Chinese Medicine and How to Integrate It Into Your Everyday Life
By Rosanna Campbell-Gray
“Traditional Chinese Medicine is the perfect answer to most of our daily questions about health, wellness and nutrition” says Dr Imke König, a medical doctor and Traditional Chinese Medicine specialist based in one of the world’s leading wellness retreats, Schloss Elmau, Germany.
Unlike Western medicine, Eastern medicine tends to address the root cause of an ailment, rather than taking the ‘one-pill-fits-all’ approach. Illnesses, both physical and mental, are approached in a holistic manner with a focus on both the treatment and the prevention of it. A Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner will use a range of therapies, from acupuncture and cupping to nutrition and Tuina massage, in order to achieve good health by restoring the natural flow of qi.
Traditional Chinese Medicine texts date back about 2500 years – a time where many parts of physiology were not well understood, yet, through looking, listening, touching and asking (the four pillars of diagnosis in Traditional Chinese Medicine) doctors were able to diagnose and treat illnesses. “They observed muscle tension, felt patients’ pulses and looked at their tongues, the one muscle in the body not covered by skin” explains Dr Imke. “As a modern doctor, I am of course aware that this method has its limitations, however, most of my patients come to me with ailments that modern medicine hasn’t been able to treat.” These conditions include irritable bowel syndrome, chronic urinary conditions, insomnia, weight issues, eating disorders, diarrhea, constipation and high muscle tensions. Dr Imke also treats those experiencing mental and emotional distress and severe anger problems.
What is Qi (chi)?
In Chinese Medicine, Qi is everything. It is made up of Yin and Yang and comes from two sources, the Da Qi, also known as the highest Qi, and the Gu Qi. The Da Qi is oxygen and the Gu Qi is food. “If you don´t breathe, you die. If you don’t eat, you die” says Dr Imke.
“Qi is divided into Yin and Yang, Yin is matter, the earth, dark, cold, stable, resting, relaxing, rejuvenating, replenishing, sleep, meditation, food and more. Yang is energy, the sky, sun, air, light, warm, moving, active, using energy for movement, for body heat and for all physical processes”.
What’s important when it comes to physical and emotional health – which Dr Imke points out are too often interpreted as separate issues in modern medicine – is the balance and harmony of the Yin Qi which is everything that you can touch, and your Yang Qi which is everything you feel but can’t touch, from energy and body heat to heartbeat and breath. “If you look at it as a mechanic, Yang is the fuel of a car, Yin is the cooling water and oil. If you lack Yang, the car stops. This isn’t too dangerous. However, if you lack Yin, the car motor will break down, which can be very dangerous.Yin deficiency is the most difficult to treat in TCM” she explains. “We don’t tend to use blood tests, endoscopies or x-rays in TCM. We look at the person as a whole and take a lot of time looking at all areas in life, physical, emotional and environmental.”
Incorporating Traditional Chinese Medicine practices at home
Traditional Chinese Medicine is all about preventing the illness in the first place so nutrition and movement are key elements to good health. We asked Dr Imke to share a few tips on how to adopt some simple habits for harmony at home.
Drink warm water and eat warm food
“Cold food and beverages cool and weaken your digestive system. The chinese super food is not the green raw cold smoothie, but the warm cooked vegetable soup, or soups in general. Raw food is extremely difficult to digest so it’s best to eat warm cooked food, especially in winter when it’s cold outside.
Eat slowly, chew thoroughly, eat in peace and don’t argue whilst eating. Use ginger and cinnamon in tea, soups or porridge to keep the body warm and fight off colds. Avoid ice cold food and drinks even in winter.”
Protect yourself from the elements
“Cold, wind, heat, humidity and dryness all have important effects on your health. The cold has a strong effect on your shoulders, neck, ears, kidneys and bladder so wear a scarf, hat or ear warmers. Dryness affects the lungs and nose so make sure to have the right humidity where you live, especially if you tend to suffer from coughs. Always wear a hat in the sun because heat has a powerful effect on the head.”
