Huoguan: Chinese Hot Bottle Treatment

The other night I encountered another new experience of my life in China. Huoguan. Huoguan is the Chinese name for hot bottle treatment from a trained Chinese medical physician.

Earlier I consulted my girlfriend about the treatment-asking how it felt and what benefits it afforded. Fortunately, her mother is a qualified professional. However, that did not relieve my nervous behavior that comes with attempting new medical treatments (or any other new activity, such as eating, in China).

Huoguan is supposed to help with general health in a few ways and, in particular, it is good for muscular health. For people living in humid climates, such as southern China, this treatment can alleviate excess moisture in the skin. A trained professional is supposed to be able to recognize problem areas of the back by the color of the skin after a short time of treatment. The deeper the color change of the skin, the more unhealthy the specific area is. The hot bottle can alleviate such problems through continuous treatment. I’m not sure if I believe all this, but I’ll go along with it for now.

So, it appears that my upper back is more unhealthy than my lower back – probably due to the continued use of my computer and the constant leaning forward to hear the quiet voices of students. This is pointed out by the purplish color my skin acquired around my shoulders and the gradually lighter shades of red lower down.

As the spherical bottles are heated and placed on my back, it’s an interesting sensation. It’s certainly nothing I’ve ever felt before. The first few are placed along my spine. The next are around the sides of my back and shoulders. There is perfect symmetry on either side of the spine. They are left on the back for about 10-15 minutes. During this time it feels like the skin on my back is being stretched in every direction at once. It isn’t an entirely unpleasant feeling, but it’s certainly not comfortable.

The hot bottles are slowly taken off my back and I am given a medical massage. Chinese medical massages, if done correctly, feel a little like a beating. So, my girlfriend’s mother beat me up for a good 20 minutes. But this is nothing new.

The beating… I mean massage, is followed by another series of hot bottles placed around my shoulders. These hurt significantly more than the ones on my back. I guess it has something to do with the back fat and lack of such fat in my shoulders.

When it’s all over, there is a burning sensation and bit of an itch in my upper back. I don’t know what this means, but I’m sure the answer I’ll get from my girlfriend and her mother is, “You need more huoguan.”

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