Category: The Ancient Art of Chinese Medicine

Wuxing Nutrition Therapy Workshop

Join me on a wonderful journey of self discovery with the Five Elements Nutrition Therapy Workshop

What is Wuxing nutrition therapy?

The Wuxing nutrition therapy is Five Elements nutrition therapy, created on the principles of the ancient art of Chinese nutrition. Please read the article for more information.

Wuxing nutrition therapy, is about self-discovery, self-transformation and self-healing. It puts YOU back in control of your food intake.

What is in the workshop?

We will look at foods, beverages and cooking methods according to the laws of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements and classify them into categories based on thermal energy, taste, flavour, area of influence in the body and the way cooking methods can influence them.

We will learn about seasons, constitutional factors, how food can influence our health and well-being, and how to create recipes for better health and vitality.

Who can benefit from this nutrition therapy workshop?

Anybody who is interested in learning about the ancient Tao healing art of nurturing themselves in accordance to the principles of the Five Elements is most welcome.

Will I have to cook and eat Chinese?

Absolutely not! One of the important rules of Wuxing nutrition therapy is that it encourages the consumption of local foods. You will learn how to combine them based on the Wuxing principles so that you can start cooking for your own personalised needs and preferences.

What if I am vegan or vegetarian?

Wuxing nutrition therapy works with who you are, physically, emotionally and spiritually, to help you transform in the best version of yourself. If you are vegan, you are free to stay vegan, but it will help you be the best version of you as a vegan.

However, please note that the workshop will make mention of all food groups, including meat and dairy products.

Please read the disclaimer before enlisting for the workshop.

DISCLAIMER

The Wuxing Nutrition Therapy workshop has been designed to familiarise you with the principles of the Five Elements nutrition, as they have been written down in the Chinese medicine literature, so that you can become more aware of your daily food intake, enhance well-being, and enrich your relationship with food and food preparation.

One must consider the fact that Wuxing nutrition therapy must be accompanied by other therapies and lifestyle changes in order to become most effective.

The workshop does not enable you to complete a Chinese medicine diagnostic on yourself or others.

The workshop does not present any specific food cures related to any illnesses or medical conditions and it is not a substitute for professional consultation and treatment from a qualified Chinese medicine practitioner, other nutritionist practitioners or your doctor.  

If you have concerns about your health or if you have to follow a special diet due to various illnesses or diagnosed medical conditions, it is recommended that you consult your healthcare team before you make any changes in your diet.

The information contained in the workshop are by no means a substitute, replacement or alternative to any form of medication you may be taking for your medical conditions.

This workshop is designed for personal use.

If you are a professional, you will be able to receive a CPD certificate of attendance, but it will not qualify you a Chinese medicine nutritionist, nor will you be able to use it to get insured as such a nutritionist, unless you are already qualified as a TCM practitioner and/or TCM acupuncturist.

All participants to the workshop will sign a copy of this disclaimer at the moment of their training.

Wuxing Nutrition Therapy

One of my favourite teachers at the Chinese medicine college used to say:

“This person needs nourishment, not punishment!”

Food, glorious food!

As human beings, we have a special relationship with food. Food is not just fuel for the body, food is much more than that.

Our first relationship is with our mothers, through feeding, both in the womb and after we are born. 

We break bread only with friends and family, and many of our first dates include food.  An old proverb says that love passes through the stomach, and they are not far from the truth, considering that the Heart meridian is paired up with the Small Intestine in Chinese medicine.

We use food and eating metaphors to describe how we feel, “full of zest for life”, “with no appetite for anything”, we take in “the sweetness of life”, or “life can be bitter sometimes”.

Food is one of our greatest pleasures in life. Some take pleasure from eating it, some take pleasure from cooking it. For some, food is a hindrance, for others, a sin.

What is nutrition therapy?

Nutrition therapy is one of the Tao Healing Arts also known as the arts of the Mountain or the Alchemy arts. It does not belong to the arts of Medicine. In fact, it is the precursor of herbalism, as physicians developed the herbal remedies from the foods and herbs they were eating.   

According to the principles of Tao Healing Arts, nutrition plays a very important part in preserving and restoring our health. Food is not just a means to nurture our bodies, but it represents a vital part into maintaining a healthy balance of the spirit.

As all the other healing and metaphysical arts of the Tao, nutrition is first and foremost an instrument for preserving health. It was considered one of the most powerful forms of self-transformation and self-healing arts.

Food as an instrument of health preservation

As part of the ancient Tao healing arts, nutrition therapy uses the same fundamental principles to analyse foods and their effects on the human being.

Foods, drinks, spices and cooking methods are differentiated according to the following principles:

  1. Energy/thermal energy. This is related to the Yin or Yang nature of the nutrition. Thus, we have hot, warm, neutral, cooling and cold energy. Hot and warm influence Yang, cooling and cold influence Yin and neutral can be either.
  2. Taste or flavour. Here we have five aromatic categories, corresponding to the Five Elements (Wuxing) and also to the five pairs of Zang-/Fu organs. The five flavours or tastes are: sweet, pungent, salty, acrid/sour, and bitter.
  3. Qi affecting properties. This represents the way in which a certain food or drink affects the movement of the Qi. We have foods that move the Qi upwards, foods that move the Qi downwards, foods that keep the Qi at the surface and foods that sink the Qi deep in the body.
  4. Area of influence. In this category we find foods that support the Qi, foods that nourish Blood or nourish the Bodily Fluids and foods that supplement the Essence (pre-natal Qi)
  5. Cooking methods. The way we process the foods can enhance their properties or destroy them

We are not what we eat, we eat who we are

Since no two people are exactly identical, what we eat and how we eat should be as individual as ourselves and should help us preserve our health and cure us when needed.

