Masuk Angin

A Uniquely Asian Sickness

Marks left on the body after the cups were removed. Not all cupping looks this serious.

These are marks left on a body after a cupping procedure.
Bloodletting / cupping is believed to be helpful in removing harmful wind which has entered the body.

Throughout Indonesia, among every ethnic group, religion, and social economic group, Indonesians have a strong belief in the sickness they call masuk angin (wind enter), and they take great precautions to prevent it. Masuk angin has been described by some as a type of sickness that covers about every type of vague ache, pain, fever, cold, etc., that there is.

Most Indonesians (even those in the Indonesian medical field) believe wind can enter a person’s body through pores in the skin. Some Indonesians believe masuk angin is just an old term that parallels the westerner’s phrase of “catch a cold,” but in reality, it’s much more than that.

There are ancient beliefs that evil spirits can enter the body, via the wind. Many Indonesians will ensure their windows are closed at nights to prevent these spirits from entering. Though some Indonesians may not believe the sickness is caused by evil spirits, masuk angin is still deeply engrained in the Indonesian belief system.

Popular over-the-counter medicine in Indonesia, specifically for masuk angin.

This is a popular over-the-counter medicine in Indonesia specifically for masuk angin.

A Warning to Westerners

Westerners are startled and amazed when they first hear of masuk angin. They are also known to write prolifically on the Internet, pointing out their opposition to this belief. Though the medical profession in the west sees nothing credible in masuk angin, it would be wise for the westerner to position themselves as a student and learn about this Asian belief, and to take great precaution so as not to respond in a way that would demean or ridicule a belief different from their own. Doing so will only make you look like an ignorant and arrogant foreigner (bule). It’s also terrible for relationships!

Indonesians believe masuk angin can take place via several different ways:

  • Being in front of a fan for a long time.
  • Being in a room with an air conditioner, with the temperature being quite cool.
    • This makes it challenging for westerners when traveling or being together with Indonesians. They don’t turn the AC or fan on very high because they’re afraid of masuk angin.
      • If the car is too cold for Indonesians, they will often open the window to let the warm air in, thus defeating the purpose for having the AC on in the first place.
      • While traveling on river speedboats, Indonesians like to keep the tarp pulled down tight to prevent the strong breeze from hitting them. The westerner traveling on these speedboats feel smothered in the stifling heat.
  • Being out in the cool evening air.
  • Riding motorcycles without a jacket.
    • Even though it may be very hot and humid, it’s common to see Indonesians wear thick jackets (coats) while riding motorcycles.
  • Bathing and not drying off quickly afterwards.
    • It’s believed that children and weaker adults are more susceptible to masuk angin than others. It’s common for parents to rub oil on the bodies of children after bathing to warm their bodies up quickly and prevent the wind from entering.
  • Frequently drinking fluids with ice or just cold drinks in general.

KerokanScrapping of the skin is done to release the wind from within a person's body.

Kerokan
Scrapping of the skin is done to release the wind from within a person’s body. Coconut or palm oil is used to lubricate the skin prior to scrapping.

Indonesian beliefs about how to get the wind out of the body of a person suffering from masuk angin.

Scrapping of the Skin (Kerokan)

This practice involves scrapping the oiled skin of the affected person with a coin, piece of wood, or plastic. The oil used is coconut oil or palm oil, with ground up red onions added to it. Some people will scrap the entire body. Some will merely scrape the area of the body that’s affected. It’s believed that scrapping the skin with a coin or other object will improve circulation in those areas. Doing this will break the blood vessels beneath the surface of the skin, thus allowing the trapped wind to exit the body.

KerokThis practice ised believed to be helpful in removing wind from a person"s body--the root cause of many sicknesses.

Kerokan
This practice is believed to be helpful in removing harmful wind from a person”s body–the root cause of many sicknesses.

Side Notes

  • Another belief is that the coin serves as an attempt to draw the bad spirits that are making you feel sick out of your body (since bad spirits are known to be attracted to money). It is believed that the redder or darker the marks are, the sicker you actually are.
  • Many of these traditional remedies have ancient beliefs attached to them, though most people are unaware of the original reason for the practice.
  • Some indicate that although this method is effective, it isn’t advised because people can become “addicted” to it for every illness they get. It is said that the continual and repeated scrapping will damage skins pores and allow the wind to enter much easier in the future.
  • Because the skin’s pores are opened after scrapping, it is said that a person must wait 1 hour before they bathe. If they bathe right away, it’s believed that water can enter their body through their skin and make their condition worse.
It's believed that massages will release harmful wind which has lodged itself in the tissues of a person's body.

It’s believed that massages will release harmful wind which has lodged itself in the tissues of a person’s body.

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Massage

(Urut / Pijat)

It’s believed that a massage will loosen the body’s tissue that is harboring the wind that has entered. Once the tissue has been massaged the wind can exit through the skin. They say warm oil must be used or the massage won’t be effective in getting the wind out.

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Burping / Passing Gas

If a person burps after eating, that will not be effective in releasing masuk angin. If the person burps after they were scraped (kerok) or massaged, that is believed to be the harmful wind exiting the body.

Vomit

You can make yourself vomit to get the wind out, but it’s recommended not to do this more than two times.

Cupping (Bekam)

Cupping with water buffalo horns.

Bloodletting is commonly employed to get excess wind out. Bloodletting is believed to remedy many other sicknesses as well.

Medicine

Antangin (anti-wind) and Tolak Angin (push away wind) — are two very popular  over-the-counter medicines that are believed to prevent or heal anyone who has masuk angin.

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Sitting Wind

If a person has a serious case of masuk angin, it’s referred to as “angin duduk” (sitting wind). Indonesians say this type of sickness can become serious and lead to death if great efforts aren’t taken to get this wind out.

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How to Prevent Masuk Angin (According to Indonesians)

A very popular over-the-counter anti-masuk angin medicine.

A very popular over-the-counter anti-masuk angin medicine.

  • Exercise so blood circulation is increased. This will get any wind out of the body that might be trapped there.
  • When bathing with cool water, splash the water on the lower parts of the body first, then slowly move up to other parts (Indonesians mostly bath using cool water from a bak, or they bathe in rivers.)
  • If you have enough funds, occasionally take a steam bath (sauna).
  • Grow accustomed to drinking fluids that contain ginger and mint, since those ingredients have a warming effect on the circulatory and digestive system. Try to only drink warm beverages.
  • If you have a runny nose, don’t suck the phlegm back up into the nose and swallow it. Those are toxins that need to be expelled.
  • Dress warm, and if caught in the rain and your clothes get wet, change them quickly.
  • Close the windows in your homes at nights to keep the cool air out.
    • Closing windows at nights is also connected with the Indonesian belief that evil spirits (syaitan / roh jahat) may enter during the evenings and create many types of problems for the people living there.
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