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Kunye Therapy & Traditional Tibetan Massage

July 28th, 2010 Posted in Tibetan Medicine

© Nashalla G. Nyinda 2010 all rights reserved

Many people ask me exactly what is Kunye Tibetan Massage, what makes it different from regular massage? This special form of massage comes from a larger body of healing practices that are part of the external therapies found in the rGyud bZhi, (The four Tantras of Tibetan Medicine).

In simple terms Kunye means massage therapy when translated from Tibetan to English. The exact meaning of Kunye can carry several translations depending on how it’s spelled. bKu-mNye is one way to write Kunye in Tibetan; this means ‘apply and rub’. If it is spelled sKu-mNye this can be translated as ‘body and massage (i.e. rub)’. Thus, as with many words in the Tibetan language, the exact translation can be tricky. I have seen it written both ways. But in the end, Kunye simply means to give a massage.

Originally Kunye is thought to have developed from the practice of early tantric yogis who used various methods, such as oil massage and acupressure points on themselves to help bring balance to their energy bodies and life-force. The effect sought via these treatments was for the energetic channels to remain clear and open from stagnation. Any stagnancy of energy ultimately leads to blocks, disorders and difficulty controlling the mind and subtle channels when meditating. If one is healthy and free of blocks and stagnant energy; naturally the flow of ones life-force increases, the mind is clearer and emotions are more stable. This serves in supporting ones practice; both in the physical level of flexibility in yogic positions and in the yogis goal of seeking enlightenment through meditation.

As the practices of yoga and meditation developed these practitioners gained deep insights into their subtle body systems. The understanding of the subtle body channels lead to the development of both the chakra system and understanding corresponding points relating to these chakras and energy pathways. Many great ancient civilizations developed an understanding of the body and mind through these means, and the Tibetan culture was no exception to this. The various forms of Tibetan Medicine and massage practiced are not, as is sometimes thought, just a copy of Ayurveda or Chinese Medicine massages. Rather, it developed quite organically just as it did neighboring medical systems. While the early Tibetan healing practices began synthesizing some of the techniques that neighboring medical systems had come to use, there is much that is purely Tibetan. One such example is evidence which points to indigenous Tibetan methods for the use of various oils, fats and applications with stones, mud, and herbs during massage for very specific benefits. While there was a great amount of sharing between the civilizations along the silk route and throughout the southern path of the Himalayas (Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and India), most of the similarities found in Tibetan medicine and other massage techniques come from Ayurveda and Unani Medicine, not from Chinese Medicine.

Slowly, as in all indigenous cultures, the basic wisdom’s and practices permeate out into society. Doctors of Tibetan Medicine as well as ordinary people used Kunye techniques and they became both folk remedies and a formal treatment method which could be found in the Tibetan medical texts. I have received massage from both esteemed and highly qualified doctors and simple women known in their community for their healing ability. Both exhibited the same reverence for the methods found in Tibetan massage and knew of which oils, butters and mixtures to use and under what circumstances.

In my years studying Tibetan Medicine I met and trained under multiple teachers. Regardless of their time or ability to practice massage on their patients; all respected massage as a viable mode of treatment for its ability to treat very specific conditions.

Massage is taught as a part of the curriculum within the rgyu bzhi (4 Medical Tantras) and is a crucial part of any Tibetan doctors training. It is found in two chapters of the 4th Tantra, where many of the treatment methods are explained in great detail. These are the 13th and 24th chapters.

In the13th chapter of the 4th Tantra specific use of oil application, called nums jug, is discussed. It is stated that those who are of old age, weakness of body, stressed with a restless mind, having depression, those who have taken un-nutritious foods long term, suffered excessive blood loss, those who’s reproductive fluids have become exhausted or are not functioning well (either from disease or excessive sex), persons with wind diseases, when the power and strength of the eyes and vision are decreasing, when vision worsens, and those with a tiny body structure combined with a wind nature, all of these will all benefit from oil application.

Many types of oils, fats and medicine butters with a variety of specific healing benefits are discussed. I will cover those in a different article and thus at this time for sake of length, will not include them here.

It is important to note that oil application and massage is not allowed according to our Tibetan medical texts for certain conditions. Specifically those who have weak digestion, lack stomach heat, any chronic indigestion, diarrhea, vomiting, gout, skin conditions with inflammations or open wounds, persons suffering from some type of poisoning, (example directly undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments), during times of experiencing loss of desire for food, for either phlegm diseases and gross overweight conditions, or for one who is excessively thirsty. These are all contra-indicated for oil application.

While some of the contra-indicated conditions might seem strange to those unfamiliar with the principles of Tibetan Medicine, I can assure you there are valid reasons for this. For example, someone who is directly undergoing a poisonous treatment such as radiation or chemotherapy has a highly toxic substance in their body. Massage can only aggravate or spread the poisons deeper into the system and cause more harm to the internal organs and systems. After treatment has ceased and Tibetan medicines for poisons and detoxification from such treatments have been engaged, it is a perfect time to get a massage and help flush the system out further.

