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Hidden Gems of TCM

What you might not know about the practices and benefits of Traditional Chinese Medicine. By Jenna Schmitt

by SHFamily | Fri, January 12, 2018

By Jenna Schmitt

The next time you feel ill, sore, stressed, or simply tired, according to Chinese medicine, it’s probably a sign that your Qi is imbalanced. “Chinese medicine holds that everything is made from Qi, the body’s vital energy force,” says Dr. Eva Zhang, Consulting Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine at Shanghai East International Medical Center. Instead of chemically engineered pills and medications, more people around the world are tuning into their Qi as a preventative health system and holistic way of evaluating mental and physical wellbeing. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) encompasses many therapies to address physical, mental, and emotional health. Here, we take a look at a few of the lesser-known physical practices that are integral to a TCM treatment plan, and the benefits of combining more than one.

Finding the problem

Hidden Gems of TCM

You may have heard of Reiki or acupuncture therapies offered à la carte, but serious practitioners and those who want to maximize the benefits of TCM suggest allowing a licensed doctor of Chinese medicine to perform his or her own diagnostic process and recommend a personalized treatment plan. 

At Shanghai-based Body & Soul Medical Clinics, this process is very different from a Western health consultation. Founder and TCM doctor Doris Rathgeber uses traditional pulse and tongue examinations to check for physical manifestations of internal imbalances. She may also integrate advanced medical imagery, like an MRI or an X-ray. One diagnostic system most of her patients haven’t heard of before is a relatively new practice from the United States called “functional medicine.”

Functional medicine: By testing bodily fluids, functional medicine evaluates both physical and emotional imbalances with more subtlety and complexity than other diagnostic methods. For patients who experience symptoms that can’t be adequately explained by Western medicine, this little-known technique may offer more insight.

“Functional medicine can analyze the metabolic systems that Western medicine doesn’t check yet,” explains Rathgeber. “Especially for patients with chronic conditions or for those whose Western test results come back clean, functional medicine checks the metabolic functions. It can diagnose what other tests cannot.”

Treating the body

Traditional Chinese Medicine

According to government statistics, patients in China made 910 million TCM visits during 2015, representing 16 percent of all medical care within the country that year. For the growing number of people who have pursued TCM in nearly 200 countries, acupuncture is probably one of the first treatments that comes to mind. 

Based on imbalances identified during your consultation, a TCM doctor will use acupuncture to stimulate free-flowing and balanced Qi. About 15 to 20 hair-thin needles are inserted into specific acupoints, or meridians (channels in which Qi flows), in the body to remove blockages. The treatment usually generates a relaxing sense of warmth throughout the 30 to 50-minute procedure, and for several hours afterwards. 

TCM teaches many ways to stimulate Qi, however, combining practices can strengthen their effects. Some of the lesser-known physical treatments work as a powerful complement to bolster the benefits of your acupuncture session.


Cupping: Cupping is as old as TCM itself, dating to the early fourth century. Like acupuncture, cupping activates your Qi along the meridians, but uses suction to stimulate the flow of blood. Cupping is not performed as a stand-alone treatment, but is paired with acupuncture to improve results. After your acupuncture session, your therapist will warm glass cups about the size of a tennis ball and place them on your back. The heat in the cups creates a vacuum seal against your skin that the therapist will monitor for a few minutes before removing. You may see slightly discolored circles on your back post-treatment, but there is no discomfort and the color quickly returns to normal in the following days.

Tui na massage: Tui na massage is not like the spa massages you already know and love. You’re more likely to have an osteopath (a practitioner specializing in bone structure) perform this type of deep-tissue massage to adjust muscles along meridians in the body. Tui na is usually performed in conjunction with acupuncture and herbal therapies, but it’s important to listen to your therapist’s recommendation – tui na is not a beneficial therapy for hematomas and certain inflammatory conditions. If appropriate, tui na massage can be incorporated into treatment plans for patients of all ages. With professional training, parents can even learn to perform gentle tui na techniques on infants to ease digestive discomfort and minor illness. 

Moxibustion: If your Qi is a bit too cold, Zhang suggests this safe, no-touch heat therapy to improve circulation and boost the flow of Qi in just a few minutes per session. Your therapist will light a small bundle of dried Chinese mugwort, or moxa, and hover the bundle over the skin at points specific to your individual diagnosis. The focused application of heat can improve a variety of health issues – for example, Rathgeber recommends a specific point on the pinkie toe of pregnant women to encourage a baby in breach to reposition correctly before delivery.

Holistic healing

Holistic Healing

All of these treatments reflect TCM’s preventative and highly detailed approach to holistic health. Zhang’s advice is that

“a TCM treatment plan is different for each individual, and varies across seasons, environments, illness, and even stages within an illness.”

This may be the first time you’ve heard of some of these diagnoses and treatment methods. If so, fear not! Your therapist is likely to recommend a combination of these physical treatments along with emotional therapies and diet or lifestyle adjustments to improve your Qi’s balance in every area of life, walking you through the process every step of the way. 

In the spirit of TCM’s deeply personalized approach to health care, you should always seek individual guidance from your doctor and consider your unique health history. With a professional consultation, you may discover an effective TCM therapy that’s new to you.

Good to know

Interested in exploring TCM on a deeper level? Ask your TCM doctor, contact the clinics mentioned below to schedule a consultation, or read more at:

•    Shanghai East International Medical Center, Pudong;; 0019 0899; WeChat ID: SEIMC58799999 

•    Body & Soul Medical Clinics; Multiple locations;; WeChat ID: Body_and_Soul-Clinic