Choosing to follow the principles of Wuxing nutrition therapy means to learn about our unique constitutional profile, our strengths and weaknesses, what our symptoms mean, and eat our way back to balance. It is a journey of a lifetime. As we change, so should our nutrition change to support the new us. It is a very personal path and nobody can walk it for us. 

Many people think that they will have to start cooking and eating Chinese or they have to change their dietary regime. Far from the truth. Wuxing nutrition therapy works with who you are, physically, emotionally and spiritually, to help you transform in the best version of yourself. If you are vegan, you are free to stay vegan, but it will help you be the best version of you as a vegan.

Wuxing nutrition therapy, aka Five Elements nutrition therapy, is about self-discovery, self-transformation and self-healing. It puts YOU back in control.

If you want to learn this ancient art, join me for the Wuxing Nutrition Therapy workshop. Private consultations also available.

The Ancients Arts of the Tao

The ancient Tao was designed as a path for self-transformation. Modern “traditional” Chinese medicine was developed on the foundation of the ancient healing art that stemmed as one of the branches of the Tao healing and metaphysical arts.

The purpose of these arts were the self-transformation and development of the human being and the preservation of the Three Treasures: Essence, Qi and Spirit.

Each of the branches was created to serve this purpose in a different and unique way. The branches operate with the same fundamental concepts about the Universe and the Human Being, they complement each other but cannot be substituted or replaced in their purpose.

The branches of the Tao healing arts are:

The arts of the Mountain, also called the Alchemy arts, are the most powerful arts developed in the Tao paradigm and they represent internal processes of self-transformation and self-healing.

More than 70% of the healing process takes place by learning, practising and mastering the arts of the Mountain. These are:

  • Nutrition therapy
  • Mindfulness
  • Body work: self-massage, Qi Gong (cultivation and gathering of Qi), Tai Chi (harmonising Qi)

Medicine is the branch that was created from the arts of the Mountain to complement and assist the transformation and healing processes. Nutrition therapy created herbalism, moxibustion and aromatherapy, mindfulness contributed to the development of the science of the meridians and acupoints, while the bodywork arts created Tui Na and other forms of massage, bone-setting, cupping and gua sha.  They represent 30% of the healing arts.

In the old days, the primary mission of the physicians was to educate the people into mastering the arts of the Mountain so that people led healthy, fulfilling lives. Their secondary mission was Medicine, which was used only when people needed extra support to regain their health. 

As a teacher of future physicians, the physician would teach their students the arts of the Mountain first, before teaching them the medical arts, as the primary goal remained the same as for any other human being, that of preserving and cultivating the Three Treasures.  

To this day, a superior physician will teach people how to cultivate their own health while they are still in good health and will not wait until they get ill to treat them.

The Tao metaphysical arts were created as a link between the inner universe of the human being and the outer universe.

The art of divination created several branches, the most two important ones are: I-Ching and Qi Men Dun Jia. These arts help people find answers to their questions with the help of the deities and the universe.

The art of destiny analysis, Ba Zi, is the art that analyses people’s destiny and path from the moment of birth, and helps them discover their strong and weak points so that they can take better informed decisions in their lives.

The study of forms gave birth to face reading, palm reading, Feng Shui and the fine arts, such as painting and calligraphy. By looking for and creating harmony in the land, in the home and in ourselves, the arts of the forms teach people to operate with beauty to create balance.

All these arts are based on the same fundamental principles and concepts of Qi, Yin-Yang and the Five Elements. Practitioners of the Tao arts of healing and metaphysics will have a deep understanding of these concepts and principles related to their area of expertise.

While they find their common ground in these concepts, each branch operates differently with these concepts, and it is virtually impossible for someone to become fully versed in all the branches. That is why they work together and complement each other in their aim to guide humanity towards health, wealth and prosperity.

Moxibustion: The Magical Art of Burning Mugwort

As a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, the most frequent question I get from the people I treat for the first time is 

What is this this moxa/moxibustion?

The term moxa comes from a Japanese word that translates as burning herb.  Basically, moxibustion is heat therapy by burning herbs and it is an intrinsic part of traditional Chinese medicine.

Why heat?

Across the ages, application of heat has proven to be one of the most effective forms of treatment devised by humans. Some cultures enjoyed the blessings of thermal waters, others applied hot stones to painful areas, yet others used the power of herbs to alleviate pain and would burn them to heal wounds.

Even to this day we make use of warm patches and warm cushions to alleviate pain and discomfort, not to mention the wonderful benefits of a nice warm bath after a long day.

Contemporary Western medicine uses cauterisation procedures, which imply burning tissues in order to remove unwanted elements and sterilise a certain area.

Cauterisation triggers a very efficient and fast emergency response from the immune system. No other pathogen will create such intense and quick reaction in the body than burning fire. By creating a very small, controlled crisis, cauterisation will awaken a sluggish and dormant immune system to respond to the “emergency” call. And, once awakened, it will also deal with any other intruder found in its way.

