Adventures in ba guan

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"Do you fear pain?"

The woman asking me this questions was a cute, young migrant worker named Nana.  She was wearing a white lab coat,  and standing - with a lit firebrand in one hand and a glass cup in the other - in the cramped back room of a hair salon.  I, meanwhile, was lying in my underwear on a massage table, my hair easily within combustion proximity of the flame.

"No," I replied, figuring that amusement was the only reasonable response.  Nana looked confused, but after muttering how most clients were scared of pain, she proceeded with the treatment.

For the record, getting ba guan (usually called "cupping" in English) had not been my idea.  Rather, a Chinese friend at the gym had recommended it.  I'd been explaining how I was trying to lose ten pounds before a marathon (lighter is faster), and she told me that her ba guan practitioner guaranteed ten pounds of weight loss in a month.  She added that she had purchased a series of treatment that she wasn't going to use, and that I could take her sessions for free.

Thanking her and open to trying - well, just about anything - I thus found myself in the aforementioned posture, flesh exposed to fire. 

The fire was not mere theatrics.  Ba guan practitioners insert the firebrand into the cup to suck the oxygen from the space and create a vacuum.  They then apply the cup to flesh, and the vacuum draws blood to the surface of the skin.  (In my experience, the treatment doesn't hurt.)  In theory, the treatment kickstarts one's qi, getting stagnant blood moving and generally supporting enhanced metabolic functioning.

In practice, the cups were falling off my body. 

Nana was becoming increasingly flustered.  "Maybe ba guan is not appropriate for you," she offered.  "Or maybe I'm doing it badly."

"Did you study Chinese medicine?" I asked.

"说实在的,我不好学," she replied.  What she said was ambiguous: it could have meant either that she didn't study at all, or that she had studied, but had done poorly.  Either way, it didn't inspire confidence.

After two sessions, I'd actually gained weight.  "That's not possible," Nana objected.

"It's not a question of possible," I said.  "It happened."

Nana seemed unwilling to accept this distinction.  She wanted me to see her boss, who was a Chinese medicine doctor. 

Dr. Tan was serious, but skeptical.  "Our method shrinks the stomach," she said.  "But you're eating more because your training for a marathon.  Our method won't work."

I assured her that I was eating very little, and Dr. Tan began the treatment.  The cups fell off my body.

"Was it me?" Nana poked her head into the treatment room.

"It wasn't you," Dr. Tan announced.  "Because she [that's me, folks] is a foreigner, she has body hair that prevents the cups from sticking.  Ba guan is not appropriate for her."

I didn't bother protesting that my arms and (shaved) legs were unlikely to pose body hair obstacles to cupping.  Amused acceptance seemed the only reasonable response.

I didn't manage to lose the 10 pounds before I ran the marathon. 

(Image of ba guan treatment from Confucius Institute Online)      

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Maya published on March 31, 2011 7:20 PM.

The books ain't helping was the previous entry in this blog.

Audiobook recording the hard way is the next entry in this blog.



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