Toning and its role in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an ancient form of medicine. It is based on the concept of qi, or the life energy of your body. Qi is said to flow through channels in the body called meridians.

TCM also revolves around the idea of ​​yin and yang, or the opposing elements of qi. Yin and yang must be in harmony for qi to be in balance.

In TCM, overall health depends on a balanced qi. This includes mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. But if the qi is out of balance or blocked, or if the yin and yang are not in harmony, disease can occur.

TCM aims to rebalance qi using toning, a therapy believed to improve energy flow. This can be done by various techniques, such as acupuncture and massage.

There is no hard evidence that toning is effective, however. Scientists have not proven the link between toning and health, let alone the existence of qi.

Let’s take a look at what toning typically involves, as well as its purported benefits.

The process of toning the body can be done in different ways. These treatments are provided by a TCM practitioner.

Depending on your specific health concerns, a practitioner may use:

Toning by massage

Massage involves stretching and manipulating the skin, muscles and joints. A supplier uses his hands to do this.

In TCM, a type of massage used for toning is called shiatsu.

Shiatsu involves gentle pressure, which focuses on the meridians of the body. It is believed to balance the flow of qi and encourage self-healing.

Toning through acupuncture

Acupuncture is also used for toning. The therapy uses fine needles, which are inserted into certain points on the meridians of your body.

The needles are said to trigger the flow of energy, which helps balance the qi.

Acupuncture can also be performed in the form of acupressure. In this treatment, the provider uses their hands or thumbs to put pressure on the meridian points. This is also thought to rebalance the flow of qi.

Toning by diet

A TCM-guided diet is said to stabilize or unblock qi. The idea is to nourish the parts of the body located along the meridians.

Here are some examples of foods included in an TCM diet:

  • Chinese yam porridge
  • steamed chicken
  • mung bean congee
  • fried walnuts with leeks
  • angelica, ginger and mutton soup

It is also said that a TCM diet helps the body get rid of toxic substances.

Herbal toning

Another form of toning is herbal medicine. In TCM, herbs are used to promote well-being by restoring qi.

There are many herbs used to tone qi. Commonly used herbs include:

Depending on your treatment, herbal medicine can be taken as:

A practitioner can also use moxibustion, which involves burning dried herbs on or near your skin. Heat is believed to stimulate the flow of energy and promote healing.

Typically, moxibustion uses Chinese mugwort, but other herbs can be used.

However, research is lacking on the benefits of moxibustion for toning. According to a 2010 review, the therapeutic value of moxibustion is not well documented, and considerable uncertainty remains as to the benefits of this practice.

Toning through sexual activity

According to some, sexual activity can regulate and maintain qi. It is recommended to lead a healthy and balanced sex life to reap this benefit.

Toning through breathing exercises

Toning can also be achieved through mindful breathing exercises. These therapies use meditative movements and breathing techniques to restore qi.

Here are some examples of exercises used for toning:

According to TCM, each organ has its own qi. If your qi is out of balance, your symptoms depend on the organ involved.

Toning is believed to help the following:


Apparently, toning up kidney qi can treat:

Digestive system

In TCM, the digestive system refers to the spleen and stomach.

Toning qi in the spleen and stomach is said to treat:


Practitioners say toning treats the symptoms of unbalanced lung qi. This includes:


Toning is believed to relieve symptoms of liver qi issues:


If the toning focuses on the heart qi, it can allegedly benefit:

There is research on the practice of toning. However, the evidence for its effectiveness is weak. Many studies lack solid scientific explanations.

In addition, the effectiveness of TCM in general has not been proven. According to a 2020 review which analyzed the 100 most cited TCM studies, high quality research is lacking. The herbs often used in TCM have also not been studied extensively.

There is also no proof that qi exists. Without tangible proof of its existence, it is impossible to determine how toning methods affect it.

In traditional Chinese medicine, toning is a form of therapy that aims to balance qi. This can be done in a number of ways, including massage, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and dietary changes. Other methods include leading a healthy sex life and practicing breathing exercises.

It is said that the balance of qi throughout your body promotes good health. Yet, there is no hard evidence that qi exists or that toning is effective.

If you are interested in toning and TCM, talk to a doctor first. It is generally recommended to use TCM as a complementary treatment rather than as a primary treatment.

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