When talking about traditional Chinese medicine, we need to mention the fact that TCM will never use ice as therapy. Cold is regarded as one of the External Devils or Pathogens. 

One will find plenty of TCM texts mentioning therapies and techniques that can be used to expel Cold, but never one therapy or technique to put Cold back as means of health preservation or health restoration.

Moxibustion as part of traditional Chinese medicine

The Chinese character for Acupuncture is a symbol which can be translated as acupuncture-moxibustion, which means that the two techniques, acupuncture and moxibustion complement each other or stem from the same medical branch.  Some written TCM texts claim that acupuncture needles have the ability to transfer and disperse energy when placed in the acupoints, while acu-moxa has the ability to awaken the energy in the acupoints.

One image that pops into my mind when I try to explain to somebody the difference between acupuncture, acupressure and acumoxa involves a sleeping dragon – the acupoint. Acupuncture awakens this dragon by poking a spear into her back, acupressure shakes her awake, while acumoxa not only awakens the dragon, but puts the fire back into the dragon’s breath.

To Mugwort or Not To Mugwort

Nowadays, there are several means to perform moxibustion, acumoxa and heat therapy.

Traditionally, acumoxa and moxibustion have been performed by burning Ai Ye, aka Artemisia argyi, aka Mugwort, a herb known for its special properties in numerous cultures.

The Artemisia family contains more than 200 different plants, all of them used in ancient traditional and herbal medicines for their properties.

In TCM, Mugwort is the main herb to be processed for acumoxa and moxibustion. However, TCM also uses Artemisia absinthium, aka Wormwood to make a vast array of herbal remedies: teas, infusions, herbal formulas, cooking herbs, essential oils, poultices, ointments, skin patches and incense. Additionally, since the two herbs have the property of repelling insects and pests, they are also placed above or around the front door, to protect the homes from insects, but also from unwanted guests.

In the ideal situation, the TCM practitioner is able to use mugwort moxa in their treatment premises. However, modern practices have limited the use of mugwort as a means of performing acumoxa and moxibustion. The main “complaints” come from the fire-fighter brigade (burnt mugwort produces smoke), but also from the clients (some are sensitive to smoke and also the smell), sometimes also from the other tenants in the building.

Smokeless moxa (charcoal) & indirect moxa device

Smokeless versions of acumoxa and moxibustion make use of specially treated charcoal, which produces about the same amount and intensity of heat but less smell and virtually zero smoke,

Another variant are the TDP infrared lamps with mineral plates. These have been designed by the Chinese as a more modern alternative to mugwort and they have become quite popular among the practitioners and clients alike. In fact, it is very seldom one will walk into a TCM treatment room and not find one lamp waiting there to be used.

However, no matter how modern or safe the more modern approaches might be, they cannot replicate the original murwort plant. Apart from the unique burning temperature and burning time, mugwort contains specific essential oils and other herbal components that the more modern instruments have yet failed to replicate. The fact that the ancient practitioners chose mugwort as herb of choice for this therapy means that there is actually no real substitute for it.

Ways to do moxa therapy

There are several ways in which moxa therapy can be included in TCM treatment sessions. Depending on the client’s complaint, the practitioner will choose the best form of moxibustion therapy.

Acumoxa focuses on applying moxa on acupoints. In this case, the moxa cones are either attached to the acupuncture needle that is being inserted in the acupoint, or the moxa is used on its own. Acumoxa uses the same acupoints as acupuncture and acupressure, only the means to manipulate the Qi at the point is the moxa cone. The heat of the moxa will penetrate the acupoint and will activate the desired response for the specific treatment.

Acumoxa can be direct or indirect.  In the case of direct moxibustion performed on an acupoint, a small amount of mugwort is rolled in a small cone or thread and it is placed directly in contact with the skin. The practitioner then sets the mugwort cone on fire and lets it burn all the way down. This type of moxibustion will leave a burn mark and a small scar. The practitioner will not go back to that specific acupoint until the scar has completely healed. This type of practice,  called scarring or marking direct moxibustion,  is very popular in the countries that created this type of traditional medicine (China, Japan, Korea, etc), but very rare in the Western countries.

The most performed direct acumoxa practice in the West is called non-scarring or non-marking direct moxibution. In this case, the small burning moxa cone or thread is left in place just until the client alerts the practitioner that they can feel the discomfort caused by the heat of the burning moxa cone. The burning ashes are then quickly removed from the skin before they can cause any scars or marks.

Indirect acumoxa will use a form of medium between the skin and the burning moxa cone or thread. Traditional mediums are ginger or garlic slices or paste and salt in the case of the navel. More modern approaches will place readymade moxa cones on a cardboard base. Depending on the make, the base will enable the mugwort smoke to reach the skin or not.

Moxibustion can also be used for large areas of the body. In this case, the practitioner focuses more on the overall painful area and less on the acupoints. Because direct moxa will cause a large scar tissue, this procedure is only performed indirectly. The practitioner will light up a mugwort or charcoal roll and just place it in the close vicinity of the skin, until the client can feel the area turning hot. This kind of indirect moxibustion is also ideal for the TDP infrared heat lamp with a mineral plate, or more traditional instruments such as copper rollers.

The effect of the moxa treatments can be enhanced by means of mugwort ointments and skin patches, as well as other warming pads. However, they should be used with caution and only if the practitioner recommends them, as they can scald the skin.

