Coining for a Cure

Published June 29, 2015 in Episode 10

Ba, I don’t feel so well. Can you “cạo gió” for me?” Dad: “Okay, get the eagle oil or tiger balm-whichever you prefer and have the coin ready. I will be right there.

That’s a typical conversation at my house whenever I was feeling sick. "Cạo gió” can be literally translated as “scraping wind.” The term refers to a traditional healing method inherited from our ancestors, called coin rubbing or coining.

To those who are unfamiliar the practice might seem questionable as it leaves dark, bruise like streaks on your skin.

Growing up in the U.S., I would get nervous before gym class whenever I changed my clothes because I was worried my classmates would think I was being abused at home if they saw the red marks on my back. (Fortunately, that never happened.)

(Photo: Loa)

(Photo: Loa)

Boston-based health instructor Đàm Hạnh with more than 20 years of teaching/healing practices, explains that coining involves repeatedly scratching the patient’s skin with an ointment, such as eagle oil, using a hard object like a coin or metal spoon.

The tool should be smooth, with no scratches and fit in your hand, like a spoon, a brass item or a dog tag. There are even coin rubbing tools for sale. The used oil should be greasy to facilitate the scraping, not a hot oil that doesn’t have any grease, otherwise the skin might get damaged. The scraping should be done slowly and lightly to help the wind, if there is any, escape. There’s no need to scratch too strongly, it’ll just bruise the skin.

Many Southeast Asians, particularly Vietnamese people, believe that illnesses are caused by an excess of wind or catching of the wind, and cạo gió helps to release the excess “wind” in your body and restores balance back to it.

By scratching the “wind” on the surface of the body, cạo gió is believed to do just that in order to create a pathway in which it could be released. The technique is considered effective when it produces prominent red marks and these marks usually last a few days.

The marks should never be black or your body gets weakened. If you hit a pressure point on your body while scraping it might turn dark red, almost black. Those points should be gently pressed and massaged with your finger for approximately ten seconds to “melt” the wind and help the blood flow for the illness to leave your body. Despite everything it is very important to remember not to cạo gió on two consecutive days, when the first day already helped relieving the pain, but instead leave a week to ten days in between. Otherwise your body could get worn out further and weakened. By the time you cạo gió again the marks should be lighter.

Perhaps it was my dad’s attention that made me feel better. Maybe the ancient practice worked. Or maybe it was the soothing balm he used. Critics say there is no scientific evidence of the effectiveness of coining, but this home remedy continues to be practiced in many Asian households globally.

So the next time you are feeling under the weather, you may want to try cạo gió and see if it makes you feel better. Just be sure you have it done by someone who knows what they‘re doing!

Please note that cạo gió is not recommended for serious illnesses, but rather consult a physician.