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6 Unusual Ways to Better Health with TCM

Got the sniffles? How about some fire to cure that up? Tense? Cut it with a knife!


It is approaching that time of year where, if you haven’t filled up on Vitamin D (and if you’ve been living beneath a blanket of toxins), it may be advisable to undergo some treatments that will fuel you for the winter months and beyond.

With a history that dates back 2,000 or 3,000 years, it is perhaps not unfathomable that Chinese medicine may hold some answers. Over its evolution, Traditional Chinese Medicine has offered an alternative system of diagnosis and cure to that of the West.

Although they may sometimes sound like old wives tales, Chinese medicine techniques are actually finding their way into Western medicine. Penicillin derived from mold, so why should the use of centipedes (for snakebites, convulsions and malaria), carps (for coughs, asthma and edema), frogs (for treating boils) or scarab beetles (nasal polyps, boils, piles and dysentery) in medicine seem so bizarre?

The central belief of Chinese medicine is that the source of the illness needs to be treated primarily. It requires a deep understanding of the body and its networks, its qi or vital energy. So to avoid illness altogether, try some of these slightly absurd, but proven by popularity, treatments that have been curing (and possibly causing) pains and ailments in China for years.

LED Phototherapy (LED光线疗法 guāngxiàn liáofǎ)

Starting with a new-age remedy, LED phototherapy is a technique that recently came to attention at a technology exhibit in China. You may have seen these eye-catching devices and wondered what new fad it is, so just to clarify, no they are not going to a rave, nor are they prematurely preparing for Christmas—they are easing nasal congestion with their glowing red nose adornments. To be a little more precise: it is low-energy narrow-band LED phototherapy for nasal symptoms such as allergic rhinitis and nasal polyposis. If you suffer from stuffy noses, get on board and breathe easy.

WARNING: Side effects may include serious stares as people question the motivation behind your new accessory.

Photo by Avery on Flickr

Cupping (拔火罐 bá huǒguàn)

Impress your friends with your numerous bruises, and try cupping. It may sound a little off-putting, especially when you consider the circular, purple marks that you are sure to acquire form the process, but its popularity renders it a worthwhile experiment. The treatment involves affixing a cup-like device to the skin by creating a vacuum. The resulting suction pulls the skin into the glass cup. Cupping is believed to stimulate blood flow, draw toxins from the body, open pours and check qi. It is used in the treatment of respiratory conditions, arthritis, bodily tensions and gastrointestinal disorders.


Photo by Vera Yu and David Li on Flickr

Gua sha (刮痧, guā shā)

Literally translated, it means to scrape away fever. It involves applying pressure to lubricated skin with a round edged utensil and repeating strokes along the acupuncture meridians. This process of scraping the skin results in small red patches, not bruises (they fade in 2 to 3 days), unlike the longer lasting effects of cupping. Gua sha aids circulation and metabolism and relieves aches and pains. If you can deal with a little discomfort, it may save you in the long run.

Apitherapy (蜂针疗法 fēng zhēn liáofǎ, getting stung with bees, professionally)

No one likes them, they are flinch inducing, yet their very weapon is seen as a great remedy. Apitherapy, the use of bee products for medicinal benefits, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for treating systematic immune diseases, allergies, inflammation and viral diseases for a long time. It has become a source of interest in the West where it’s being investigated as a cure for multiple sclerosis. At its most basic level of treatment in China, application may be a little more than walking into a bee keep and getting stung repeatedly, but the results speak for themselves.

Photo by Joel Haas on Flickr

Chinese Knife Massage(刀按摩 dāo ànmó)

Looking for a terrifying experience with great medicinal benefits? An ancient technique practiced over 2,000 years ago, preserved by Buddhist monks and esteemed by Japanese Samurai warriors, may just be what you are looking for. Seeking a nice relaxing massage, you enter a parlor. You sit down and prepare for some physical healing, you look for your masseur and realize that, yes, he is sharpening his meat cleavers. A towel is placed on your back, some tiger balm rubbed into your neck to induce further relaxation and then the large, state of the art, butcher knives start coming down. No, it is not torture. This guy knows what he is doing. He is slicing and dicing your tensions, bettering (interior) blood flow. It’s all about self-cure through the release of qi.

Photo by Tricia Wang on Flickr

Fire Treatment (火疗 huǒ liáo)

You may be able to guess what setting yourself on fire might be good for. If your guess was the common cold, then you would be correct. Yes, people willingly enter traditional hospitals, have a towel laid on their back, are doused in alcohol and set alight. But the benefits of fire therapy are thought to be many. It is currently being used to combat growing levels of obesity in China. In a traditional Chinese hospital in Changchun, Jilin Province they are literally burning off the fat.

If you prefer to maintain a healthy body free from chemicals (other than those you breath in every day in China) ,then Chinese medicine, with its focus on an au naturel approach may be your perfect remedy, if you can handle it.

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