What are the benefits of moxibustion therapy?

So now, after we’ve seen what moxa therapy is and how it can be performed, the remaining question is why. Why do so many people from so many countries, like China, Japan and Korea, willingly submit themselves to such procedures that will burn their skin and leave scars?

Mugwort is said to have the following pharmaceutical properties:

  • antiasthmatic
  • antibacterial
  • antidiarrheal
  • antitussive
  • cholagogic
  • expectorant
  • haemostatic
  • sedative and hypnotic

Traditional Chinese medicine uses mugwort to:

  • warm the channels (acupoint meridians and collaterals)
  • stop bleeding
  • disperse Cold
  • calm pain
  • dispel Dampness

Cultivation of Health

A special moxa protocol for cultivation of health. Indirect smoking mugwort moxa was used. Hollow base so that the mugwort smoke will travel to the skin
Red marks due to heat, brown marks are volatile oils from mugwort, they will remain on the skin for several days, enhancing the treatment results

If you start digging a well when you’re already thirsty, you are too late.

As any other form of therapy in the traditional Chinese medicine, moxa therapy is first and foremost used for cultivation of health. Many of the moxa treatment protocols have been originally designed to help the body stay healthy when it was still healthy.

People in China, Korea and Japan will still perform moxa treatments regularly as part of cultivation of health, especially during the seasons most affected by Cold and Dampness: Spring and Autumn.

Regular moxa sessions will improve overall health and vitality and moxa is highly recommended especially for people over 40. In fact, certain moxibustionists will make their students perform moxa on themselves regularly as a regimen for good health and vitality. In the older days, young men were encouraged to marry young ladies with moxa scar marks, as a sign that these ladies were taking good care of their health and well-being.

Health Restoration

Indirect acumoxa using smoking mugwort as part of a treatment for health restoration. Will not leave volatile oil marks on skin as the base is solid and will not allow the smoke to travel to the skin. Only red marks from the heat will be visible

The moxa properties make it the ideal choice when treating many complaints caused by Cold, Dampness and Stagnation:Aches and pains

Aches and pains

  • Rheumatism
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Knee pain
  • Lumbago
  • Back pain
  • TMJ
  • Trigeminal neuralgia
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Bunions

Lung and respiratory conditions with Phlegm or mucus

  • COPD
  • Sinusitis
  • Common cold
Abdominal moxibustion on salt (navel) as part of a treatment for IBS and diarrhoea

Digestive disorders

  • IBS
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation

Sexual and reproductive conditions

  • Infertility (in TCM it is related to a Cold Uterus or Testes)
  • Painful menstruation
  • Erectile dysfunctions

Pregnancy complications

  • Breech presentation

How long a session and how many sessions?

Depending on the nature of the session – cultivation of health or health restoration, moxa treatment protocols start from a minimum of five sessions, from once a week for the cultivation of health to every fortnight or every month and they last very little in time (max 30 min).

Depending on the nature of the complaint, the treatments can be combined with acupuncture, acupressure, medical massage or cupping. In this case, the sessions may last up to one hour.

!!! Caveat !!!

Like any other form of TCM treatment, moxibustion has its precautions and contraindications and only a qualified TCM practitioner will be able to determine whether you would benefit from this therapy or not.

All forms of moxibustion will leave your skin red and sometimes blistered, much like after spending a whole day in the summer at the beach. Your practitioner will advise on the specific after-care.

Please do not perform heat therapy or moxa on yourself or other people! Moxibustion is not a universal solution to all your aches and pains and it can cause a lot of damage to your health if practiced incorrectly.

Late summer, the season of the Earth

According to the Chinese metaphysical arts, each of the Five Elements – Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth – have a corresponding season. “How can that be?” you’re probably wondering.

The months of August and September are considered a separate season, called late summer. If you look at many of the ancient and pagan traditions, many harvest festivals begin in August. August and September are the months when many celebrated Earth festivals, a time of gathering of the crops, giving thanks to Mother Earth for the plentiful gifts and enjoying the fruits of the Earth.

In my Transylvanian homeland, 6th of August is celebrated as a Christian Orthodox religious day, however, the church actually “borrowed” the day from the pagan traditions of the land. It is called “the day when the face changes”. In the religious context it is related to Jesus Christ, in the pagan one, the face is the face of nature. The Sun still shines over the land, yet its rays do not scorch the land as it did in July. The pagan tradition says that nothing grows anymore in August, but everything that has grown already ripens and matures.

In the Chinese arts, late summer is the season of the Earth element.

In Chinese medicine, Earth governs our digestive system and all its components. Its code name is The Granary.

The main two organs of the system are the Spleen (Yin) and the Stomach (Yang)

The main responsibilities of the Spleen system:

  • Transformation: digestion makes nutrients for the Blood by transforming the food intake
  • Transformation: by combining nutritive Qi with the Qi from the Lungs (air), it produces the nutrients for all the internal organs and the Blood
  • Transportation: Spleen moves Qi upwards so that the nutrients reach the Lung Qi and the organs
  • Keeps everything in its place: just like Earth holds everything in place, Spleen holds the internal organs in their proper place inside the chest cavity, including the Blood in the vessels

Given its responsibilities, the Spleen system governs over the following areas:

  • Production and quality of Blood
  • Muscle mass and limbs
  • The mouth, the tongue and the sense of taste
  • Intellectual activities, reasoning processes, memorising, logic and critical thinking

At a mental and emotional level, the Spleen is affected by:

  • Worry. “Worry knots the Qi”
  • Overthinking
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Excessive intellectual activities, reasoning, problem solving and memorising

The Stomach, the Yang partner of the Spleen, gives the Spleen its ability to discern between what is important and what is not, both in the case of digestion and in case of mental processes.

