Many Southeast Asian people believe common illnesses are caused by the human body absorbing excess of wind, one of the elements in nature that a person needs to keep in balance in order to stay healthy.

A theory that the universe consists of conflicting elements, held in harmony, for the sake of good health actually originates from the Chinese concept of “yin and yang”; also known as “am and duong” in traditional Vietnamese beliefs. Sickness, according to these oriental people, reflects an imbalance of these forces. This can be caused by factors such as severe fatigue, bad diet, or even excessive wind, which is believed to cause some serious ailments. Thus, in an effort to get rid of this extra wind from the body, Cao Gio is utilized to scrape the “bad wind” to the skin surface, which serves as an escape route for it.

Cao Gio is most effective when the first signs of imbalance such as fever, headache, muscle stiffness, or sluggish circulation appear. The technique is applied to most areas of the body mainly the back, neck, shoulders, chest and limbs of the body. Instruments with which to practice Cao Gio are easily found around the house. An object with smooth edge ranging from porcelain soup spoon, metal cap with a rounded lip or worn-out coin to fancy jade rubbing tools is pressed against the pre-oiled skin surface. To avoid damages to the skin and to keep the body warm, balms or oils such as tiger balm or liquid herbal medicines containing camphor, methanol, winter green oil, and peppermint oil, are commonly used.

In order to get the optimal result from this traditional healing, practitioners first use oil to lubricate and then massage the skin of the areas that are about to be treated. Practitioners then use the coin to rub, with adequate pressure, repeatedly. This usually involves short strokes of 3 to 4 inches long in single direction until red spots or petechiae appear in the skin. If no blood stasis present, the petechiae will not form and the skin will only turn pink. It is important that those practicing try to use only just enough pressure and always remember to lubricate the skin when it is dry. Also avoid any moles, cuts, bony or unhealed areas and cover them with fingers. When rubbing is done in one area, move to the next one in parallel and symmetrical order to maintain balance.

A common misconception among outsiders, especially Westerners, is that the red markings are due to the rupture of the capillaries such as in bruising or rash. Rather, the emergence of these welts on the skin indicates areas of blood stagnation. If rubbing is applied properly, using even stroke, restrained pressure, and the protection of oil, no bodily injury will occur. The patient should feel little pain and only some discomfort. Interestingly enough, elevated red patches of skin, which quickly fade in 3-4 days, can validate the severity and the condition of blood stasis within the body by their shades of red color. Light pink color typically signifies the condition is very minor, whereas, black or purple may point out serious blood stasis within the body. If iron brown, the blood may be cold while dark red patches can be a sign of heat.

Also, here come some big questions – How does Cao Gio work and what are the benefits? As an ancient therapeutic treatment, this traditional therapy is actually based on Chinese physiology of blood flow and Qi activity, a concept of circulating energy force. When the skin is stimulated with a round-edged instrument in downward strokes, Qi stagnation and blood stasis is relieved by the movement of noxious blood out of capillaries bed and replaced by the movement of fresh blood in. The result is an instant improvement of blood circulation in the affected area. This new supply of blood immediately relieves any aches, spasm, or tension in the muscles, while the increased circulation of energy, blood, and body fluids likewise revitalizes the organs and normalizes metabolic processes. Hence, Cao Gio recipients can instantly expect to sense calming relief and soothing sensation.

Utilized as a first-hand, domestic intervention in many parts of Asia, Cao Gio provides various benefits to millions of people to heal many types of common symptoms. Cao Gio is actually a form of folk, first-aid therapy which can alleviate or even eliminate a variety of problems such as muscle soreness and tension, aches, pains, fevers, flu, colds, cough, nausea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and others that are related to weather changes. For generations, this traditional domestic treatment has proved prevalent, well-known, and valuable among common folks of all classes. The practice is so simple to use by adults with little medical knowledge; so convenient to perform in almost any places; so cheap to afford almost anyone who dares to try; and so effective to preclude a need for further advanced medical intervention. In addition, this highly reputable remedy is very safe to practice with no known side effects.

So, there you have it. Cao Gio can be a very useful form of healing for many different symptoms. Although, there is no solid evidence to prove its efficacy in order to substitute for modern medicine, Cao Gio, is one of the best-kept secrets of oriental medicine. It undoubtedly proves its usefulness by serving millions of people for generations. Regrettably, like other folk remedies, Cao Gio is widely misunderstood in the West and has been highly criticized by healthcare providers due to those bloody markings left on the skin. Still, for many East Asian people despite of the availability of western biomedicine, Cao Gio always continues to be a popular form of alternative medicine for years to come.

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