If you’re looking to bring more balance and vitality to your life, we’re sharing our 10 favorite body practices from Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Bonus: they’re super simple and you can start today!
What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?
Traditional Chinese Medicine is a complex framework of ancient wisdom which honors and balances the mind, body, and spirit. It has been credited with increasing vitality and helping to minimize health problems for literally thousands of years.
While studying this discipline is complicated, there are several simple health tips you can start today to better support your health!
Among these principles are proper sleep habits, keeping particular areas of the body warm, living in harmony with the seasons, adequate nutrition, herbs and teas, regular daily movement, breathwork, and acupuncture treatment.
Here’s how to get started:
1. Go to bed earlier
While prioritizing rest and aiming for a replenishing eight hours of sleep are important, your actual bedtime also plays a role in getting health benefits from your sleep.
According to TCM theory’s 24-hour circadian clock, it’s ideal to be in bed around 10-10:30 pm.
Sleep is a critical time for the body to rest and restore. In Chinese medicine, being asleep between the hours of 11pm and 3am helps to support your liver and gallbladder organ systems.
Additionally, practice staying off electronic devices at least an hour before bed to ensure the effects of blue light don’t keep you from a deep, restful sleep.
2. Cover up with a scarf
According to TCM, the nape of the neck is particularly vulnerable to elements such as wind and cold, which may make one more susceptible to pathogens.
To support a healthy immune system, TCM says you should protect your neck with a cozy scarf before stepping outside.
If you’re traveling on an airplane or expect to be in environments with a steady flow of air conditioning (office spaces, trains, etc.), pack a light scarf to have on hand.
3. Keep Your Feet Warm
Keeping your feet warm is not solely for comfort. In TCM there are many acupuncture points located on the feet. These meridians maintain a delicate balance within the body and may be influenced by cold temperatures.
So to support proper flow through these meridians, keep your feet covered and warm, particularly for those who menstruate. While keeping your feet warm may not be as essential during the summer months, TCM theory emphasizes keeping your feet covered and warm to support a healthy internal system.
4. Emphasize Warm, Cooked Foods
Keeping the body warm on the inside is just as important as keeping it warm on the outside. In Chinese Medicine, paying attention to the nature of the food we eat is an important way to accomplish this.
Cold and raw foods such as raw vegetables, smoothies, salads, and ice cream may be more difficult for some of us to digest. Cold-natured food may not cause trouble for everyone, but especially if you regularly experience bloating and digestive discomfort, TCM recommends incorporating lightly cooked or steamed veggies and warm foods instead.
Additionally, TCM practitioners recommended choosing room temperature water instead of ice-cold drinks. These suggestions are especially important in the cold winter months when the body requires more energy to break these foods down.
5. Mindful Movement
In Chinese medicine, it is believed that stagnation leads to imbalance and pain.
Our bodies need to move to stay healthy and balanced. Sometimes we are guilty of moving too much, but more often these days, we move too little.
Traditional Chinese medicine emphasizes gentle, regular, daily movement to improve mood and physical wellbeing. Movements that support this gentle and sustainable nature are practices such as Tai chi, yoga, qigong, walking, stretching, and light jogging.
Because of our busy modern lifestyles, we often opt for high intensity, strenuous bursts of movement. While these may help obtain short term goals, Chinese medicine recommends a more sustainable type of movement throughout each day.
Living in harmony with the seasons is far from a new concept and remains important for our health and our planet. One of the most basic ways our human body receives vital energy and nutrients is from the Earth, particularly from the foods we eat.
In Chinese medicine, there is a specific form of energy or Qi that we can only obtain from food. This is why following a balanced diet is essential to good health.
To enhance the potential of our food to fuel us, TCM practitioners recommend eating the foods of the seasons. Depending on where you are in the world, these recommendations will vary. If you’re not sure where to start, check out some basic guidelines here.
7. Apply Heat, Not Ice
Ice constricts and freezes. Think of a time when you were walking outside in the winter. The automatic reaction in response to the cold air is to tense our muscles and draw our body inward.
When trying to heal muscle aches and pains, heat is often more beneficial than ice. Applying heat to muscle aches and pains can help to promote circulation to the muscle to aid in healing and relief of pain.
While ice may temporarily ease pain due to its numbing ability, the constriction of the muscle is often not conducive to healing – according to TCM. This traditional approach says there are only a few reasons to choose ice, such as acute traumatic injury where there is swelling and redness of the area.
As always, please check with your healthcare provider about the best treatment plan for your body.
8. Drink Tea
Herbology is a branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine which uses herbal formulas to help promote wellbeing. Often these herbs are consumed in the form of tea.
While acupuncture works by communicating with the body, herbs are considered the building blocks which support the body’s ability to effect change.
All herbs have different functions and are used singly or in combination to support the body and mind. Common and easy-to-use herbs/teas include ginger or peppermint to support the digestive system and cinnamon to support healthy blood circulation.
Teas are also classified as either “warming” or “cooling” in TCM – and it has nothing to do with whether they’re made hot or iced. It’s about the essence of the tea itself. For example, green teas and white teas are typically considered to be cooling and thus ideal for spring and summer months. Black teas and oolong teas, on the other hand, are warming and thus recommended for the colder months.
Learning to choose the right teas for the season can also help bring internal balance to your body.
9. Breathe in Nature
In Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, the air we breathe supplies our bodies with a vital form of energy/qi/lifeforce, supplementing the energy we receive from food.
While breathing is an involuntary action of the body, oftentimes we are not taking the deep, replenishing breaths that our bodies crave.
A great way to practice restorative breathing is through a daily meditation practice that supports your mental and physical health by slowing down, breathing, and quieting your mind. If you live in a city, try to find green space and practice deep breathing outdoors. Research shows that spending time in nature may positively impact our health and wellbeing in many ways. [ii]
The practice of Acupuncture and acupressure treats the body, mind, and spirit to promote balance within the system. Acupuncture uses sterile, single-use needles to stimulate specific points on the body and create change while acupressure uses gentle pressure to stimulate those same points on the body.
This form of treatment communicates with the body through neurotransmitters, fascia, and hormones, to support systemic changes that allow the body to self-heal. [i]
Traditionally, acupuncture was practiced mainly as a preventative medicine. Today, regular acupuncture sessions are still encouraged to maintain health and prevent sickness, but many seek out treatment to assist the body in healing particular conditions.
These are just 10 basic principles that have been proven for centuries to support the health of body and mind.
Although simple, these tips address essential needs and provide valuable support of our unique and complex systems. From mindful movement to healthy eating and herbal medicine, each of these tips is designed to support the strong flow of qi – your lifeforce.
Start with one or slowly begin to incorporate them into your routine. Your body will thank you!
Always check in with your healthcare provider before making dietary or lifestyle changes.
[i] Lee, In-Seon, et al. “Central and Peripheral Mechanism of Acupuncture Analgesia on Visceral Pain: A Systematic Review.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2019, Feb. 2019, pp. 1–22., doi:10.1155/2019/1304152.
[ii] Harada, Kazuhiro, et al. “Changes in Objectively Measured Outdoor Time and Physical, Psychological, and Cognitive Function among Older Adults with Cognitive Impairments.” Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, vol. 78, 2018, pp. 190–195., doi:10.1016/j.archger.2018.06.003.