Massage: the inside story
MASSAGE is usually thought of as a pleasant, relaxing experience and so having somebody probe your internal organs with their thumb or elbow may not seem to readily fit that description.
But although the ancient Taoist art of Chi Nei Tsang - or energising massage of the internal organs - may not be as immediately calming as a Swedish or aromatherapy massage, it has been credited with relieving various problems from diarrhoea to emotional trauma.
The technique combines the principles of traditional Chinese medicine with Chi gong breathing practices used by Taoists to give themselves more energy to help achieve a higher level of meditation.
The combination aims to enable the body to clear itself of toxins, blockages, tensions and negative emotions which impair the flow of energy and disrupt the well-being of the body, mind and spirit to create physical, emotional and psychological problems.
Like other Chinese therapies, it is based on the idea of energy circulating in the body and interacting with the organs through special channels called meridians and uses the same pressure points as acupuncture.
But unlike other techniques, Chi Nei Tsang focuses on the abdomen as the centre of the body, sometimes working directly on the various organs to get rid of tensions and blockages.
Taoists believe the way we feel emotionally is reflected in the way we breathe, while the navel area is seen as the centre of the body through which the foetus is nourished and gets rid of waste.
By massaging the organs, their metabolic performance can be enhanced to release deep-seated internal tensions often at the origin of chronic problems.
The idea is also to allow the recipients of the massage to take an active part in their own health care by teaching them to feel and recognise tension in their internal organs and restore energy to them through self-massage.
Taoists have been successfully using Chi Nei Tsang for thousands of years but it was only made accessible to the outside world by a Taoist called Mantak Chia this century.
About 50 people outside the Taoist tradition have been trained and given approval to practise the technique by Mantak Chia, one of whom has recently arrived in Hong Kong.
Marie-France Collin, who has been involved with healing disciplines for six years, claims to have seen big improvements in conditions including constipation, anorexia, neck and back pain, HIV, asthma, stress and childhood traumatism as a result of the internal organs massage.
'The massage can be painful at first, especially if there is a lot of blockage, but you can feel how much people can take and stop just short of that point,' she said.
A first session on the massage couch entails the location of any blockages through thumb pressure on various pressure points, concentrating on the abdomen.
The stomach is a very sensitive area and the body tends to tense up, rather than relax, when it is touched. And Collin is right - Chi Nei Tsang can be painful.
Eight points at 1.30, 3, 4.30, 6, 7.30, 9, 10.30 and 12 o'clock on the area immediately surrounding the navel, which correspond to the various internal organs, are pressed firmly with the elbow to find out where any blockages might be, with pain equalling blockage.
Once your abdomen becomes used to being pressed and probed and a level of trust has been established between the recipient and the practitioner, it does become possible to achieve a level of relaxation.
The only time oil is used is when the colon and large intestine are massaged and the practitioner's hands are dragged across the skin.
To relieve constipation, the large intestine and the colon are massaged clockwise to ease the flow outwards, while to ease diarrhoea the same organs are massaged anti-clockwise.
The lungs also get their turn, with the recipient given a crash course in Chi gong breathing exercises to facilitate the massage.
Inhalation is through the nose and from the abdomen, rather than the chest, to produce a very deep breath and on exhalation through the mouth, the recipient makes an 's' sound as the practitioner vibrates the chest wall.
The result is a cool, free feeling in the windpipe and the technique can be used to help clear colds, flu, coughs and congestion.
Collin, who has lived in Asia for 18 years, claims she has been particularly successful in providing a release for emotional problems through the massage.
'Most of us tend to take our bodies for granted and so part of the technique involves showing people where their internal organs are located to put them in touch with their own body,' she said.
After a few sessions, when blockages have been eliminated, it is quite possible the practitioner will be able to feel the spine through the abdomen.
Collin added: 'I've known people to stop smoking, experience better communication in relationships, become more self-assured and get a greater sense of self-worth and confidence after treatment.
'According to the principles of Chinese medicine, the organs hold the emotions and so clearing the physical blockages also helps to clear the mental blockages.' It appears that the technique can have a dramatic effect in reversing emotional negativity.
According to Collin, a shy and pimply woman who embarked on a number of sessions found that her spots eventually cleared up, while she gained enough self-confidence to give up a job she did not enjoy and find a new one.
The technique can also help to clear up gynaecological problems, including pre-menstrual tension and menstrual cramps, by massaging the uterus and the ovaries to allow the blood to flow more freely.
One of her patients, Patricia Everett, came to her with various emotional and physical problems after she found traditional Western medicine was doing nothing to help.
Patricia said: 'I suppose our bodies are like cars in that we need to look after their insides as well as their outsides. What this massage does is to give the internal organs a tune up and release the toxins to bring about a more harmonious state of mind.
'I have certainly felt the benefits through the relief of back and neck pain and a higher energy level which has made me feel like doing far more energetic things with my time rather than just sit in front of the television.' Patricia also took her 12-year-old daughter along to have her internal organs massaged after she became tense and uptight.
She added: 'After a few sessions she started to become a much happier and more relaxed person who was far more friendly and co-operative.
'A lot of people rely on doctors to tell them what to do when something is wrong with them but it is nice to know that we can take part in our own health care in both a preventive and curative way.'