Everyone gets sick. But is it because you forgot to wash your hands one too many times, or because of an imbalance of yin and yang in the body? The Chinese believe that harmony between yin and yang helps keep you healthy. Likewise, an imbalance can lead to disease and illness. The human body is treated as a world in microcosm, that must have a balance of light and dark, fire and water, femininity and masculinity, and hot and cold foods.
Another important aspect of staying healthy is ensuring a stable flow of Qi, or energy, within the body. When Qi is blocked and cannot flow properly, you are more likely to get sick. But what about ways to prevent getting sick? Rather than taking Tylenol, Esberitox or other pills, Chinese people use different types of Chinese medicine (中药) to prevent and cure different illnesses.
The Importance of Hot Water (白开水)
Chinese people love hot water: they drink it with every meal every day, no matter the temperature outside. Even during the fiercest summer heat, they can often be found strolling with an umbrella in one hand and a thermos of hot water in the other. On the other hand, Westerners tend to go for iced drinks: chilled soda, cold beer, frozen lemonade. So why do Chinese people love hot water so much?
Hot water is known to be good for your health—but in which ways? Firstly, hot or room-temperature water, is the same temperature as your body’s internal temperature (around 37 degrees Celsius). When you drink hot water, it is already in tune with your body and does not interrupt the smooth flow of blood circulation. However, when you drink ice water, the body must consume a large amount of energy to bring it to your body’s natural temperature. If your body does not have that energy, symptoms such as indigestion or contractions may appear.
Another benefit is that warm water helps the digestion organs operate more efficiently. Often, Chinese people drink warm water in the morning and with meals, as it boosts metabolism. For all the foodies out there, this means you can eat more food (if you drink warm water)! If you’re looking for an easy way to not get sick and eat more food, the answer is simple: 白开水!
How Does Acupuncture (针刺) Work?
The most well-known Chinese medicine method is acupuncture, which uses thin metal needles to stimulate particular points on the body. There are various types of acupuncture, but the most common is microcurrent, which delivers a small electric current through the needle, and traditional Chinese acupuncture.
Acupuncture’s main goal is to clear the blockages in the body and promote a healthy flow of energy (Qi). The problems stemming from one area of the body link to a particular point of another area of the body. By stimulating the corresponding point, pain can be lessened. The most common type of illness that acupuncture helps are those dealing with joint pain, such as arthritis, or back, neck, knee, or shoulder pain. However, some also believe that acupuncture can help in other areas as well, such as nausea, depression, fertility, weight loss, or anxiety.
We asked Geraldine Rowland, an expert on acupuncture who first began practicing whilst living in China and studying at the Shanghai University for Traditional Chinese Medicine, about the benefits of acupuncture. She explains that acupuncture has been tried and tested over 2000 years and is safe and effective in treating a wide range of conditions: “there is a growing body of evidence on particular conditions, however, in my experience as a practitioner, the great benefit of acupuncture is that it provides treatment for the individual, whereby a diagnosis is made which considers the person’s state of total health and well-being”. In essence, this means that two people might have the same complaints/symptoms but the acupuncturist will treat them very differently. The practitioner will work with the Qi of the person to establish harmony and equilibrium where this has been lost.
How many sessions of acupuncture are needed?
According to Geraldine, an initial course of five or six treatments is generally recommended with the aim of spacing out treatments once the benefit is maintained from one treatment to the next. Some people choose to continue acupuncture as part of maintaining their general health and well-being, perhaps having five or six treatments per year.
Does acupuncture hurt?
Most of the time, people find acupuncture treatment to be a relaxing experience. There is a sensation from the needles, however this varies from treatment to treatment and person to person. You should not feel any real pain, though discomfort can occur.
Should I use acupuncture as prevention or cure?
Geraldine says that acupuncture has been documented as both, however people tend to seek acupuncture treatment to resolve existing conditions and then often choose to continue treatment due to the wide ranging benefits they experience from it.
Pros: It can provide higher levels of energy and has little side effects. All practitioners must have a license and are trained to customize treatment.
Cons: If you’re scared of needles, this might not be the best treatment. However, you can try acupressure (same as acupuncture, but uses pressure rather than needles). There is no guarantee of success, similar to most medical procedures.
Helping Herbs: Medicine (中药) and Moxibustion (艾灸)
A subset of acupuncture is known as Moxibustion, which involves burning mugwort, a type of herb, above acupuncture points to apply heat. This type of acupuncture is often used on people who have colds, as burning the herb expels cold from within the body and warms the acupuncture points, thereby increasing the body’s amount of yang. After balance is restored, Qi can flow more smoothly.