Regulating cures. The system can be kept in balance by:

  • Taste: sweet. Sweet foods can support the digestive system and can also damage it, if they are consumed excessively. Please note that the taste is given by the Chinese medicine nutrition theories and does not necessarily imply the taste felt by the tongue. For example, most grains are sweet in taste according to TCM
  • Smell: fragrant, sweet
  • Colour: yellow, gold. All yellow and brown crystals and stones support the Spleen
  • Movements: turning the waist
  • Sounds: singing, talking
  • Virtues: trust, sincerity, empathy

Spleen disorders

At a physical level:

  • gastritis (the digestive system chewing on its own parts),
  • nutrient excesses and accumulations: obesity, fatty liver, gallstones, kidney stones
  • nutrient deficiencies: lack of vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium
  • lack of appetite and energy, ME, CFS
  • overeating
  • organ prolapses, heavy bleeding: haemorrhages, heavy menstruation
  • lack of menstruation, scanty menstruation
  • metabolic diseases, such as diabetes
  • muscular dystrophy
  • any lumps, cysts and phlegm accumulations

At a mental and emotional level:

  • eating disorders, addictions
  • mental fatigue, lack of focus, inability to memorise
  • brain fog
  • no desire to speak

People with a Spleen blocked by worry fail to nurture themselves, by neglecting their needs and putting everyone else first. By trying to do everything themselves, they will try to control the odds of the outcome: “If I do this instead of waiting for my partner to do it, I don’t have to worry that it won’t be done properly or on time”, “I cannot take a day off from work because they won’t manage without me”.

Sadly, a lot of our modern life has made us believe we have to be present and in control of everything at all times and many of us we feel guilty about taking “me” time to nurture ourselves. This leads to what the TCM calls Yin deficiency or the burnout syndrome.

Singing is the sound related to this system. Because the Spleen is responsible with holding everything in place, the diaphragm was linked to the Spleen and singing was the human activity that seemed to influence the system the most. At a physical level, the diaphragm keeps together the organs situated in the abdomen, and it’s a muscle. At an emotional level, singing makes the worry disappear and it helps us memorise things easier.

The virtue of this system is trust. We trust that the world will still be out there when we take “me” time to nourish ourselves. We trust our partners to do their best, we trust our children they will be fine, even when we are no longer around, we trust we will still have our jobs by the time we come back from our vacation, we trust the Universe will provide for us no matter what.

Chinese massage therapy: what is it and why you should try it

Some years ago, long before I was even considering becoming a TCM practitioner myself, I was receiving acupuncture treatments for PMDD. Apart from the regular sessions with my very own Vlad the Impaler aka Transylvanian acupuncturist, he sent me a list of things I could do myself to speed up the recovery process. Amongst them was one that read: “Treat yourself to a massage every week or every fortnight.” I thought: “Massage? No thanks!”

Truth was the only form of massage I knew was the kind of hard kneading and poking my now ex-husband insisted of giving my shoulders and upper back and I hated every minute of it.

A year later, life decided to take a different turn for me and here I was, in another country, mending my broken heart and picking up the pieces of my life with the loving help of my new partner. I had been passionate about traditional Chinese medicine ever since I was a child, so he encouraged me to pursue my dream of becoming a TCM practitioner.  I enrolled to study TCM and acupuncture. An inner voice kept pushing me towards Tui Na massage. I discovered a world I never knew existed. I understood why I was screaming in pain when my ex tried his best to relax my neck and shoulders. I became enthralled even more with traditional Chinese medicine for creating this wonderful therapy!

So, what is this Chinese massage therapy?

There are many terms that describe massage therapy in Chinese language. Two of them are: An Mo 按摩, which means “press and rub” and Tui Na 推拿, which means “push and grab”. These terms encapsulate most of what we now in the West know as Chinese massage. Its techniques may seem simplistic, and, most of the times, the Westerners are surprised how these simple, natural gestures can have such a tremendous effect. 

When we hit our head, our first reaction is to put our hand over the area and rub it to make the pain go away. When we have tummy pain or toothache, we press the area with our palms. When someone is upset, we rub and tap their back gently. We instinctively use certain gestures to alleviate pain or provide comfort. We try to calm or befriend a dog or a cat by stroking their heads. Plants grow better when their leaves are touched gently. Stones become shinier and warmer when rubbed. All creatures respond to touch, and touch can both soothe and nurture, energise and invigorate. 

What are the benefits of Chinese massage?

The main purpose of the Chinese metaphysical arts is to preserve balance in all forms and, when the balance is lost, to find means for that balance to be regained.

As part of the great and wonderful family of the Chinese metaphysical arts that stem from the Tao, the Chinese massage fulfils three essential roles, all equally important:    

  • cultivation and preservation of health
  • beautification
  • therapy or restoration of health

Health is a measure of balance: when we get ill, a sign of good health is when the balance is restored in due time and without significant consequences. In other words, health is not a static concept, but the fragile and beautiful dance we perform every instance on this planet in our eternal quest for balance.

