Cao gio is a technique incorporated into the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It is pronounced as gow yaw and better known in English as coining. Coining is widely practiced in particular by Southeast Asians, such as the Vietnamese, Thai, and Lao. Because coining leaves distinct physical marks, patients are sometimes incorrectly identified as victims of abuse. Due to concerns about abuse in many Western nations, this has led to unfortunate cultural confusions at times.
Coining begins with a massage using a warm oil that is mixed with warming essential oils. Common essential oil choices include peppermint, cinnamon, orange, wintergreen, eucalyptus, or menthol oil. Some practitioners use Tiger Balm or another warming ointment. The goal of the oil is to irritate the skin slightly, warming it for the next stage of the process. The massage also relaxes the patient, bringing him or her into a state of centered stillness so that the next segment of the treatment will be more effective.
The coining treatment continues as a coin is repeatedly rubbed against an area of the skin in long flowing moves which always move away from the heart. Blood begins to rise to the surface of the skin, and will leave a mark that resembles a bruise or love bite. The areas of the body that are most frequently treated are the back and ribs, and the marks will fade a few days after the treatment is over.
Like other practices in TCM, coining is designed to bring balance to the body. Cao gio can be literally translated as “catch the wind,” and it is designed to draw off and release excess wind in the body. Wind illness, as it is called, is believed to contribute to fevers, muscle aches, low energy, and chills. If the imbalance is mild, it is believed that the marks left after coining will be very light, while if the patient had a large excess of wind, the marks will be livid and dark.
By drawing off the bad wind, coining allows the patient's body to find a natural balance between yin and yang, resulting in a health improvement. Coining is one among many physical treatments including massage and acupuncture which is designed to balance these two opposing forces in order to eliminate illness and discomfort. The effectiveness of coining is under debate in the Western world, although most doctors agree that the massage and warming oils, at least, probably help with muscle aches and pains.