Chinese people also strongly believe in using herbs to cure illnesses. The most common way of consuming herbs is through tea. Other ways that the herbs are taken include in the form of tinctures, pills and powders, as well as consuming the herb raw. There are a variety of herbs, such as ginseng, chrysanthemum, and ginkgo.
Chinese medicine is incredibly individualized, looking at the entire body rather than just a single symptom before prescribing treatments. For example, not only is the source of the illness considered (hot wind vs. cold wind for flus), but also different symptoms (dry cough vs. wet cough, runny nose, mucus colors, e.g.). After observing all factors of the illness, Chinese people are able to determine what herbs they need in order to heal.
Pros: Individualized treatments for your illness, and a large variety of organic herbs to use. The herbs are natural and can be used in many different ways.
Cons: The herbs do not smell or taste very good (speaking from experience). It is also important that you know and trust your practitioner and source of the herbs.
Chinese Cupping Techniques (拔罐)
Have you seen large round circles on someone’s back? Those are probably because they recently started cupping. Chinese cupping is a lesser-known Traditional Chinese Medicine. The cup is placed on your back and uses suction, either from heat (known as fire cupping) or an electric vacuum to draw the derma layer away from the muscle tissue underneath. By separating the two layers, fresh air is “breathed” between, removing toxins and increasing circulation of both blood and Qi. It uses suction to remove yang from the body and reduces pain, stress, and muscle aches, as well as flu or colds. In addition, cupping draws pathogens to the surface, reducing putrefaction of blood, which causes fevers.
Cupping is especially useful for reducing muscle cramps and aches, as it breaks any adhesions that formed within the muscle. In addition, it reduces any swelling that might have occurred alongside the muscle pain. Cupping also enhances the acupuncture treatment, and the two practices are often combined. However, cupping cannot be done as often, as you must wait until the bruises of the previous appointment have faded.
Pros: Cupping is a great way to relieve stress, and has many health benefits, such as reducing risk of brain injuries or improving blood circulation.
Cons: Bruises from the cupping sessions are very prominent and can take from 10-14 days to heal. The procedure is also mildly discomforting and could cause a skin infection as well.
Moving Muscles: Tui Na (推拿), Tai Chi (太极), and Qi Gong (气功)
Tui Na, an intense therapeutic massage, is another form of Chinese medicine to remedy muscle crumps and aching limbs. The massage is combined with acupressure, applying pressure at numerous acupuncture points to help ease the flow of Qi. Tui Na is a great way to treat a specific problem, such as chronic pain in joints, muscles, or skeletal system; another added benefit includes alleviating stress-related disorders, such as insomnia or headaches.
Tai Chi and Qi Gong are great ways to prevent getting sick. If you are in China or have been to China, you might have noticed groups of people practicing Tai Chi in a park or in the middle of a courtyard. That is because Chinese people believe that Tai Chi is very beneficial, as it strengthens your bones and reduces stress. Tai Chi moves are all very slow and precise, practicing mental clarity and strength rather than muscular strength. Additionally, this graceful form of exercise helps improve both physical balance and inner harmony. Fit for people of all ages, Tai Chi is a wonderful way to exercise and relieve stress. Our Shanghai school hosts Tai Chi classes on the rooftop during the week!
Similar to Tai Chi is Qi Gong, which combines meditative practices with breath work and body movement. Qi Gong is extremely useful for improving mental clarity and relaxing muscles. This ancient (over 5,000 years old) mind-body practice works to enhance the flow of Qi in the body. There are various combinations of body movements, posture, breathing and focused intentions.
Pros of Tai Chi: Tai Chi can be practiced individually or in a group; there is little to no cost in trying Tai Chi. It is very beneficial for various aspects of your health, both mental and physical. People of all ages can practice Tai Chi!
Cons of Tai Chi: Tai Chi is very slow moving, so change comes over a long period of time.
Whether you are working hard studying Chinese or interning at an amazing company, staying healthy is extremely important. Make sure to wash your hands, eat your vegetables, and keep your yin and yang balanced!
Let us know what your favorite Traditional Chinese Medicine is in the comments below!
If this has piqued your interest for Chinese culture, we recommend you also check out this post by The Chairman’s Bao about Chinese pop songs and how listening to them might actually teach you some Chinese vocabulary.
Interested in reading more about Chinese culture? Read our article on Chinese customs and manners, or see our post on 4 tips to stay healthy during autumn.
Cheryl Li – marketing intern