Chinese massage as a tool for cultivation and preservation of health

In China, a timely death is regarded as one of the five blessings. Ageing is a natural process that cannot be controlled. How we age is something we can control. By adapting our lifestyle to our age, sex and needs, we can enjoy a good health up to the day we die.

One of the therapies that can assist cultivation and preservation of health is massage.  A good Chinese massage course will not only teach people how to become Tui Na practitioners, but will also teach them on how to cultivate and preserve their own health by using self-massage and QiGong techniques. Cultivation of health starts with ourselves.

By working on the pathways of the meridians, acupoints and sinew channels, Tui Na

  • improves the function of the internal organs
  • lubricates the joints and tendons
  • fortifies the muscles
  • improves immunity  
  • balances the mind  

We do not have to wait to get ill to enjoy the benefits of a regular Tui Na session. In fact, people who have regular massages and self-massages are less prone to health deterioration, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional health.

Health as beauty

According to the ancient Chinese principles, beauty is a sign of good health. A relaxed face and a supple body, combined with a positive attitude, are all signs of good health. This, according to the principles of Chinese metaphysics, attracts wealth and prosperity, even a suitable partner. Beauty is regarded as free, natural flow of the Qi, it means a firm and lush skin, bright eyes that see beauty everywhere, a clear voice that sings and laughs like a clear jade bell, a content heart and a relaxed body.

Chinese massage as beauty therapy

  • improves the tone of the skin
  • helps the skin perform its essential functions of respiration and toxin removal
  • improves muscle tone  
  • accelerates metabolism
  • reduces fat tissues
  • optimises digestion

Tui Na as a medical therapy

Tui Na uses bodily manipulation techniques to fight against the number one enemy of health: stagnation.

The principle of free flow is one of the fundamental principles in traditional Chinese medicine and the rest of the Chinese metaphysical arts. The Qi must be allowed to flow freely to perform its functions and keep everything in balance. If the free flow of Qi is impaired, stagnation occurs.

Stagnation is the main culprit of any disease (dis-ease, lack of ease) and one of its main symptoms is pain: physical, mental, emotional.

By releasing the stagnation in the joints and muscles, Tui Na can improve the overall health of people suffering from a multitude of complaints:

  • arthritis
  • sports or repetitive injuries
  • muscular skeletal conditions
  • digestive disorders
  • gynaecological complaints
  • emotional distress

How does Tui Na work?

Traditional Chinese medicine operates with both matter and energy.

As a physical therapy, Tui Na uses a series of techniques to manipulate the physical body by means of acupressure, massage and stretching techniques. Physical manipulation aims to move the Qi and Blood so that the muscles, joints and tendons are warmed, lubricated and tonified.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, our physical bodies are vulnerable not only to the weather conditions or to other internal illnesses, but they can also store and become affected by our emotions and traumas.

At an energy level, the Tui Na practitioner guides the Qi using their hands and fingers into the acupoints and along the meridians to release and disperse stagnation or bring more energy into a specific area. In this respect, the practitioner’s fingers and palms act as acupuncture needles, guiding the Qi in order to supplement, reduce, or disperse the Qi in the affected areas. 

What to expect during and after a session?

Chinese massage sessions are versatile in many ways.

Because it was created to meet the needs of rich and poor alike, TuiNa can be performed with the person lying down on a plain blanket on the floor or in the field, seated on a stool or lying down on a nice and soft massage table.

Tui Na can be done with the person fully clothed, partly clothed or with no clothes on. Traditionally, the practitioner will use a white cotton sheet as a medium between them and the clients treated. TuiNa doesn’t necessarily need oils as mediums, they are rather used as aromatherapy, to increase the warming or the cooling effect of a treatment or to address a certain condition.

Depending on the aim of the sessions, the TCM practitioner will take a brief medical history of the client.

Because the techniques are designed to move Qi and Blood, TuiNa sessions may take only a few minutes in length, thus being much shorter than regular massage sessions. The sessions may last between 30 and 45 minutes.

Medical Tui Na

Medical Tui Na will take a full medical history and assess the best course of treatment for the specific situation. Most likely, the treatment sessions will also include cupping or moxibustion and therapeutic oil formulas.

The manipulations are performed exclusively within your range of mobility and comfort. While some areas might feel tender initially, you should not feel any major discomfort and the tenderness should subside.  

Expect a healing crisis after the first few sessions! This can be in the form of aches and pains becoming worse, emotional issues surfacing or feeling more tired than usual.  

It is essential that you communicate with your practitioner during and in between the sessions, even if you may think some of the symptoms and signs are irrelevant or embarrassing.

For optimum results, medical Tui Na should be performed once a week or every fortnight, with a course of treatment of 8 – 10 sessions, depending on the medical condition to be treated.  

Cautions and contraindications

As with other therapies, women who are pregnant or actively trying to conceive will receive special treatment.

Always inform the practitioner if you plan on donating blood before or after the session

Treatment will be denied to people who are

  • under the influence of alcohol, sleep inducing medication or recreational drugs
  • weak
  • very ill
  • with high fever
  • very tired
  • very hungry or fasting
  • very full (have just eaten a large meal)

Other cautions and contraindications are to be discussed with the practitioner, based on the full medical history and the type of medication and other forms of treatment received from medical professionals or holistic therapists.

