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An Interview with Richard Freiberg, Inventor of Ba Gua Fa

by Attilio D'Alberto

Q1. So firstly what is Ba Gua Fa?

Ba Gua Fa is a synergy of two techniques (Gua Sha and Ba Guan - empty cupping). The name was given to this combined technique by Dr. Wu, Boping, OMD, MD, PhD (China) in 1997 after evaluating it during a three year period (1994-1997). Dr. Wu stated that my use of Ba Gua Fa was accomplishing much more than Gua Sha or Ba Guan could do individually.

Q2. How different is Ba Gua Fa from Gua Sha or cupping?

As a base understanding Tui Na uses rhythmic compression along energy channels of the body, as well as a variety of techniques that manipulate and lubricate the joints. Like acupressure, Tui Na directly affects the flow of energy by holding and pressing the body at acupressure points.

Ba Gua Fa is a combined technique using Gua Sha and Ba Guan. The Gua Sha is used in a light stroking technique called Qi Sha. It is an entry level diagnostic tool that can be used at the same time for treatment when focused with intent. By stroking the skin at an angle of approximately 20 degrees with very little force, the soft tissue (extra cellular matrix) either does not respond (normal), or a signal of redness returns, confirming some level of soft tissue blockage.

Like the variations of Gua Sha, I have also varied the use of cupping rarely leaving a cup on the body more than 3-5 seconds. Cupping can also be both a diagnostic and a treatment. One immediately sees the response and can adjust from there.

Q3. Is it widely practiced in China or anywhere outside China?

I know of only a few other practitioners I have taught Ba Gua Fa. Wu Laoshi who travels worldwide and spends much time in China commented that he knows of no one who practices Ba Gua Fa.

Q4. What disorders can it treat?

The following list is just a few of the many conditions it can treat:

Digestive diseases such as dysentery, early morning diarrhoea, acute or chronic gastritis.
Respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic bronchitis.
All myofascial - muscular-skeletal pain syndromes.
Soft tissue injuries.
Gynaecological diseases such as infertility, irregular menstruation, leucorrhoea, uterine cramps.
Headaches, Trigeminal neuralgia, Bells palsy, stoke.
Common cold.
Insomnia, etc.

Q5. When is it contraindicated?

The following are some of the contraindicated conditions:

Furuncle, acne, malignant tumour, ulcerated areas on the skin, directly over bone fractures, the breast or navel.
It is not recommended, unless using extremely light application, in patients with diabetes, heart diseases or haemophilia.
Use with extreme caution in the elderly or weak.
For pregnant woman, applying lightly can help to clean the blood very effectively. But applying with excessive force may cause a miscarriage.
It is not recommended to use on any injured area with excessive force.
It is not recommended to use within half an hour of eating.

Q6. When did you discover this new technique?

The core beginning goes back to 1985 when I started my first acupuncture apprenticeship with Dr. Robert C. Sohn. Dr. Sohn set a task for me to 'feel' the channels by using burning incense approximately 1 inch about the skin. This intrigued me that one could actually feel not only the channel differentiation, but also the specific point locations by using a small focused heat source. I did this for many years.

I returned to a formal 4 year acupuncture-oriental medicine program in 1994 and met Dr. Wu. Here was a PhD level professor teaching a starting class of beginners. Since I already had another master teaching me and based upon my intense curiosity Dr. Wu took me under his wing and on Sundays we would discuss patients, basic and advanced theory and I would record the answers to my incessant probing questions.

During the six years (1994-2000) I experimented with Gua Sha and Ba Guan in my own fashion, combining them in a treatment protocol. The more I treated the more I questioned him. One of my inquiries was that point location was not made alive for the student-practitioner. One such point was why none of the teachers that I knew (other than Dr. Wu) or any practitioners or students really knew where Chize (LU 5) was located. After drawing a detailed anatomical location of the point, I asked Wu Laoshi to go back to the ancient classics in ancient Chinese and in modern day Chinese and evaluate if my location was correct for it was different than what was being taught. He confirmed that where I placed the point was different but quite correct. Teachers and practitioners alike used a brief description as written and translated which the Masters understood but others did not.

I remembered him quoting from the Nei Jing that all acupuncture points are either between two muscles of between a muscle and a bone. Since our bodies are 80% liquid in a flowing nature I continued on my quest to understand what an acupuncture channel/meridian really was and what is was made up of. If all the points are between two muscles or between a muscle and a bone then what is actually at that location, liquid, nerves or blood vessels? About 80% is liquid, which is in a constant state of flow and only about 15-20% is actually blood. Then what and where are the rest of the liquids?

The light bulb was burning brighter and brighter seeing more and more profound. It was something Wu Laoshi said to me about the use of acupuncture needles. Acupuncture was primarily for neurological disorders and that's why he felt that China relied more heavily upon herbs to affect the body. I was quite surprised to realise the difference between how acupuncture needles were used in the United States as a primary method and how in China the first form of treatment was 95% materia medica.

In a comparative analysis, I realised that acupuncture needles and more so electro acupuncture were Yang style modalities whereas Gua Sha, Ba Guan, Ba Gua Fa and Tui-Na were more Yin style modalities. At one point in 1997 I came right out and asked him to tell me about liquid in the acupuncture channels. At first he was upset telling me that there was primarily qi in the channels. So I changed the word to 'moisture' and at the same time reminded him of his own teaching, that the only time qi and xue or qi and jin-ye were separated is when we are dead. He rubbed his chin in contemplation and said to me..."now you are getting very profound". I responded.

Q7. What are the characteristics and mechanisms of Ba Gua Fa that make is so unique?

As previously stated there are different levels of using Gua Sha. One need not scrape so hard or so deep to get certain type of results. Gua Sha can be used as a diagnostic tool as well as a means of treatment, both at the same time. Gua Sha can be used to palpate, to find and to treat. Gua Sha can effectively break up toxic stagnation in the fascia. In it's palpation function Gua Sha can tell one where to place Ba Guan.

For Ba Guan (empty cupping), I use the hand pump system and rarely leave a cup on the body for more than 3 seconds, which reflects a new technique for Ba Guan that I developed. Ba Guan (empty cupping) can bring to the surface and break free stagnation beyond that of Gua Sha. Ba Guan releases toxic stagnation beyond the fascia.

Together Gua Sha and Ba Guan makes up the unique practice of Ba Gua Fa. When applied in a lengthy one hour treatment session in a biofeedback way, results are astounding beyond what a practitioner would expect when using just Gua Sha, Ba Guan or even acupuncture.

Q8. Has there been any research conducted using Ba Gua Fa?

None that I am aware of.

Q9. Have you written any books on Ba Gua Fa?

During my extensive and busy 10 years of clinical practice, I have undertaken some ten thousand treatments using Ba Gua Fa and taken several thousand photographs of the treatment in use. I am working on bringing this all together in a book, which should be out soon.

Q10. Do you have any case histories you could share with me?

Yes, figure 1 (below) shows a 21 year old female who was recovering from a cold/flu with extensive coughing. After the viral/bacterial component was cleared from her throat with herbs she continued to exhibit a red sore throat and complained of pain. Within 5 minutes of applying Ba Gua Fa to her neck the sore throat was totally relieved.

Figure 1

Figure 1.

Figure 2 (below) shows a 48 year old male suffering from severe upper back/shoulder pain for over two weeks (before he came for treatment) after multiple chiropractic adjustments. After the first application of Ba Gua Fa there was 60% relief as reported by the patient and he was able to sleep. A day later the balance of the blood stagnation and soft tissue injury was lifted.

Figure 2

Figure 2.

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