Tired of the regular grind of eating salads, popping pills and running laps to try and keep up your health? In China, many daily health recommendations come from concepts in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a healing system dating back to Ancient China. It is based on Taoist principles of living in harmony with nature and focusing on keeping internal heat (yang) and coolness (yin) in equilibrium. Here are a few things to try if you’re feeling stressed, sluggish or just a little bit out of balance.
If you take a walk in Shanghai’s parks in the morning, you’ll probably see older people flowing through the motions of Tai Chi. While originally established as a form of martial arts, the name of this slow moving, graceful art refers to a philosophy of the forces of yin and yang. Tai chi is thought to help focus the mind and bring about a state of metal calm and clarity. Each movement is important, and the slowness helps to hone each position. Don’t be shy about joining in the classes. If you prefer, there are more structured classes around the city open to visitors.
You can try this ancient activity at Pure Tai Chi (Jing’an), 402, Lane 12, 470 North Shaanxi Road
You may see people from time to time with a series of perfectly round bruises running up parts of their bodies. It may look painful, but it’s a traditional method of detoxification used to help increase the flow of blood to places that are sore – most often the back, neck, and shoulders. It’s also thought to help improve the flow of qi to treat respiratory diseases, such as the common cold and bronchitis.
What happens is a professional heats up the air in several cups and then puts the cups on your skin, creating a vacuum and sucking up the skin. The method has recently become more popular in the West, as athletes have begun giving the method a try.
This traditional Chinese medicinal technique involves burning mug-wort to facilitate healing. This small, spongy herb is burned, and the aroma is thought to calm fraying nerves, strengthen the blood, stimulate the flow of qi and reduce stress. Moxibustion is generally used tangentially with acupuncture; bundles of it are either burned and waved over the body or, more intensely, put onto the skin itself. Some have reported that the technique facilitates lucid dreaming. At the very least, the smell is calming.
Sticking a bunch of needles into the skin might sound a little bit scary, but those pointy tools can be used to relieve pain and encourage energy, when used regularly. This ancient method is believed to have originated in 100 BC. Even today, results from a number of studies have suggested that acupuncture may help ease types of chronic pain in the lower back, neck, hands and knees. It could also help reduce the frequency of tension headaches and migraines.
A professional will pinpoint your pain issue and use the needles to unblock meridians. If you’re having pain in your hand, but the specialist is putting needles somewhere else, don’t worry. Often a professional will target nerves that are at the root of the problem to try and quell it.
This type of massage is not necessarily the most relaxing option you can choose; it’s considered more of a treatment for pain. In the past, acupressure was almost exclusively used by Buddhist monks to maintain good health during continuous harsh days of work, prayer and fasting. Today, professionals use acupressure to help relieve the tension that builds up in the neck and back after a long day in front of a computer.
Before beginning, a professional masseuse will ask you where your problem points are, and will then use his or her fingertips to push into the skin, helping realign posture and promote circulation. It may feel rather painful during the process, but the next morning, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day. Note: if something the masseuse is doing is too painful, speak up!
Try it at Yu Massage, 366 Wuyuan Road
Instead of relying on vitamin pills and supplements, many practitioners of TCM follow a diet that focuses on making sure the body is getting the kinds of nutrients it needs from whole foods. In TCM, food is classified according to energetic effects: some are nourishing and warming, while others are cooling or expelling. Some can be good for encouraging circulation, others for nourishing the blood. Some foods are considered good for the skin, or good for aiding digestion. There is no set diet, as every person has different needs according to their internal workings – and it’s more about maintaining good personal health as opposed to fixing a problem once it manifests.
Soak your pain away
Perhaps one of the best (and most pleasurable) ways of taking care of your body is by visiting one of the bathhouses of Shanghai. Going in for a long soak not only revives the senses and feels awesome, it’s also great for opening up the pores and increasing circulation. If you’re feeling really indulgent, go to the back of the spa, where you can have an exfoliation and a cucumber mask to scrub away the toxins and help your skin really breathe.
You can find some of the best bathhouses in Shanghai here.
According to the TCM paradigm, feet are the window to the rest of the body – every organ in the body is rooted to a specific reflex point on the foot through more than 300 nerves. This means that most ailments can be connected back to those sore tootsies of yours, and a foot massage means so much more than relaxed toes. In fact, a foot massage can start with the masseuse asking you specifically what kind of ailments you have. The resulting series of punches, pokes and foot bending will most likely relate directly to what you say. At the very least, the foot soak and massage will leave you feeling rejuvenated and ready to pound the pavement.