Tibetan physicians tend to treat situations such as I just described with medicines that will protect the organs from the poison and protect the immune system during these kinds of treatments before engaging in massage therapies. Likewise those with very weak digestion most likely have a chronic cold condition which hampers their ability to receive adequate nutriments. By the very nature of oil massage it has a heavy, smooth, oily quality. These qualities further weaken the digestive fires and ability to break down food into nutriment. Most especially we will not perform any oil massage on the abdomen as this will kill or greatly harm even a healthy digestive heat system. The exception to this rule is during pregnancy when the abdomen and fetus should regularly be massaged.

Though it is not recommended to massage those who are suffering from overweight conditions, in modern times and especially in the western world this is commonly practiced. One way to ameliorate the negative increase of earth and water (phlegm conditions and disorders) which will allow these populations to receive the benefits of massage is to counteract the influence the oils quality. By counterbalancing the qualities of heavy, smooth, stable and oily have in the basic nature you can prevent excessive accumulation of ‘earth and water’, which will increase overweight conditions and symptoms.

I use oils infused with herbs and essential oils possessing various qualities to antidote the heavy, smooth, oily nature. In some cases I also use powdered chick pea or roasted barley flower to apply and rub vigorously following massage. This is very beneficial for specific conditions where massage is indicated but the patient’s nature of earth and water (phlegm disorder) are too heavy.

In the 24th chapter of the 4th Tantra on jugpa which roughly translates as ‘application’ there are 14 specific recipes given for oils, fats, butters, and substances added to these to remedy very specific disorders. It also re-emphasizes the appropriate and inappropriate conditions for therapeutic massage.

Kunye Therapy has several purposes from a Tibetan health care standpoint. The first is to soothe and relax tensions, relieve stress, insomnia, depression, nerve system dysfunctions and bring balance to the internal elements of the body. The second function is more therapeutic and geared for specific individual disorders. It has great therapeutic value to relieve a variety of ailments in a soft and non-invasive manor.

  • Chronic Pain
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Nervous system or autoimmune disorders, such as MS, ALS, Parkinson’s, Fibromyalgia, Lupis
  • Spinal and head injuries
  • Muscular disorders which cause spasms, contracted, extended or frozen limbs
  • Headaches
  • Fibrocystic breast disease
  • Inner torso and abdomen organs displacement and disorders, such as the diaphragm pain, chronic liver diseases, small and large intestine pain
  • Wind disorders are said to be without exception benefited by massage
  • Prenatal and postnatal healthcare option for pain relief, emotional grounding and structural issues which arise in pregnancy and childbirth

The various possible forms the kunye treatments can take can includes basic massage similar to Swedish Massage with effleurage and relaxing strokes, treating crucial points in a manor similar to acupressure during the massage, applying medicinal oils, gemstones, hot or cold stones, compresses and massages before or following specific medicated or medicinal vapor baths.

Acupressure points are often employed during the massage to work on the nervous system and organ levels. Each treatment is unique and geared towards the individual body. There are specific strokes and movements designed to open the channels, increase energy flow and vitality.

Many of the feet and hand points are similar to reflexology. Tibetan Massage also incorporates work on the cranium to release the jaw, head and neck tension as well as the release of the spine and vital fluids circulating throughout the body.

No one type of kunye treatment is the most superior among them. Rather it is best to have the massage treatment designed for your unique body-mind needs. Often people fall into deep states of restfulness. This is so even if there are moments of deeper structural adjustments, they are able to relax through them in a way normal structural adjustments do not allow.

I frequently get comments such as, ‘I never felt this good after a massage before’, or ‘I don’t hurt but I feel so different and so good’ and ‘I feel more relaxed than I have in years.’ I often joke with my patients that once you get the Tibetan rubdown you never go back to regular massage. It really is quite special and the changes hold and build upon themselves when the patient receives regular treatments.

In my practice in Boulder, Colorado I find that when I complement Kunye massage with the other treatments used in Tibetan Medicine such as diet, lifestyle and medicines the person is able to find balance and many symptoms go away quicker than without this complementary treatment. This is especially true of neurological and nervous system disorders, as it has a special ability to work with those conditions.

While currently in the USA there are less fully qualified Tibetan Kunye Massage therapists, the practice is gaining some popularity as Tibetan Medicine becomes more known and accepted. Now a comprehensive Kunye training program in Conway, Massachusetts at the Shang Shung Institute for Tibetan Medicine has been established. Other Tibetan Kunye doctors and practitioners teaching this method. It is important however to have a basic understanding of Tibetan Medicine theory to maximize the effectiveness of the treatments. It is my hope that this rarely known healing massage which is a part of Traditional Tibetan Medicine will start to make its way into the mainstream massage world.

To read more about Kunye Therapy and Massage  offered at our clinic in Boulder, CO see bouldertibetanmedicine.com

© 2010 Amchi Nashalla Gwyn Nyinda TMD, LMT

All articles are written personally by Nashalla G. Nyinda and are copyrighted. Please do not duplicate any info published by Tibetan Medicine & Holistic Healing on this or any other sight. © 2010

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