Whether you live in a state that's starting to reopen or you're still under lockdown orders, you might be finding work-life balance to be nonexistent and your Zoom social life to be exhausting.
Take a breather with some of these wellness practices rooted in traditional Chinese medicine, including qi gong, acupressure and herbal remedies. This branch of medicine is rooted in the idea that qi, or life force, flows through the body and any imbalance to it can cause disease or illness. Traditional Chinese medicine, which dates back to the Shang Dynasty, China’s earliest on record dating back to the Bronze Age, accounts for up to half of all medicines consumed in China, according to the World Health Organization.
While many of the benefits behind the branch of medicine are still scientifically unproven, and experts warn it shouldn’t be used as a replacement for conventional treatments for serious conditions, practitioners say it can be a source of stress relief and wellness during quarantine.
What it is: Qi gong, which roughly translates to “life force,” is an ancient Taoist and Buddhist practice of movement, breathing and meditation that can improve both mental and physical health. Many elements of qi gong are also found in tai chi. “It is essentially the Chinese version of yoga, except it does not require as much flexibility or strength,” Claudia Chen, a Vancouver-based registered acupuncturist, said. “It uses physical movement to allow the flow of energy – qi – to move freely in our bodies, which optimizes our health and well-being.”
How to implement: The gentle, dynamic movements of qi gong are easy to learn and require little space – about as much as you would need for yoga. Many sessions begin by inhaling while reaching up with flat palms for a full body stretch, then pressing the palms downward while exhaling. Another simple move known as owl gaze involves looking over one shoulder, then the other. No special equipment is needed and beginners who need instruction can find courses online.
What it is: Acupressure has been used in China for thousands of years to stimulate the flow of qi. Following traditional Chinese medicine philosophy, balancing yin and yang energy can treat a variety of physical, mental and emotional ailments with firm pressure, quick tapping and slow kneading. In Japan, acupressure is better known as shiatsu. “It's the stimulation of acupuncture points without needles,” Chen said. “You can self-massage points for stress relief and boosting the immune system.”
How to implement: At a time when her patients cannot come in for acupuncture, Chen recommends practicing acupressure at home. She said pressing on the fleshy area between the thumb and forefinger – which is said to send energy to the large intestine – can help expel pathogens. “We often use this point to help someone recover from a cold or flu, so it is known as an antiviral point,” she said. “It also improves circulation and is a well-known point to help relieve a headache.”
Another acupressure point, which is said to nourish the blood, is found just below the knee on the outer side of the shinbone. “I've heard acupuncturists nickname this point the vitamin C point or the 'chicken soup point,' as it's a really good immune booster and strengthens the body overall,” Chen said. To calm the mind and ease anxiety, she also recommended tapping the “third eye” in between the eyebrows while taking deep breaths.
Teas and Tonics
What it is: According to ancient Taoist philosophy, herbal teas and tonics containing ginger, echinacea and astragalus herbs and reishi mushrooms can boost immunity.
How to implement: Most teas and tonics can be easily prepared at home. George and Cindy Chen, co-founders of the San Francisco marketplace, bar and restaurant China Live, suggest using a French press to brew a combination of anti-inflammatory herbs that are high in antioxidants, such as crushed ginger, turmeric, garlic, cayenne, basil and mint, and adding lemon and honey to taste. “The main ingredient is licorice root, with other traditional Chinese medicine dried herbs like ginseng,” Chen said. “For taste, add some honey to it as it can be bitter.”
Kathy Fang, chef and co-owner of the San Francisco restaurant Fang, suggested brewing noncaffeinated hot teas, naturally sweetened with goji berries or dates. “It is believed that hot liquids must be consumed to stay healthy and hydrated and to avoid consuming cold liquids,” she said.
What it is: Many of the same traditional beliefs about herbs also apply to cooking. Ginger is a common ingredient in Chinese cooking thought to promote health, while ginseng herbs are thought to increase strength and blood volume, and jujube is often used for anxiety relief and is used as a nutrient-rich digestive aid. Other beneficial ingredients include goji berries and cordycep mushrooms.
How to implement: Fang said that many of the same ingredients used for teas and tonics can also be used in cooking. “Making bone broth or chicken soup with a ton of ginger is great during this time, especially if anyone is feeling under the weather,” she said. Ginger is a warming herb that is thought to promote circulation and treat phlegm in the lungs. Her recipe for ginger mushroom chicken patties is an easy one to serve over rice or salad greens.
Josh Grinker, chef and owner of the New York restaurant Kings County Imperial, said ginger is a key ingredient in his cooking. At home, he recommended adding ginger to stir fry or steeping ginger peel in stocks.
Rehydrated goji berries, thought to nourish the blood liver, spleen and lungs can be put in smoothies or as toppings for yogurt bowls or congee. Rare cordycep mushrooms are prized for their anti-inflammatory and anti-aging benefits and can easily be added to a stir-fry or fried rice. Like many ingredients in TCM food therapy, cordyceps are most commonly found in dried form and need to be rehydrated before they can be consumed.
For more tips and instruction, George and Cindy Chen recently launched a web series teaching viewers how to cook Chinese food at home.