When you’re used to checkups and prescriptions to heal your ills, an alternative method that speaks of life forces and herbs might warrant suspicion.
Such is the side-eye that Traditional Chinese Medicine usually draws, with its talk of correcting pain and illness by unblocking energy pathways of chi (or qi) through body work, as well as relying on plants to balance from the inside out.
But people are turning to this alternative way of thinking (and healing). After all, it’s hard to ignore more than 3,500 years of Chinese medical practice in its various forms. Consider this evolving acceptance TCM’s unblocking its own pathway, as insurance companies now cover some alternative practices. Even the World Health Organization recognized it alongside Western practices in 2018.
“The use of acupuncture, botanical medicine, and nutritional therapy have become more prevalent primarily because [they] work and provide answers that are more sustainable for living a healthy lifestyle,” says Amy Jo Accardi, acupuncturist and nutrition specialist at Flourish Boston.
“We have a lot of physicians who refer to us regularly because the science supports TCM,” adds Ali Vander Baan, MAOM, MS, who performs treatment at Yintuition Wellness at Vega Vitality in Boston.
Outside of acupuncture, TCM’s most mainstream practice, here are five lesser-known ways Eastern practices get straight to the point of what ails you. Give ‘em a try. …
The dramatic nature of this ancient alternative therapy isn’t for everyone (although lately it’s been favored by celebs such as Gwyneth Paltrow). Gua translates to “scrape” and sha means “sand” — a nod to the sand-like rash that results after a serious gua sha sesh on your back, butt, neck, arms and legs.
But, when you opt for the gentler version on your face, you could end up with a better jaw line and a healthier glow.
“It’s a basic principle,” explains Anna Babayan, esthetician at Skin Deep Med Spa in Boston. She trained in New York City under the method of Dr. Ping Zhang, the inventor of the first-ever pain management gua sha massage board. “Skin responds to wounding. Controlled wounding results in the form of rejuvenation.”
Following the muscular structure of your face, Babayan wields a smooth jade disk (curved specifically to align with your shape) against your skin in sharp controlled movements that are more like vigorous massage than scraping. “It depuffs, lifts, drains the fluids, relaxes the muscles and is very anti-aging,” she says. “I don’t know why you wouldn’t add it into your facial treatment.”
Tui Na Massage
With a literal translation of “push and grasp,” this massage isn’t about relaxation. It instead refers to therapeutic body work that addresses disharmony by opening up physical blockages.
“Traditional tui na has a strong effect on musculoskeletal issues. Our form has a strong effect on these issues, as well as ones relating to organ and bodily functions,” says Bell Tam, licensed acupuncturist at Lea Tam Acupuncture and Tam Healing Center, with three locations in the Boston area. With rolling and “finger springing,” kneading and grasping, the therapist works thumbs, fingers, palms, and elbows on muscles and connective tissue along the neck and spine.
“There are usually specific areas along the spine that have a strong knot. We refer to these as blockages, which can compress on blood vessels and nerves. Over time the blockages can cause circulatory issues leading to issues of varying degrees,” he says.
Tam applies tui na to assist the body. “When blockages start to resolve, blood flow increases to areas that may have suffered. Over time, this can start the healing process and restore the body back to its normal function.”
While evidence of its use dates back to 1550 BC, most of us were introduced to cupping through swimmer Michael Phelps’ telltale purple circles on his shoulder at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Performed mostly along the back, chest or legs, this detox treatment boosts immunity, draws out pathogens, and increases blood flow, according to Baan. “It can help to balance the emotional component of the organ system,” she adds.
During cupping, the therapist puts a flammable substance such as alcohol or paper in a glass or plastic cup and sets it on fire. As the fire extinguishes, the cup is quickly placed on the body to create a vacuum drawing the skin into the cup. Baan sometimes uses a rubber pump, a more modern version of cupping.
After a few minutes, the cups are removed and you’re left with purple circles from the blood vessels expanding. “The color indicates a person’s constitution. Dark could mean lots of stagnation due to injury or emotion. Lighter could mean a possible blood deficiency. Most feel very good after a session, which is why it’s very satisfying,” says Baan. The circles last a week; the benefits longer.
“You would be surprised what we can treat successfully with Chinese herbs,” says Accardi, who holds a Master’s degree in acupuncture and Chinese medicine. “Chinese botanical blends are highly customizable, so we create individual blends based on issues and goals.”
Chinese herbs are an all-natural and trusted way to make big improvements to your health. Featuring one of the largest herbal pharmacies in Boston, Accardi stocks hundreds of herbal formulas and ingredients.
Think honeysuckle for sore throats, magnolia flower buds for sinus issues, and peony root for menstrual issues. She blends with expertise, because no one herb does it all. “For example, if you have digestive issues and headaches, we can create one formulation to address everything, so you don’t have to take multiple things.”
“The formulas work because they’re blended to address a whole picture, rather than one symptom,” she explains of her tinctures, capsules, and powders. “We always prescribe formulations that include two to 12 different herbs. This is what makes Chinese medicine both unique and powerful.”
An extensive part of The Mandarin Oriental, Boston’s spa program is developed in consultation with specialists in TCM, as they strive to introduce Boston to the Eastern notion of self-care. Think Himalayan Singing Bowls and Synergistic Healing alongside acupressure and aromatherapy.
Their Oriental Qi signature therapy consists of a relaxing, hands-on body massage ritual that combines the powerful effects of Oriental meridian massage with the therapeutic benefits of custom-blended essential oils.
Each treatment begins with a therapist consultation to determine your current state of wellbeing. Your Yin and Yan are questioned in every minute way, based on China’s five elements philosophy — Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Are you irritable and find it difficult to make up your mind? Do you care too much what other people think? Are you positive and lively? Massage areas, technique, and oils are tailored to your answers in order to leave your body, mind and spirit in perfect harmony.