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China in her hands - Daily Mail July 1995

Ancient massage that will rock and roll away your pain

by Jane Alexander

Tui Na is the feel-good masage that puts a bounce in your step and sends you out into the world feeling as light as a feather. After a 50-minute session, people report feeling more alive, more dynamic and far happier.

It has a powerful healing effect too, reducing chronic pain and alleviating neck and back problems, sometimes in just one session.

Tui Na ( pronounced Twee-Nah) is one of the last great remaining secrets of Chinese medicine. While acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have become recognised and respected in the UK, few people have even heard of Tui Na. Yet in Chinese hospitals it is practised alongside acupuncture and herbalism.

Maria Mercati has a one woman mission. She brought Tui Na out of the hospitals of China and into her clinic in Cheltenham. Now she wants it to become as well-known as acupuncture ( which she also practices).

Maria has absolutely no doubt that the therapy works-simply because she has felt its powers heal her own body. As a child, she had Perthes disease, a painful inflammation of the head of the femur which restricts movement of the hip. Sometimes the condition will clear up by itself but ot often leaves the hip permanently deformed.

In Maria's case, her consultant said she needed a hip replacement. But instead of heading to hospital for surgery, Maria travelled to China, to the Yue Yang Hospital where doctors gave her intensive Tui Na for an hour every day. "It was deep, painful and hard work" she admits "and I was covered with bruises. But by the end of the week, the pain had gone. I no longer need the operation"

Not only was she out of pain, but she noticed profound and unexpected psychological effects. "I felt so happy I couldn't believe it. I just had this incredible feeling of peace and well-being."

Indeed, she was so impressed that she stayed on in China to learn the massage herself, and then came back to Britain to refine, practise and finally teach the technique. Tui Na is so old that it is thought to pre-date acupuncture, which has provided the Chinese with healing for more than 4,000 years. It is an intense, deep massage, working on the acupuncture points to stimulate the flow of the body's energy channels. Like acupuncture, it can release endorphins into the body, producing pain relief and the feel good factor.

In Chinese hospitals it is often used alongside acupuncture or herbal medicine to balance energy flow, or in its own right as a way of correcting more mechanical problems. It is excellent for treating neck, shoulder and back pain, tennis elbow and migraines.

One of Maria's patients had had an operation to fuse several lower vertebrae, leaving him with terrible stiffness in his spine. He consulted doctors, osteopaths and chiropractors but to no avail. Tui Na restored freedom and comfort in his back, and even when he was "cured", he continued the treatment because it made him feel so good.

Before treating me, Maria asked about my health: whether I had had any injuries or serious illnesses, was I pregnant? Tui Na is not suitable for people with fragile bones or osteoporosis, and practitioners need to be very careful threaring those with cancer. Certain pressure points should be avoided during pregnancy because thay could induce labour.

Next Maria asked me to sit fully clothed in a chair and her hands went onto my shoulders. The Tui Na touch is very deep. If you have a low pain threshold or if you like to doze off during a massage, this really isn't for you. Tui Na means push and grasp, but Maria also shook and squeezed my body, pulled it, vibrated it, rotated it, rocked and rolled it.

The action sometimes felt like the deep tissue work of Rolfing and Hellerwork, sometimes like osteopathic manipulation. There were touches of shiatsu and I even detected movement that was reminiscent of the Bowen Technique. Maria told me "It's the other way round. Everything that we have in modern modern massage and bodywork has developed from ancient systems such as Tui Na. It uses every form of manipulation known.

By now I was beginning to feel the famed Tui Na "light as a feather" sensation. Maria left my neck and shouldersand was working my arms, pushing and squeezing as if she were doing the washing on an old-fashioned washboard.

Then she started to almost wring my arm with an adult version of a childhood "Chinese burn". Tingles started to run up and down my spine as she shook my wrists and pulled my fingers. Next she moved and worked on my back, buttocks and thighs. Pounding and kneading it felt like the perfect treatment for cellulite- although Maria would not claim a cure for that.

Finally she asked me to sit on the floor with my legs stretched out, I felt pressure on my spine and before I even realised what was happening, my vertebrae had "popped" in swift succession like astrip of bubble wrap.

Maria prounounced me very tense and tight in the shoulders and back, typical signs of stress and tension. To gain the real benefits of Tui Na, most people would need to take weekly sessions for around six weeks. Then once your body has been returned to balance, you just need occassional top-ups.

As I left I felt as I had been plunged in a cool pool of water - bright, alert and wide awake. Maria was not surprised. "as your body is released from pain and blocked energy, it begins to feel alive and dynamic," she says. " And then you begin to feel more confident - as if you could tackle the world".

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