It is advisable to allow the body to rest and work through the healing process before taking any other form of holistic or alternative treatments at least 24 hours before undertaking another session of any kind, including Reiki or spa treatments.

The Forsaken Art of Chinese Reflexology (aka Acupressure)

A month ago, I made the decision to give acupuncture a break, put the needles away and return to my first TCM love: acupressure.  

My colleague was shocked: “But I thought you loved acupuncture!”  

I love CHINESE MEDICINE, as one of the healing and metaphysical arts and branches of the Tao, and meridian manipulation is but one of the therapies used by the Chinese medicine.

The acupuncture needles are but mere instruments, and, while we find far more scientific studies on acupuncture and its benefits, acupressure can be just as effective and has its own range of benefits and tools of the trade that should be explored and researched.   

What is acupressure?

finger acupressure
Performing acupressure on Hegu in a case of migraine and emotional distress (please do not try to replicate at home)

Long before inventing the modern needles, the ancient art of traditional Chinese medicine recognised that applying pressure on certain points of the body could have a positive result on health. So the first tools ever used were the fingers, hands, arms and elbows. By using various pressure techniques on certain points along the meridians, they noticed that the Qi can be increased, decreased or released, thus reducing or eliminating physical and mental pain. And that’s how acupressure and massage were born as part of Chinese medicine.

There are many ways in which the Qi can be manipulated along the meridians and acupoints. The modern acupuncture needle is just one of them. Anybody can be trained on how to pin needles in safely.  However, a good Chinese medicine practitioner will feel, gather and guide the Qi into the acupoints, through their own fingers, palms or by means of other tools. Depending on the nature of these tools and the aim of the treatment, the instruments act as relays for the Qi, as amplifiers or modifiers.

Tools of the trade

In addition to the practitioner’s fingers, there’s an array of tools and mediums that can be used when working on the acupoints.

Bian stone (black), rose quartz (pink) and aventurine (green)

The oldest one is a meteorite stone that fell 65 million years ago in Shandong, China. Also known as the needle stone, the Bian stone is an excellent heat conductor, containing traces of more than 40 minerals and having anti-oxidant properties. In TCM, the stone is used to stimulate the flow of Qi, Blood and Bodily Fluids, thus relaxing the muscles and the joints and helping with lymph drainage, nurturing the skin at the same time, due to its high content in minerals.  No wonder the Bian Stone is still in use today to make acupressure, massage and gua sha tools.

The Chinese metaphysical arts were fully aware of the healing properties various crystals and semi-precious stones possessed and they used them accordingly. There is an entire materia medica in Chinese medicine that describes the healing properties of stones and crystals. For acupressure and massage, the most popular ones are rose quartz, aventurine, agate, jade or obsidian.

The mugwort herb used in moxibustion can be rolled into very fine threads that are placed on the acupoints and lit up. This technique combines the benefits of moxibustion with manipulating the Qi at various acupoints.

Just like crystals and stones, essential oils have properties that can influence the nature of the Qi. Special oil formulas, designed for various medical conditions can be applied on the acupoints, thus manipulating the Qi in a certain way.

Electricity is another means to enhance the point stimulation by means of special manufactured devices or the T.E.N.S machines. This is a more modern tool, very effective and useful nonetheless.

Press pellets

Press pellets are yet another way to stimulate the acupoints, especially in between the regular sessions. The pellets can be made from plant seeds, stone or from magnets, and their size vary according to their purpose.

Benefits and advantages of acupressure

There are multiple advantages to acupressure.

First of all, it takes away the stress of needles for people who are needle phobic. Also, it can be used in a safer manner in people suffering from type 1 diabetes, people who take anticoagulant medication or suffer from other blood disorders where acupuncture is contraindicated or can only be performed with caution.

Acupressure can be performed in areas of the body where the use of needles might be forbidden or it requires special cautions, such as the ribcage area and the torso, where there is a higher risk of pneumothorax.

Acupressure can be done through the clothes, which means it can also be done mobile, in the case of people with low or no mobility, or in less strict environments, outside a conventional treatment room.

The practitioner can train the client to perform safe self-acupressure in between the treatment sessions, thus maximising the results of the treatment and also empowering the client to become their own healers.

In terms of the benefits, acupressure has pretty much the same indications as acupuncture: physical pain, mental disorders and illnesses, sleep disorders, digestive issues and syndromes, infertility, male and female dysfunctions, hypertension, etc.

Personally, I think acupuncture can be a bit cold and impersonal. Some practitioners just place the needles and leave the client alone in the room to either tend to another client in another room or to do something else.  Acupressure, just like massage, creates a more personal energy exchange and relationship with the client, I get to spend more time palpating the acupoints and I get to collect far more information based on the client’s reactions and responses during the actual treatment than I get during an acupuncture session. This helps me to adjust the treatment accordingly.

Cautions and contraindications of acupressure

The cautions and contraindications are pretty much the same in the case of acupressure as in the case of acupuncture. While it is safer to practice acupressure on certain acupoints, unless one is properly trained in locating the acupoints and is familiarised with their actions, cautions and contraindications, acupressure can do a lot of damage. So, please, do not trust every bit of information you find online about such and such a point being a miracle cure for everything.