“Life is movement, so make sure you move enough. Reduce the amount of time you spend sitting or lying around, especially when you’re feeling stressed. Blood circulation is boosted through movement and the body will function better. It doesn’t need to be an intense workout, but slow and steady movements. Find movements that you enjoy, it can be anything.
Get as much fresh air as possible
“Fresh air has more qi (Da Qi) so try to exercise outside or with a wide open window (dress according to temperature!). One of the worst things you can do is Bikram Yoga with closed windows on an empty stomach.”
Don’t drink when you eat
“Drink after eating, not during or within 60 minutes of a meal. It’s best drink is warm water or tea depending on any underlying conditions.”
“Try to establish a rhythm in your life. Your body loves daily patterns. If you are sitting in front of a computer every day, look into the distance, ideally at nature, at least once an hour.”
Foot bath to help you Sleep
“In the evening immerse your feet in warm water and massage the ‘kidney one’ or Yong Quan point in the middle of the sole of your foot – look it up online. If someone can give you a foot massage, that’s even better.”
“You can help appease sea sickness with acupressure wrist bands. The elasticated bracelets sit on your wrists and are very effective for any sort of travel sickness. You can even use them during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding as well as on children.”
Pain and injuries
“Use Jin Gu Shui, an all-natural herbal liniment for muscle pain, insect bites, neuralgic pain, swelling and hematomas. It’s hugely popular in martial arts as well as with other athletes.”
Advice for visiting a Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctor for the first time
Dr Imke recommends getting a personal recommendation or doing thorough research online. Just like modern doctors, Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors have specialists, especially when it comes to gynecology or IVF support. Write your questions down before you go to your appointment and bring your medical history. When visiting your practitioner, expect to be open about questions regarding emotions and always be honest. She recommends having something to eat before you go however, don’t scrape your tongue or consume foods that could colour your tongue before the visit.
Types of Traditional Chinese Treatments
Acupuncture, cupping and herbal remedies are three of the most common types of treatment however, remedies and cures will be different for everyone. Tuina is a form of Chinese massage which uses a variety of techniques including acupressure. Guasha is a special form of scraping of the skin using horn shaped stones. Other treatments may include Chinese 5-element nutrition, Qigong and Taiji, and of course the vast variety of Chinese herbs.
Acupuncture is a traditional treatment that uses very fine needles that are put into strategic points of the body. “Scientific studies have shown several beneficial effects of this method, one of which is pain relief, triggered by the release of endorphins” says Dr Imke. “In fact, many studies show that acupuncture is more efficient than standard therapy in cases of chronic lower back pain.” Acupuncture is also a powerful tool for remedying vegetative neurological functions such as sweating, digestion, stress or gynecological functions.
The burning of the moxa herb near acupuncture points is also a powerful treatment used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The heat from the burning herbs stimulate certain points and is very effective for those suffering from diarrhea when used around the stomach area.
Another popular treatment among Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners and sports therapists is cupping. Glass cups are used for suction on slightly oiled skin in order to draw blood to the surface. “Depending on the kind of use, it can be immunostimulating, warming, relaxing and softening. This treatment works wonders with scar tissue, tense muscles, or muscle pain” says Dr Imke.
Dr Imke is the Medical Spa Director at Schloss Elmau, a spa retreat and cultural hideaway tucked away in the calm of the Bavarian Alps. The property boasts three spas and pools exclusively for adults and three spas and pools for families. There is also an Oriental Hammam, Traditional Chinese Medicine Spa and a unique Cultural Programme in its legendary concert hall with some of the greatest artists of all time. Traditional Chinese Medicine retreats are available from €383.00 per person per night. Schloss-elmau.de
The views expressed in this article are for informational purposes. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions regarding a medical condition.
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Rosanna is Content Director at Talia Collective. Having worked in a leading travel PR agency in London, she is currently heading up the editorial side of our platform whilst volunteering with the US-based NGO Sustainable Travel International, assisting with new media campaigns related to carbon offset programs.