Oil pulling to gua sha: what we can learn from health practices around the world

Some of them may sound bizarre, others downright insane. But these five holistic health practices, gathered from diverse cultures around the globe, have been used for centuries so they must have something to teach us, right? Well, maybe. Read on, so you can decide for yourself.

Oil pulling

With roots in Ayurveda, the world’s oldest holistic healing practice originating in India over 5,000 years ago, oil pulling has been used for detox and rejuvenation for centuries. It involves putting a teaspoon of oil into your mouth - either coconut, sesame or sunflower depending on your “dosha”, the Ayurvedic term for your energetic constitution – then swishing it around like mouthwash. If you can do it for the required ten to twenty minutes without gagging, it’s said to attract and remove bacteria, toxins and parasites that live in your mouth, boost your immune system, pull congestion and mucus from your throat and loosen up your sinuses. It’s also said to help you sleep better, and give you clearer skin and whiter teeth.

Image from Meal Makeover Moms/Flickr.

Kakadu plum

Our Indigenous peoples have been using a potent bush tucker product for medicinal and dietary purposes for 40,000 years. Kakadu plum or gubinge, a bright green fruit native to the Northern Territory, is the highest natural source of vitamin C on the planet - 3150 milligrams per 100 grams of fruit, over 60 times the concentration found in oranges. It also contains gallic acid, an antioxidant with antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. The plum, sold in a dried and powered form that you mix with water or into smoothies, is also said to improve the elasticity of your skin, make your hair shine and improve your digestion.

Gua Sha

The ancient Chinese therapy of gua sha, practised by celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow and Elle Macpherson and dating back to 220BC, is being touted as the new cupping. A small, hand-held dish is scraped up and down your back until sand-like streaks of red and purple bruising appear on your skin. It may look dramatic, but Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner Mathew Goss says it has numerous benefits. “In Chinese medicine we have a theory about health conditions arising from 'pathogenic wind' invading the body,” he says. “In modern times 'wind' is the same as cold and flu or acute influenza. Pathogenic wind can be subdivided into wind heat or wind cold attacks, and gua sha is used to vent wind heat attacks from the body, to reduce symptoms such as fevers, alternating chills with body aches and sore throats.”

Goss adds that modern studies done by Harvard Medical School researchers have found gua sha’s immune and anti-inflammatory effect to be an effective supplementary treatment for Hepatitis B. “It’s also used to treat headaches, muscle aches and pain, asthma and respiratory diseases,” he says.

Tongue scraping

According to Ayurveda, when we sleep our digestive systems deposit toxins onto the surface of our tongues. If we don’t scrape them off our bodies reabsorb them, which can lead to respiratory and digestive problems and a weakened immune system. Enter Jihwa prakshalana, or the Ayurvedic practice of tongue scraping. How do you do it? Pull a scraper down the length of your tongue about ten times every morning, to rid your mouth of bacteria, fungi, toxins and dead cells.

Sydney dentist Dr Malcolm Ritchie believes that in normal situations tongue scraping isn’t necessary. However, “in situations where the healthy flora in your mouth have been wiped out, say if you’ve been on antibiotics for a prolonged period of time, you can develop candida which appears as a white coating on your tongue,” says Dr Ritchie. “You do need to scrape that off with a tongue scraper to allow the immunoglobulin in your saliva to get into the spaces on your tongue dorsum.”

Dry brushing

Used for centuries by everyone from the Native Americans and Japanese, to the Russians and Scandinavians, dry body brushing helps shed dead skin cells. This means smoother, brighter skin, improved blood circulation, a rejuvenated nervous system and a more even distribution of fat deposits. How do you do it? Simply rub a soft-bristled brush over your body towards your heart for five minutes before your morning shower, which feels quite delightful, too.

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