Also, if the practitioner recommends you to perform acupressure or massage over certain areas, those recommendations have been made exclusively for your medical complaints and should by no means be transmitted to other people, just because “I learned this from my therapist, so it must be ok”.

Tai Chi for Health and Well-being

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Please be advised that it is always recommended that you consult with your GP and other healthcare specialists before starting ANY Tai Chi programs

Tai Chi belongs to the great family of physical exercises designed with the purpose of cultivating and preserving the life force Qi.

With roots in martial arts, developed by the Chinese monks in order to counterattack the long time spent immobile in meditation and mindfulness, Tai Chi, alongside QiGong and other forms of Qi cultivation and preservation, presents many forms and styles, all created with the same principles in mind: the integration of body and mind by controlling the movement of the body and the breathing, thus cultivating the life force and rendering the human being in total harmony with themselves and with the Universe. 

The slow, soft moves were created to build and reinforce fitness, agility and balance, both in body and mind. The mind is present and aware of every move the body makes.

Benefits of Tai Chi:

  1. Reduces pain. From the Chinese medicine point of view, Tai Chi enables the free flow of Qi, Blood and Body Fluids. The moves are especially designed to follow the natural flow of Qi along the meridians and collaterals, thus restoring the healthy flow of Qi and the elimination of stagnant energy and pain. A good flow of Qi also leads to a good flow of Blood and Body Fluids which nourish the muscles and the joints, which means less pain and stiffness and more mobility.
  2. Promotes mindfulness. Because the mind is present and aware of every move the body makes and it focuses on the breathing at the same time, Tai Chi is in fact moving mindfulness. It makes you aware of your body and breathing in the present moment, helping you control the mind from wandering off. This calms the mind and helps you think more clearly.
  3. Reduces stress. The classes do not measure progress in any way. All the participants are there to enjoy themselves while moving within their own range of mobility and comfort. This contributes to a very a relaxed state of mind.

Tai Chi for Health programs developed by Dr Paul Lam combine Western medical science with Oriental wisdom. The programs are designed especially for medical conditions, such as: arthritis and fall prevention, diabetes, rehabilitation and so on.

It is a known fact that people in pain and elderly people are more prone to accidents due to lack of balance.

Tai Chi for Arthritis and Fall Prevention contains twelve simple and easy to follow moves that have been chosen for their ability to increase muscle strength, balance and confidence in people suffering from:

  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • MS
  • Post-stroke rehabilitation
  • Asthma

Benefits of Tai Chi for Arthritis and Fall Prevention:

  • Increases strength and flexibility
  • Decreases pain in joints
  • Decreases stress
  • Helps reduce high blood pressure
  • Increases a sense of well-being
  • Improves balance
  • Improves lung capacity

The program is endorsed and recommended by many international health organisations, such as CDC in America and Arthritis Care in UK.

If you are interested in joining any of the classes I teach in Tameside, please drop me a line 🙂

Your Transylvanian Tai Chi instructor and TCM coach,

Daciana

The troubles of the Mind – the Shen disorders

[…] we won’t establish peace of mind just by praying for it. Dalai Lama

 

The principle of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is to restore balance in the being by restoring the free flow of Qi, Blood, Bodily Fluids and Shen (Spirit).

Stagnation in the body can manifest itself on several levels and can have multiple symptoms. The most important symptom is pain. This pain can be physical pain or it can be emotional distress.

When we suffer from mental issues, this pain comes in a multitude of forms, because each individual copes with emotional distress in their own unique way.

According to Chinese medicine, there are many complaints that belong to this category of disorders of the Spirit (Shen). Some of them are:

  • Sleep disorders: insomnia, restless, interrupted sleep, dream disturbed sleep, sleepiness
  • Disruptive mental episodes: lack of focus, overthinking, lack of vision, memory lapses, inability to make decisions, procrastination, lack of creativity, OCD, psychotic episodes
  • Emotional distress: anxiety, anger, jealousy, panic attacks, traumatic events, flashbacks (PTSD), depression, unjustified sadness, hyperactivity, inappropriate language and manners, phobias, inability to form meaningful relationships, low self-esteem, lack of trust
  • Female disorders: PMDD, post-partum depression, hormonal fluctuations, menstruation complaints, infertility (some cases)
  • Addictions: alcohol, nicotine, drug abuse, over-medication, gambling, eating disorders

However, it is not just in your mind. The Shen disorders can even be felt as physical pain. This pain can be in the form of a headache, backache, stiff neck, TMJ, chest pain, tight throat, eye strain, coarse voice, vertigo and dizziness, IBS and other digestive issues, to name but a few. If the physical ailments do not seem to be confirmed by scan or test results, one can almost safely assume they are of emotional or mental origin. At the same time, certain confirmed physical ailments can be improved once the mental state of the individual is improved.

So, if just praying for a peaceful mind won’t cut it, what can we do to improve our mental balance and restore mental health?

It is always recommended to combine alternative therapies with medication and professional therapy and counselling, especially in the case of severe manifestations. Once the critical stage has been dealt with and the mind has settled, the treatment can be extended to alternative medicine, art therapy and other forms of therapy designed to help maintain an optimal level of mental balance.

Acupressure or acupuncture, combined with mindfulness and massage therapy can be a very effective combination in restoring and maintaining a healthy mental state, provided the treatment is backed up by dietary and other lifestyle changes.

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